USA: Does a federal price gouging law even make sense—and, if so, what should it look like?

As COVID-19 continues to impact communities across the United States—causing many state and local authorities to extend (or reinstate) emergency orders and other state-specific pricing restrictions—the idea of federal price gouging legislation has become a hot topic of conversation in the U.S. Congress, as well as in the business community. But, while numerous federal bills have been introduced, none seems to address three critical questions: what, if any, issues arise from the current state-by-state price gouging enforcement regime; can federal price gouging legislation address any of these issues; and how should a federal price gouging law be crafted to improve, instead of further complicate, price gouging laws in the United States? This article seeks to answer these questions, and includes a comprehensive discussion of the current state of play at both the state and federal levels.

1. It is said that tragedy brings out the best in people, and that is often true. Think 9/11 or the countless volunteers now making masks (often for free) to help protect the selfless healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, or elderly citizens handing out water and hand sanitizer to protestors marching for social justice. But there are two sides to every coin, and tragedy is no exception. In some, tragedy brings out the worst: predatory instincts employed to capitalize on the fears, and exploit the weaknesses, of those least able to protect themselves. State price gouging legislation—laws passed to prevent, or at least curb and punish, those who sell essential goods and services at excessive prices when disaster strikes—are designed to punish the predators, but

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Michelle K. Fischer, Tiffany D. Lipscomb-Jackson, USA: Does a federal price gouging law even make sense—and, if so, what should it look like?, November 2020, Concurrences N° 4-2020, Art. N° 97106,

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