Consumers have a lot more control than the last time the economy was plagued by inflation. On-the-spot comparison shopping is just one way to play defense.
I am fairly compulsive about always having my keys with me. But after a series of mishaps, I got locked out of my apartment last week. It was after midnight so I had to call a 24-hour locksmith and he told me he'd be at my door in about half an hour. I spent those minutes panicking over how much it was going to cost. I felt so vulnerable; I needed this service. It was the only way I could get home. And given my desperation and late hour, he could charge almost any amount. After all, prices are set where supply meets demand. I had a very strong, or what we economists call inelastic, demand to get into my home, and there are a limited supply of 24-hour locksmiths. He had all the power.
Allison Schrager is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.
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