How would rationing work if it was reinstated?

How would the US government go about rationing gasoline (or food) today? Are there contigency plans in place (that are public)? Would all licenced driver get an electronic ration card (similiar to EBT cards)? Is it true the government was on the verge of rationing gas during the 70s? (I’ve heard that they even had designs for ration books.)

It would work just as badly as it did last time, during WWII. (According to my parents – I wasn’t around to remember it.)

Probably even worse, since there was tremendous public support for anything connected to the war effort then. I doubt that you’d get the same level of support now.

Moved to GD.

General Questions Moderator

Oops – I gave a GD-type answer, prior to this having been moved from GQ to GD.


It didn’t get that to ration books, but odd-even rationing of gasoline was imposed during the 1970’s. It was in force nationwide during the first oil crisis of the early 1970’s, and imposed by certain states after the crisis of 1979.

If your license plate ended in an odd number, you could buy gas for that car on an odd-numbered day.

Rationing was needed in the 1970’s because the price of gasoline was set artificially low, which dried up supply fast. I’m sure everyone has noticed that since then, we’ve allowed prices to rise in a fuel shock, and let people limit their purchases through market forces.

What do you think works better, imposing rationing on a family that owns two 1970’s-era gas guzzlers, or letting prices rise so that people are influenced to buy a more fuel efficient car or hybrid?

Rationing gasoline is a terrible idea. The best way to efficiently distribute a scarce resource like gasoline is to let the price fluctuate according to market forces. If there’s very little gasoline available, the price will rise, and people will buy less, and the price will fall. The best way to get people to conserve gasoline is to let the price increase. Heck, slap a $2.00 per gallon tax on gasoline if you really want to get people to conserve gasoline and switch to alternative fuels.

Rationing is only neccesary when prices are set artificially low by government action. If prices are allowed to rise rationing is unneccesary, since people will decide for themselves when to stop purchasing the good. There’s no need for caviar rationing, or bread rationing, or gasoline rationing, because the prices for these goods are allowed to rise and fall according to supply and demand.

There are no plans for gasoline rationing. And because nowadays just about everybody in government understands the laws of supply and demand, any discussion of how the government would go about rationing gasoline would be purely speculative.

Tuesday is Soylent Green day. :wink:

This question is akin to asking the perennial question, “How would a draft work if it was reinstated?”

You can find out how rationing or the draft worked back in the old days, but if we really were dumb enough to reinstate rationing or the draft we’d pass whole new laws authorizing them, we wouldn’t just dust off old regulations from 1942 and make them the law of the land. We’d come up with all new stupid regulations.

So just because you might have been eligible for a student deferment in 1968 it doesn’t mean you will get the same deferment in 2008, because congress will have to pass a whole new law, and it isn’t going to be the 1968 law. Same with gasoline rationing, we aren’t going to use the methods used in WWII because technology is completely different. So you’re more likely to get a smart card than a ration book, but there’s no way to know because there are no plans to reinstate gasoline rationing, and probably never will be…even if World War III breaks out and gasoline supply plummets. The government is much more likely to allow gasoline prices to rise until demand falls to match supply than to ration gasoline, even if that price is $10 per gallon.

Maybe I remember it wrong but it wasn’t a cause and effect. Gas was rationed in tandom with price controls.

It didn’t work because because it limited the ability to make profit from the sale of gas. Governments cannot mandate companies to operate at or near a loss. In the long run gas companies would simply shut down rather than lose money.