[Image above] From toilet paper to chalk, hoarding is a common occurrence when people panic. Credit: Great Big Story, YouTube
Many people thought it was a joke—until they went shopping and realized stores really were stripped clean of toilet paper.
Faced with the coronavirus, people in the United States are hoarding various supplies, including toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks. The hoarding of masks in particular has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization urging people to stop, as hospitals are in danger of running out of critical respirator masks.
While this panic buying has exasperated many health experts, it’s understandable that people are worried. When faced with a situation that could significantly affect your future, preparing for the worst makes sense (but “worst” does not include price gouging almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer).
The mathematics world experienced a panic-buying spree of its own earlier this decade. And that event can reflect somewhat on our current situation.
Hagoromo Fulltouch—The chalk hoarding of 2015
If you are or know a mathematician, you’ve likely heard of Hagoromo Fulltouch chalk. This chalk is revered almost to mythological status by mathematicians for its high density, smooth application, and ability to be easily erased.
However, in 2015, panic struck the math world when Hagoromo Bungu, the Japanese company that makes the chalk, decided to close after more than 80 years in business in part because of the president’s poor health and declining demand for chalk. Mathematicians began buying cases of the chalk in mass, with some buying enough to last 10–15 years until their retirement.
Fortunately, the “chalkapocalypse” was not as bad as mathematicians feared thanks to Shin Hyeong-seok, a Korean cram schoolteacher.
Shin, a fan of Hagoromo Fulltouch, established the company Sejongmall in 2009 as the exclusive importer of Hagoromo chalks in Korea. When he learned Hagoromo Bungu planned to close in 2015, he talked with the company’s president and received permission to take over the brand, recipe, and machines. Sejongmall began producing Hagoromo chalk in 2016 and is the sole producer today.
If you’re a purist, you still can buy the original discontinued Hagoromo Fulltouch on Amazon for almost $300. Or you can give the Sejongmall-produced Hagoromo a try for only $30 (and it comes in different colors!).
Hoarding in the face of COVID-19
The Hagoromo Fulltouch saga reached public attention a lot last year, in particular when global media company Great Big Story released the below video interviewing some mathematicians who hoarded the chalk.
Credit: Great Big Story, YouTube
The part I find most relevant to our current hoarding situation is the quote at 2:46, when one mathematician who hoarded chalk found out Sejongmall took over production: “I was happy to know that it would still be made, but I was a little disappointed that I was less clever than I thought I was.”
You may think yourself clever for buying hundreds of toilet paper rolls in advance of an inevitable shortage. But that massive buying is what leads to a shortage in the first place, just like it did during the Great Toilet Paper Scare of 1973. Rest assured that if you keep calm and buy your normal amount of toilet paper, you’ll have enough to last through a coronavirus quarantine.