Attorney General Abbott also threatened legal action against what he called "unconscionable pricing" by hotels. Take that same family. The husband might have said, "Honey, I don't feel like driving all the way to Austin to stay with your mother and father; let's rent a room." When they get to the hotel, the rooms are no longer $75 a night but $150. The husband says, "Okay, I'll put up with the in-laws." That's wonderful, too. They've made a room available for a family who has no other alternative.
Market allocation isn't the only way to make sure people economize on resources that have suddenly become scarce. Texas officials resorted to pleading with motorists not to top off their tanks. Their pleas were ignored. What Texas officials could have done was to place anti-top off officers at every gas station to make sure people weren't buying more gas than they needed to get to their evacuation destination. Texas officials also could have stationed hotel officers at every hotel. The job of the hotel officer would be to query potential guests as to whether they had nearby relatives or friends with whom they could spend a night or two. If they had relatives or friends within a reasonable distance, such as my example of the husband and wife with relatives in Austin, the hotel officer would tell them to hit the road. Would measures such as these have been preferable to rising prices or the unavailability of gas and lodging?
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing pleasant about rising prices in the wake of a disaster. My argument is that not allowing the market mechanism to allocate suddenly scarce resources produces the inferior outcome.