Stockpiling: There’s More to It Than Hoarding Toilet Paper

In this episode of “Complexify,” we look at stockpiling — or hoarding, if you prefer to call it that — and why it’s not so straightforward.
June 25, 2020, 3:53pm

Doomsday preppers used to be seen as nuts, preparing for a future that would never arrive. But COVID-19 is making preppers look increasingly prescient. Sure, the rapture hasn't happened yet, but at least they’ll be stocked up on toilet paper when it does.

It’s not just individuals with well-stocked bunkers who are getting a second look. New attention is being given to stockpiles, and how they work — or don’t.

Take the U.S. government’s stockpile — otherwise known as the national stockpile. What’s in it, and how did it start?

Remember when a genetically engineered virus called Cobra — a lethal combination of the common cold and smallpox — swept through New York City? You don’t, because it never happened. But it was the plot of “The Cobra Event,” a novel that President Clinton read in 1998, which inspired him to hold a meeting with scientists and Cabinet members to discuss the risks of bioterrorism. Roughly six months later, he signed the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile into law. Its first order of business? Preparing for Y2K.

Stockpiles aren’t just created in case of potentially catastrophic disasters. Many governments subsidize farmers by buying up products when there’s not enough demand. In 2019, the U.S. had amassed a surplus stockpile of 1.4 billion pounds of cheese. In 2012, India’s government helped keep wheat prices high by building stockpiles. The poorly stored wheat rotted, as millions starved.

And the pandemic is creating knock-on effects all along the supply chain. Panic buyers ended up creating their own personal stockpiles, which impacted American food banks, who themselves rely on donations from groceries that just had their shelves cleared out by worried individuals.

In this episode of “Complexify,” we look at stockpiling — or hoarding, if you prefer to call it that — and why it’s not so straightforward.

Cover: VICE News explains stockpiling on the latest episode of "Complexify." (Photo: VICE News)