The Corner

Economy & Business

Washington Post Columnist to American Consumers: You’re Spoiled!

Shipping containers sit on the dock at a container terminal at the Port of Long Beach-Port in Los Angeles, Calif., April 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Micheline Maynard, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, contends that the supply-chain problem isn’t really an issue of missed and delayed shipments, higher prices, and a lack of goods on the shelves. No, it’s primarily a problem of the excessively high expectations of American consumers:

“I understand people are getting frustrated, but it’s time for people to take a chill pill,” says Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus, an Ann Arbor shop selling tea and gifts. “I’m just not going to have the things that I usually have. Maybe they aren’t going to get the purple mug, but the blue one is pretty, too.”

The other day I found myself carrying home a loaf of bread in my bare hands because the bakery had run out of bags. Back when we didn’t know how good we had it — circa 2019 — I might have been annoyed by the inconvenience. Now I was just glad the bakery was still in business.

But the problem is not just a question of what color mug is available in the stores. For a lot of these businesses, a delayed shipment means they don’t have goods on the shelves to sell, which means they don’t have any money coming in from customers.

Denver’s public-school system says they are struggling to get enough milk for breakfast and lunch. Vintners can’t find bottles or labels for their wine. Hardware stores in the Pacific Northwest have half the goods they normally carry. Toy stores are warning they’re already out of Hot Wheels, Mattel, and Lego before the big holiday rush. Specialty-food stores are wondering what they’ve got to sell, with shipments delayed by months.

We built our economy on international supply chains and rapid transport of goods from the source to the manufacturers to the consumers. This system got goods where they needed to arrive for decades. Everything in this process was working fine before the pandemic. The pandemic is largely behind us. So why are there now 200,000 shipping containers gridlocked off the coast of Los Angeles? How did we go from a well-oiled machine to so many goods being delayed and in short supply in so many places so quickly?

Maynard’s column concludes, “American consumers might have been spoiled, but generations of them have also dealt with shortages of some kind — gasoline in the 1970s, food rationing in the 1940s, housing in the 1920s when cities such as Detroit were booming. Now it’s our turn to make adjustments.”

I would note that the food rationing in the 1940s was part of the war effort!

Still, credit goes to Maynard for coming up with a thoroughly fitting message for the party in power, as they approach the midterms: Democrats in 2022: Try to Lower Your Expectations!

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