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Letters: Leadership and long gas lines

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to members

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of the media about recovering efforts after superstorm Sandy in Long Beach, New York. (Oct. 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dropped the ball ["Gas rationing," News, Nov. 9]. The gasoline situation on Long Island is poor. The odd-even system should have been implemented sooner on Long Island, as it was in New Jersey. What would have been the harm?

I went to eight gas stations one morning last week, and there was no gas. I went to the same eight stations around noon, and there was still no gas.

The trickle-down effect of this will hurt our economy.

Charles Rullmann, Islip Terrace

Dear Gov. Cuomo, please contact Gov. Chris Christie for some other good ideas!

Tony Fleck, Farmingdale

Boy, do those long gas lines remind me of the 1970s, and unfortunately, they make me think we are being played by the big oil companies again.

Remember when people screamed that they would never pay more than $1 for gas? Then the shortage hit in the 1970s, and we waited on long lines, lost our tempers and worried constantly about how we would get to work. Then suddenly, when gas station after gas station raised its prices, the supply of gas suddenly got better.

I've got a feeling we will see an end to the slow delivery of gas once the gas stations push the price to $5.

Robert Melo Sr., Massapequa Park

New York State law makes it illegal for gas stations to charge an "unconscionably excessive" price for goods that are "vital and necessary" for the health and safety of consumers, though the law never defines unconscionably excessive.

In 301 AD, the Roman emperor Diocletian imposed a maximum price for bread punishable by death. The result? Almost no bread for sale until he repealed the price decree. More than 2,000 years later, similar laws are causing shortages on Long Island. Government-imposed price controls are making the disaster worse.

Gasoline may be more scarce than usual because power outages prevent some stations from opening, and some ports were closed. But price controls also contribute to the shortage of gas. Prices play important functions in communicating information about relative scarcities and incentivizing people to act accordingly.

High prices tell suppliers to bring more of a commodity to a distressed area. If gas prices in New York could rise high enough to reflect its true scarcity, the profit incentive would induce more suppliers to redirect gas from other states.

Would Long Islanders temporarily pay $5.50 per gallon for plentiful gas and no lines? As unpleasant as high prices are, those high prices ration the scarce gas to those who value it most highly.

When high prices are prohibited from serving their function, the result is a shortage. Buyers still compete with other buyers to try to get scarce gas, but because price competition is illegal, their competition takes less beneficial forms. The main way potential buyers compete is by getting in line first and hoarding.

Long Island and New York City have imposed a rationing scheme based on license plate numbers. This may reduce lines initially, but eventually the long lines are simply organized according to cars with similarly odd or even license plates.

It's time politicians learned from economics and history and let market prices coordinate our use of scarce resources.

Clifford Sondock, Jericho

Editor's note: The writer is president of the Land Use Institute, a policy prescription organization.