EXTENDED: You've got another week to add your travel & holiday deals questions for expert MSE Oli as part of the latest Ask An Expert event.

"Should you panic buy fuel? A true prisoner's dilemma" blog discussion

This is the discussion to link on the back of Martin's blog. Please read the blog first, as this discussion follows it.

Please click 'post reply' to discuss below.


  • edited 30 March 2012 at 2:48PM
    Premier_2Premier_2 Forumite
    15.1K Posts
    10,000 Posts Combo Breaker
    edited 30 March 2012 at 2:48PM

    Most people prefer the latter with the 'I'm alright Jack' approach.

    (worst case scenario, you won't get your hands on something I can't have)
    "Now to trolling as a concept. .... Personally, I've always found it a little sad that people choose to spend such a large proportion of their lives in this way but they do, and we have to deal with it." - MSE Forum Manager 6th July 2010
  • pete_vpete_v Forumite
    56 Posts
    Seeing as some garages are already modifying people's purchases (I've heard of £10 and £20 limits per-person) it's not really a big step to what they should have been doing.

    Responsible garages should put up a sign outside saying "To prevent panic buying, we will only sell you fuel if your gauge is in the red", and then station a member of staff at the entrance to ask for a quick peek at each person's dashboard to make sure.

    Anyone who needs fuel will thus be able to get it, and those who don't won't be cluttering the place up and draining the tanks (this is why the sign needs to be visible from outside the forecourt).

    Sure, there will be special cases, people with an unusual reason why they need to top off a half-full tank, and the gauge-checker can be free to use their common sense. If they let a few people with clever fake excuses in, that doesn't really matter after all.

    Hoping the herd mentality will have died down a bit by now, as my low-fuel light came on as I arrived at work this morning.

  • billshepbillshep Forumite
    58 Posts
    Part of the Furniture 10 Posts Combo Breaker
    Trouble is, for many it's not just a case of to panic buy or not to panic buy - if you drive a long way you need to fill up regularly...
    Fortunately I filled up on Tuesday, but will need to do so again on Monday, so I hope the panic dies down - if nothing else I can't abide queueing - and more to the point it's pretty dangerous, and somewhat inconsiderate to block the road queueing to get on a forecourt.
    Hopefully they don't impose a £10 limit as that wouldn't even do one return commute (it's still cheaper than train/bus combo though!!).
    Regarding Leanne Pearson's tweet, there must be a good argument for emergency services to have their own supplies at their depots, rather than relying on commercial supply??
  • CrabmanCrabman Forumite
    9.9K Posts
    Part of the Furniture 1,000 Posts I'm a Volunteer Ambassador Combo Breaker
    I'm not sure a £10/£20 limit is the answer, that might simply result in people queuing twice at the same/different stations.

    A minimum spend (e.g. £40-£50) with a ban on petrol cans may be more effective. That would exclude a significant number of vehicles from forecourts.

    A little gem I noticed on the twitter feed of Edmund King (AA President):

    "75 yr lady fills 20 empty 1 gallon paint tins with plastic lids & tray of jam jars in boot with petrol in Macclesfield. AA man stopped her"


    P.S: Someone mentioned that one of the ways Thatcher's government supposedly broke the striking coal miners was by keeping increased stockpiles of coal (outside the mines). I have no idea whether this is accurate and I'm not a historian but it was thought provoking...
    I'm a Board Guide on the Savings & Investments, ISAs & Tax-free Savings, Public Transport & Cycling, Motoring and Parking Fines, Tickets & Parking Boards. I volunteer to help get your forum questions answered and keep the forum running smoothly. Board Guides are not moderators & don't read every post. If you spot a contentious or illegal post then please report it to [email protected] (it's not part of my role to deal with this). Views are mine and not the official line of MoneySavingExpert.com

  • thelawnetthelawnet Forumite
    2.5K Posts
    Part of the Furniture 1,000 Posts Combo Breaker
    I was at the petrol station earlier, they'd sold out of fuel, I was there on my bicycle buying an ice lolly.

    As I came out I saw a car pull in, the passenger got out, went into use the cash machine (which charges for withdrawals), while the driver left the engine running (window open, crappy old car, so he can't have had the air con on, and it wasn't that hot anyway). Double stupid.
  • corbyboycorbyboy Forumite
    1.2K Posts
    Part of the Furniture
    pete_v wrote: »
    Responsible garages should put up a sign outside saying "To prevent panic buying, we will only sell you fuel if your gauge is in the red", and then station a member of staff at the entrance to ask for a quick peek at each person's dashboard to make sure.

