The toilet paper conundrum: A lesson on wealth inequality in the USA

As I currently watch my supply of toilet paper dwindle dangerously low day by day, I tend to day dream about my plan of action for the day that the roll hits cardboard.

I think to myself: “Paper towels could work, but that will feel like sand paper after a while, and the leaves falling off that tree outside are just not quite big enough to get the job done. Why haven’t we adopted Japanese-style toilets with built in bidets yet?”

In the wake of the arrival of the novel coronavirus (aka COVID-19) in the United States, shoppers have made a run on the grocery stores, snatching up all toilet paper in sight, doomsday prepping for the impact of the virus.

The panic-buying of toilet paper (and other ‘essential’ supplies) has become contagious, and at least from what I have heard in my circle of acquaintances in San Diego, California, there is nowhere to get the stuff. I recently popped into my local CVS and Trader Joe’s while on shopping errands, only to confirm that the TP shelves were in fact empty.

While some may go through a few nerve-wracking days without TP (don’t worry, the toilet paper supply chain is doing just fine), in the long run, no one will die from this particular shortage. However, I think this dilemma does come at a coincidentally interesting time in an election year, mirroring one of the fundamental issues for which voters have been and will be casting ballots this year: wealth distribution.

Who are the toilet paper hoarders?

As the masses search for toilet paper, it appears to be impossible to get your hands on it. Some may even claim that it’s unfair or greedy that the first wave of shoppers took it all, leaving none for the rest.

So, who took all the toilet paper?

I think it’s safe to say that those who currently have months (or years) supply of TP fit into the following cohort:

  1. They are wealthy enough to purchase a giant amount of TP all at once.
  2. They have the luxury of time to potentially wait in line for hours at the stores that do have a limited supply.
  3. They believe in a “it’s me vs you” mentality. If they don’t look out for themselves first, no one is coming to the rescue.
  4. They are planning on going on a chili peppers-only cleanse, in which case the toilet paper might be quite necessary, but I have a feeling this is not the case for most.

Who gets left behind?

This leaves out the people who are living pay check to pay check and don’t have the savings to stock up on toilet paper. It excludes the people who can’t get away from work, are working multiple jobs, or are single parents and don’t have the time to get in line at Costco at the crack of dawn. It certainly cuts out all of the elderly who don’t have a web of support.

The needy and poor are the ones who pay the price.

Now this is just toilet paper, not the end of the world, but it exemplifies the deeper problem of wealth inequality that is growing exceedingly large in the USA.

We live in a country where 10% of the people own 70% of the wealth. 1% own 32% of the wealth.

The distribution of toilet paper is impossible to measure, but it certainly feels similarly uneven. (Someone get the stats!)

And while of course in the pro-capitalism culture that has raised us all it is encouraged to accumulate as much wealth as possible, when that drive for wealth turns into greed is where it becomes blatantly unhealthy (i.e. Big bank executives using government bailout money to fund their lavish lifestyles, the list goes on).

Now instead of thinking in billion dollar increments, we are looking at toilet paper. There are those who have a lot, and those who little to none — a microcosm of the wealth inequality problem, but largely driven by similar principles and causes rooted in greed.

Next time you think that this is a great time to stock up on supplies to take advantage of those who are less fortunate than you, think again.

A starting point: Acknowledge the problem

To be fair, those who are stocking up on toilet paper may not have greedy intentions at all. They might be afraid, shocked, or nervous about the prospects of a virus quarantine and running low on basic commodities.

But regardless of how they feel, the toilet paper problem is happening. The problem must be acknowledged and fellow humans must be considered, not just yourself.

The same should go for wealth inequality in our country. It’s not about just looking out for yourself, but being considerate of those that are less fortunate than yourself.

I choose not to join the shopping frenzy, and I say that as a person of relative privilege. I have a job that pays the bills, without any mouths to feed at home. Hell, I could spend my life’s savings on Costco’s entire next supply of toilet paper if they let me.

The left and right ideologists will go back and forth for eons about which policies do in fact benefit the greater populace (we all have our opinions), but I think we can all at least agree that hoarding more toilet paper than you need in these trying times is not beneficial to the country as a whole.

So, I kindly ask, that the next time you magically find yourself in front of a stocked toilet paper aisle, take just what you need in consideration of those who may need some too. And likewise, when you vote in the elections this year, remember that time that you had no toilet paper. I urge you to fill out your ballot with the needs of others taken into consideration, whether it be their health care, education, or immigration status, not just your personal needs.

Lead photo via Times of Malta.

12 thoughts

  1. I don’t disagree with your analysis but don’t get what the panic is about. Just keep some washcloths by your toilet and launder them at the end of the day. That’s what people used to do. Or you could buy 60 rolls of TP.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Evan Quarnstrom, what one produces with his or her own hands, blood, sweat, tears, brain, belongs to that person and that person’s family. Redistribution of wealth by force has no morality behind it.

    Like

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