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Why Is There A Worldwide Run On Toilet Tissue Amid The Coronavirus?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Why is there a run on toilet tissue? I'm going to try and keep this elevated. But by now, most of us have seen people steering stacks of toilet tissue the size of icebergs out of stores. Anxieties about toilet tissue have begun to spread around the world with coronavirus. Australia's NT News printed eight blank pages this week for readers to lift out and use in an emergency, they said, which, by the way, can't be done with an online publication.

Why the worldwide run on toilet tissue? It doesn't treat coronavirus. It's not a staple you can store for a quarantine like peanut butter or canned corn. Toilet tissue isn't soap, beer, condoms or M&M's, so why are so many people rushing to buy up every last roll of toilet tissue? Fear, says Professor Justin Wolfers, the eminent economist at the University of Michigan - a rational fear, he told us, in that if everybody else buys toilet paper before you do, you won't be able to. So you run out for toilet paper not because you fear society is about to crumble but because you fear others fear this.

Fear of a run on toilet paper, like a run on banks, creates an actual run. The professor suggests a federal strategic toilet paper reserve be created - millions, even billions of rolls of toilet tissue buried somewhere impenetrable and secure to reassure Americans there is toilet tissue for all in America - no need to surge into stores to grasp for every last roll. I'm not sure if I really mean it, Professor Wolfers told us, but I'm sure it would work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.