Back in the day, I studied business and political science at Hope College. This post is made with great trepidation because one of my former business professors is now an elder at Christ Memorial. Let's see if I retain any of my basic economic learnings. Feel free to comment below if I totally mess this up.
The graph above is a basic supply and demand curve. On the demand line, it basically shows how much of a produce would be demanded by the public at a particular price. Generally, the higher the price, the lower to quantity demanded by purchasers. The supply line follows the same principle, but from the business side. The higher the price, the more a business is willing to produce and supply. Ideally you want to make more of the things that make you the most money. Where they intersect is where you find an equilibrium. The purchasers are willing to buy the amount the business is willing to make.
But market forces or crazy things happening in the world can shift an entire line one way or another. A series of oil refineries shut down and the entire supply line for fuel shifts to the left. When it does this, the equilibrium price will have to increase. There is less gas, but the demand remains the same (line doesn't move), so the price goes up.
Which brings us to medical masks and toilet paper.
Let's just stick to the masks. I heard a story about a state trying to procure N95 medical masks for their public health department lately. They used to be $1 each. But due to the pandemic, the entire demand line has shifted to the right, and because so many factories are closed, the entire supply line shifted to the left. Can you see what happens?
He placed and order at $6 per mask, and was eventually told it was cancelled because he was outbid.
There is a word for this: scarcity.
Scarcity is the idea that there won't be enough for everyone's wants, though we usually perceive there won't be enough for our needs. Ghandi once famously said,
"The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed."
The threat of scarcity throws people into a panic. Our safety, comfort, and security are threatened and we react with our lizard brain. Survival of the fittest. Might makes right. Fight tooth and nail.
The early church experienced issues like this as well. In the Roman Empire, as Christians became a threat to power, many regions enacted a sort of pledge or password in order to conduct business. If you wanted to buy or sell in the agora, or marketplace, you would first have to acknowledge that Caesar is Lord (and probably offers a little tribute while you were at it). This posed a problem for Christians who believed deep in their heart that only Jesus was Lord, and the way of Jesus stood in great contradiction to the way of Caesar.
But if you didn't acknowledge Caesar as Lord, you were basically out of business.
Not everywhere enacted this practice the same. Some areas were more free to do business than others. But imagine if you were in an area where you could buy and sell freely, and you start hearing rumors that the winds were changing. The demand for your goods would fall to near zero, because you couldn't get them to the market. You had been supporting the your Christian brothers and sisters in other areas, but now would you be able to do the same?
Paul tells us this story in 2 Corinthians 8,
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that Go has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord's people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you - see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
Later he continues starting in verse 13,