I would like an idiom to describe a situation:


During World Wars I and II, food was not really scarce in the US and UK, but there was a lack of variety and rationing. There was “hoarding” and black marketeering, which actually created the impression of shortages.

During the 1950s in the US, there were rumors of an impending meat shortage, leading to millions of housewives running out to stock up in preparation against it. However, this rush on meat led to a later massive dumping of old stores which were well beyond the expiration. This was later confirmed in an Anthropological study done on landfills in the 1980s.

[This resulted in a brief meat shortage.]

“Self-fulfilling prophecy” does not make it, as I am looking for the word or expression to describe the phenomenon of mass consumption in anticipation of a shortage.

Another example: An alcoholic or drug addict, confronted with a looming lack of preferred mind-expanding substances, will often overdo it by imbibing to the point of toxicity.

It might be as simple as describing the situation from John le Carre’s novel “Smiley’s People”, in the scene where he is going to pick the destitute Connie’s brains, bringing with him a bottle when she has scant hope of getting another, and she says:

”Goody…Let’s have lots.”

I think that sums it up.

  • 6
    "Making a run on" something is the closest thing I can think of (as in a run on the bank). We had a more recent example in Austin TX because of hurricane Harvey. There was a logistics problem because of a short burst of demand, but no-one would let the gas stations raise their prices to a level that would dissuade folks that didn't have an immediate need for gas, and the next thing you know some dude is on the news filling up barrels in the bed of his pick up. sigh
    – ColleenV
    Jan 16, 2018 at 23:21
  • 6
    "Panic buying" is the usual term used in Britain.
    – WS2
    Jan 16, 2018 at 23:33
  • @ColleenV "A run on _____" seems a much better answer to me than any of the phrases offered as answers so far.
    – David K
    Jan 17, 2018 at 3:46
  • For some reason, the phrase "Let them eat cake" comes to mind... although that's more a reference to ignorance of understanding shortage in the midst of it.
    – lilHar
    Jan 17, 2018 at 4:17
  • 2
    @WS2 "Panic buying" would make a fine answer too. It's even in dictionaries.
    – David K
    Jan 17, 2018 at 4:27

4 Answers 4


"Tragedy of the Commons" comes to mind. It describes the behavior of people when there is a scarce public resource. People will tend to use as much of the resource as they can because they are afraid others will get to it first. This behavior quickly depletes the resource contrary to the public good.

Wikipedia has a concise definition:

"The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action."

  • Alternatively, you can link by selecting the text (e.g. Wikipedia), clicking the 'link' button (an icon of 2 links of a chain, next to the quote symbol), and typing/pasting the URL into the text box that pops up.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 17, 2018 at 2:21
  • 5
    The Tragedy of the Commons doesn't seem to fit the narrative of the question. Read the quoted article in full. The herder doesn't graze more than his share of cows on the common because he expects the commons to disappear soon; he grazes more cows because it will earn him more. Look at the examples: not sudden, transient crises precipitated by rumors, but chronic, gradually worsening problems caused by continuing motivations and behaviors.
    – David K
    Jan 17, 2018 at 3:43

Depends on which way you want to portray the act, but while there aren't 1-to-1 idioms (at least I don't think so), consider these:

going out with a bang

Usually said of a last-ditch action that, because it will be the last, should be excessive and exciting.

last supper

Generally a biblical reference, typically denotes a fateful last time, and is fitting with the idea of consumption.

whole nine yards

To do an action in a fashion that will include everything, get everything done, or consume all of something in the act.


The example of stocking up on meat in the expectation of a shortage just sounds like hoarding to me. I wouldn't really call it overconsumption since they're storing it for future use, even though the end-user purchasing something would count as consumption in an economic sense.

Your example of an addict overimbibing would be consumption, and I'd refer to it as binging.


There are a few that may be used in such cases, although they do not fully cover the semantic space you have carved out:

Like it is going out of fashion.

Like it is going out of style.

Like there's no tomorrow.

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