DEFINITION of 'Rationing'

The artificial restriction of raw materials, goods or services. Rationing commonly occurs when governments fear a shortage and want to make sure people have access to necessities, such as after a natural disaster or during a war. Governments can also impose rationing in the face of failed policies such as central planning, or may be forced to use rationing as a result of shortages.


For example, during World War II, the U.S. government imposed rationing on the country so that sufficient materials and production capabilities would be available to the military. It did not matter how much of an item an individual or family wanted or could afford to purchase; people were only allowed to purchase a limited amount specified by the government and controlled by ration coupons. Items including tires, gasoline, sugar, meat, butter and many others were subject to rationing.

Rationing can lead to the creation of black markets for the rationed goods. Black markets allow individuals to use their allotment of a rationed good that they don't need to obtain more of a rationed good that they do need.

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