    I have been saying this for days now, it's nice to know somebody agrees with me.

    But garages won't do this because they are happy with panic buying. As much as they moan about it, they are profiting from the extra sales and the extra jerry cans and bottles of water etc. they are selling.
  • edited 31 March 2012 at 9:38AM
    SnowManSnowMan Forumite
    3.3K Posts
    Part of the Furniture 1,000 Posts Photogenic
    edited 31 March 2012 at 9:38AM
    I would say it was a classic case of the Tragedy of the Commons, although both the Prisoners Dilemma and the Tragedy of the Commons are related and are all about needing to co-operate or putting in place systems where people are forced to co-operate.
    The metaphor illustrates the argument that free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately reduces the resource through over-exploitation, temporarily or permanently.
    In this case fuel has become a finite resource temporarily (at the price at which it is sold) because of the threatened strike.

    Avoiding climate change is another more serious example of the Tragedy of Commons. If individually people are able to act in a way that leads to climate change but makes life easier for them (or makes them a profit) they will do that, because the bad effects of their actions are spread across all. Collectively as many others follow the same logic, climate changes to the detriment of all.

    The solutions to the Tragedy of the Commons are articulated in the wikipedia article as
    Articulating solutions to the tragedy of the commons is one of the main problems of political philosophy. In the absence of enlightened self-interest, some form of authority or federation is needed to solve the collective action problem. In a typical example, governmental regulations can limit the amount of a common good available for use by any individual. Permit systems for extractive economic activities including mining, fishing, hunting, livestock raising and timber extraction are examples of this approach. Similarly, limits to pollution are examples of governmental intervention on behalf of the commons. Alternatively, resource users themselves can cooperate to conserve the resource in the name of mutual benefit.
    So here the solutions are either for the purchase of fuel to be restricted (for example to prioritise emergency services as happened in the previous strike and limit sales to the general public) or for people to co-operate by not buying petrol un-necessarily (even though individually that decision might not make sense).

    Clearly for the Government to tell people to fill up petrol cans or over-fill their tanks was completely the wrong action to solve the collective action problem.

    As someone who cycles further than they drive each year, I am waiting until it all dies down before filling up. If there ends up being a strike then that may not be the best action (looking at it individually) but it is clearly the right thing to do looking at it collectively.

    One of the most influential programmes I ever watched was the Horizon problem 'Nice Guys Finish First' which is about this sort of prisoner's dilemma. It is a very interesting watch and is here on youtube and the prisoner's dilemma experiment/game at 10 minutes 37 seconds (and the resulting computer programme tournament to try and play the game and it's eventual winning programme's methodology) is particularly fascinating to watch.
    I came, I saw, I melted
  • edited 31 March 2012 at 9:25AM
    SnowManSnowMan Forumite
    3.3K Posts
    Part of the Furniture 1,000 Posts Photogenic
    edited 31 March 2012 at 9:25AM
    Posting on the MSE forums could be considered a prisoner's dilemma in some ways.

    Let's assume everyone posts either to answer a question or to ask a question about a new savings account. Asking a question is useful individually for the poster as it means they (hopefully) will get an answer. Answering a question or giving information about the account involves time and effort, so is not beneficial to the individual only to other forumites.

    However if everyone followed the 'selfish' approach everyone would ask questions about the account and nobody would answer questions or provide information on the account so the thread would be useless.

    Therefore a co-operative stategy where a number of forumites post useful information is a good stategy even though individually it might be more beneficial to only ask questions.

    Clearly posting is more complex than this but is there an element of prisoner's dilemma going on?
    I came, I saw, I melted
  • I live in a small village where everyone knows everyone, our local garage has run out of fuel, but a couple of days ago when I went to to get some diesel they only had one pump running, they told me that it had been ridiculous as most of the people filling up were the local pensioners who normally only put £10 a time in, as a nurse working on a regional coronary care unit 30 miles away I am pretty fuming about this to be honest. I now have enough fuel to get to work next week but if this carries on, I won't be able to get there after that.

    So please, just stop this ridiculous madness!
    Aug GC £63.23/£200, Total Savings £0
  • tifotifo Forumite
    1.7K Posts
    Part of the Furniture 1,000 Posts Name Dropper Combo Breaker
    and many retailers put the price up by at least a penny per litre ....
This discussion has been closed.
Latest MSE News and Guides

Energy Price Cap change

Martin Lewis on what it means for you

MSE News

Best £1 you've ever spent?

Share your most impressive bargains

MSE Forum