Welcome to the era of scarcity of everything

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

It’s not your imagination and it’s not just you; we seem to have shortages of everything from lumber to rental cars and everything in between.

In America, for decades, proud of our endless abundance and efficient supply chains, we have been experiencing (for most of us for the first time) what most countries of the world take for granted; you literally can’t always get what you want.

Grocery store shelves are empty – and remain empty – gas pumps are empty – and the prices of everyday items, if you can find them, are not for the faint of heart.

We wrote about our supply chains last summer (https://www.tacomadailyindex.com/blog/god-bless-our-supply-chains/2447604/) when production issues delayed daily basics like toilet paper and inspired hoarding and grocery store aisle fist fights. Some of us thought it brought out the worst of us. Toilet paper at ten dollars a roll seemed to be the worst price.

But, as we now know, that was just the start.

Who among us would have expected the market to disrupt shortages of copper, iron ore and steel. Corn, coffee, wheat and soybeans. Lumber, semiconductors, plastic and cardboard for packaging. Or even packets of sauce and ketchup at fast food restaurants.

Pent-up demand is one of the reasons – and it’s a huge reason that, on a global scale, could have tilted, if not derailed, supply chains around the world.

And as late-night infomercials might say, “But wait! There is more!”

Factor in the global shipping fiasco in the Suez Canal, droughts and crop failures in major agricultural basins around the world, record forest and grass fires, deep freezes to the southernmost parts of Texas and Colonial Pipeline Hack / Ransomware and you have a recipe for food and fuel shortages like we’ve never seen on a scale we could not have imagined.

And don’t expect all of this to end anytime soon.

Or leave us somewhere close to what we considered “normal” just a few months ago.

There are more factors than these at play – from on-hand inventory, warehouse capacity, truck drivers or potential workers, every aspect of our much-vaunted supply chain appears to be in jeopardy. For those of you who want to dig deeper into the details of our supply line projections, take a look here – http://www.the-lmi.com/april-2021-logistics-managers-index.html.

The Federal Reserve Board (among others) assures us that these inflationary and scarcity trends are “transient”. The word “transitional” could mean years.

But we eat, live and drive now.

This piece of plywood costs about four times what it did a year ago. If you can find it.

Have you looked at the car prices? New car prices – and surprisingly, used car prices – have skyrocketed lately. If you can even find one.

It seems that every market factor (and a few external market forces) have had an impact on all facets of pricing and availability due to labor shortages (especially skilled labor) and raw materials, soaring raw material prices, manufacturing delays and transit disruptions.

Do you know all those “smart” devices that we have become accustomed to? From cars to thermostats to smart speakers, these digital devices have invaded if not dominated our lives and now, thanks to various production complications, the chips that make them work are suddenly no longer available.

From chicken wings to housing, everything seems to be lacking.

Imported products, from coffee to cheese to olive oil, are largely blocked at ports in the United States as well as the rest of the world (https://www.businessinsider.com/cargo-ships-waiting-to-dock-california-contributes-supply-chain-crisis-2021-4).

One of the ironies of this era of shortages is an associated labor shortage. It seems like everywhere I go I see “Help Needed” signs. Businesses are getting ready, but where are the workers?

I know several people who are looking for work, but even more who are not. Those who are not looking for work have a variety of personal, but universal, reasons for not looking for work.

Many of them literally cannot afford to work; combining low pay with transportation and childcare costs and, for some, health problems, paid work is not even starting to ‘take hold’.

Others cite burnout, or even concerns about harassment or conflict at work with clients or co-workers, but the workplace itself is seen as a place of stress anyway. not productivity.

And good luck finding any specialist when you need them. From dermatologists to electricians, there just isn’t enough.

The AARP and Social Security have told us for years that 10,000 people retire every day. They expect this trend to continue for a few more years. It is a huge loss of experiential knowledge and institutional memory that comes out the door every day.

Even when we get our hands on something, it’s often not what we expected – like a can of beans from Costco – with a secondary order of botulism (https://www.self.com/story/black-bean-recall-botulism?).

A supply chain on the scale we are used to includes several thousand tightly assembled moving parts, each designed for a particular, unique and essential purpose.

A nationwide supply chain takes years to set up, many hands and many details of specialized expertise, constant maintenance and maintenance is to everyone’s benefit.

Once in place, a supply chain is strong, flexible, and most of the time, robust and reliable.

And, as we’ve seen, it takes years of neglect, mischief, even outright aggression, to disrupt a functioning supply chain.

Our supply chain, to put it mildly, is actually disrupted, perhaps semi-permanently.

This mirage of the “normal” seems more distant every day.

Oddly enough, a 1969 Rolling Stones hymn appeared as a prophecy or summary of our time;

You can’t always get what you want

But if you ever try {Editor’s note: and are prepared to spend a lot more than you ever imagined}

you might just find

That you get what you need.


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