The Supply Chain is Still Broken

Why products are still hard to find and prices are so high.

The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull explains why “Americans Have No Idea What the Supply Chain Really Is.”

As everyone has been forced to learn in the past year and a half, when the works get gummed up—when a finite supply of packaging can’t keep up with demand, when there aren’t enough longshoremen or truck drivers or postal workers, when a container ship gets wedged sideways in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes—the effects ripple outward for weeks or months, emptying shelves and raising prices in ways that can seem random. All of a sudden, you can’t buy kettlebells or canned seltzer.

All of this was supposed to be better by now. Not perfect—even a triumphant end to the pandemic wouldn’t stop climate change or political unrest from throwing their own wrenches into global logistics—but better. Instead, as Delta has forced new restrictions in countries fighting to contain the virus and deepened uncertainty and fear in the United States, the game of supply-chain whack-a-mole that manufacturers and shippers have been playing for the past year and a half has grown only more complex. Some book publishers have had to delay new releases because the pulp used to manufacture paper has been gobbled up by online shopping’s endless appetite for cardboard.

To Americans whose lives have gotten progressively closer to normal this year—who are back in the office, whose kids are in school, who eat inside restaurants and go on vacation without much worry—these nagging problems can be baffling. They shouldn’t be. Americans are habitually unattuned to the massive and profoundly human apparatus that brings us basically everything in our lives. Much of the country’s pandemic response has treated us as somehow separate from the rest of the world and the challenges it endures, but unpredictably empty shelves, rising prices, and long waits are just more proof of how foolish that belief has always been.

The scolding tone of this and of the essay’s title strikes me as odd. I’m a reasonably well-read citizen and likely pay more attention to this sort of thing than most. But there’s not really any reason that folks who don’t work in the constituent industries should understand this byzantine process. Absent once-a-century catastrophes . . . It. Just. Works.

But the very innovations that make it seem reasonable to expect purchases made on Amazon at dinnertime to be at one’s doorstep the next morning are the thing that makes the whole thing so vulnerable to unexpected shocks.

When I called up Dan Hearsch, a managing director at the consulting firm AlixPartners who specializes in supply-chain management, I described the current state of the industry to him as a little wonky. He laughed. “‘A little wonky’ is one way to say it,” he said. “‘Everything’s broken’ is another way.” Hearsch told me about a friend whose company imports consumer goods—stuff that’s normally available in abundance at any Walmart or Target—from China. Before the pandemic, according to the friend, shipping a container of that merchandise to the U.S. would have cost the company $2,000 to $5,000. Recently, though, the number is more like $30,000, at least for anything shipped on a predictable timeline. You can get it down to $20,000 if you’re willing to deal with the possibility of your stuff arriving in a few months, or whenever space on a ship eventually opens up that’s not already accounted for by companies willing to pay more.

Such severe price hikes aren’t supposed to happen. Wealthy Western countries offloaded much of their manufacturing to Asia and Latin America precisely because container shipping has made moving goods between hemispheres so inexpensive. When that math tips into unprofitability, either companies stop shipping goods and wait for better rates, or they start charging you a lot more for the things they ship. Both options constrain supply further and raise prices on what’s available. “You look at the price of cars, you look at the price of food—the price of practically anything is up significantly from one year ago, from two years ago,” Hearsch told me. “The differences are really, really quite shocking.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that as of July, consumer prices had grown almost 5 percent since before the pandemic, with some types of goods showing much larger increases.

And, oh, the pandemic hasn’t gone away.

Overseas shipping is currently slow and expensive for lots of very complicated reasons and one big, important, relatively uncomplicated one: The countries trying to meet the huge demands of wealthy markets such as the United States are also trying to prevent mass-casualty events. Infection-prevention measures have recently closed high-volume shipping ports in China, the country that supplies the largest share of goods imported to the United States. In Vietnam and Malaysia, where workers churn out products as varied as a third of all shoes imported to the U.S. and chip components that are crucial to auto manufacturing, controlling the far more transmissible Delta variant has meant sharply decreasing manufacturing capacity and reducing manpower at busy container ports. (Vietnam has fully vaccinated a single-digit percentage of its population, while Malaysia is beginning to recover from its own massive Delta spike, in spite of good vaccination rates.) These problems are exacerbated, Hearsch said, by the near-total evaporation of maritime shipping’s quickest alternative: stowing shipments of goods in the bellies of commercial passenger jets already flying between Asia and the United States, which have been making far fewer trips during the pandemic.

