In a free market, the effect of a good's becoming scarcer is not to cause a shortage of it, but a rise in its price. The rise in price serves to reduce the amount of the good buyers seek to buy to a point that is within the limit of the reduced supply available. However much the supply of oil and oil products was reduced by the hurricane, it was certainly not reduced to anywhere even remotely near the normal, everyday degree of scarcity in the supply of such things as gold or diamonds. And yet there is no shortage of gold or diamonds. Whoever is willing and able to pay the market price of these goods has no difficulty in obtaining them. But if our government officials, inspired perhaps by some such belief as that everyone should be able to obtain gold and diamond jewelry at an affordable price, decreed that the price of gold and diamonds should be cut in half, say, then, indeed, there would be shortages of gold and diamonds alongside the present shortages of gasoline in New York and New Jersey.
Even goods of which there is just a single specimen, such as a Rembrandt painting, are not in a state of shortage. When such a good is put up for auction, its price rises as high as necessary to reduce the number of bidders to just one. In the face of the high price, all the other bidders give up and walk away. They do not remain in the auction room for hours still waiting to buy the painting. They know that the price is just too high for them. But imagine an auction in which the auctioneer was prohibited from progressively raising the price until only one buyer remained. Imagine that he was compelled to hold to his first or second offer. In that case, the auction room might remain packed indefinitely.
In a society in which economic law was widely understood, legislators and prosecutors who sought to prevent price increases in cases of emergencies would be regarded as public enemies and barred from office. They would be barred not by a mere lack of support, but by a lack of support manifested in the utmost public contempt and ridicule for their ignorance and destructiveness.