And, no, we can’t just make it ourselves:

Domestically, things aren’t a whole lot better. Offshoring has systematically decimated America’s capacity to manufacture most things at home, and even products that are made in the United States likely use at least some raw materials or components that need to be imported or are in short supply for other reasons. Pharmaceutical manufacturing, for example, has been stymied at times because many active ingredients are imported from China, or because some drugs are only manufactured overseas, according to Michael Ganio, the senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Hospital-Systems Pharmacists, which maintains a database of drug shortages in the United States. Companies that want to expand their capacity to manufacture or store more inventory are facing shortages of their own—namely, Hearsch said, that steel and sheet metal used to build warehouses and factories are in scant supply, partly because fabricators have to compete for workers in a tight labor market and often can’t run their factories at full capacity.

And, no, we can’t just pay people more and suck it up with the higher price tags:

If you look hard enough at the problems plaguing any other part of the supply chain, you eventually find the point at which the people who do the actual work of making and moving things just can’t keep up. Container ships wait offshore, sometimes for months, because ports don’t have the capacity—the longshoremen, the warehouse staff, the customs inspectors, the maintenance crews—to unload ships any faster. Truck drivers to distribute those goods were in high demand even before the pandemic, and now there are simply not enough of them to do all the work available. The problem is so bad that some U.S. staffing agencies have started recruiting truckers from abroad, and some experts worry that the Biden administration’s recently announced vaccine mandates for large employers could constrain that labor pool even more, at least for a time. Many industry groups and freight companies believe the number of vaccinated truckers to be low, according to FreightWaves, a website that covers the shipping industry. Small trucking companies anticipate that a significant number of drivers will want to jump ship from larger carriers, which will likely be subject to the mandates once they go into effect. Even in a best-case scenario, such upheaval would scramble freight availability for months.

In other domestic supply-chain jobs, the reasons for the scarcity of ready-and-willing workers are pretty glaring. Food packing and processing rely disproportionately on poor visiting workers or immigrants already in the U.S., whose communities have borne the brunt of some of the pandemic’s most catastrophic outcomes. Industrial meatpackers, for example, are having a tough time hiring right now, which might be affecting what you can buy at the grocery store. This type of work was brutal and dangerous before the pandemic, and when the coronavirus hit, some meatpacking plants in the Midwest and Southeast had outbreaks so intense that they briefly drove spikes in statewide infection data all by themselves. Tens of thousands of people were infected, and hundreds of workers died—numbers that don’t include those who were infected or killed because they lived with people who worked in these kinds of facilities. At one Iowa pork plant, Tyson Foods fired seven managers who were accused of participating in a gambling ring to bet on how many of their employees would catch COVID-19. If the meatpacking industry has suddenly realized that fewer people are available to operate its plants than were available before the pandemic, perhaps that’s because many of them have died or been permanently disabled by COVID-19, and those who might replace them don’t want to meet the same fate.

The ungrateful bastards.

Which gets, at long last, to Mull’s titular point:

Both at home and abroad, labor is the ghost in the machine. The supply chain is really just people, running sewing machines or loading pallets or picking tomatoes or driving trucks. Sometimes, it’s people in the workforce bubbles of foreign factories, eating and sleeping where they work, so companies can keep manufacturing sneakers through a Delta outbreak. The pandemic has tied the supply chain in knots because it represents an existential threat to the lives of the humans who toil in it. The fact that Americans now can safely go on vacation does not mean that people half a world away can safely make new bathing suits for them. The normalcy sought by consumers was created by all of this hidden work, and that normalcy has always been threatened by dangerous working conditions. No one can expect things to go smoothly until everyone is protected.

Emphasis mine.

It’s too simple to say that “The supply chain is really just people.” It’s container and cargo hold availability and all manner of other infrastructure issues, too. But, yes, none of that works if there aren’t the people to do all of the “hidden” jobs that get things made, packed, transported, unpacked, stocked, and rung up.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mu says:

    The biggest change for the small business operator is the disappearance of Amazon’s “next day” option. You could pay an extra $10 over prime and get nearly everything next day. Now prime is 2-4 days, no alternative offered. Having to go back to chasing stuff around town is time consuming, and with tight labor markets you can’t just go hire a $13/h kid to do the running around for you anymore either.

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  2. KM says:

    The supply chain is really just people

    So true. Consider most the world where the actual manufacturing is done isn’t nearly as vaxxed as the rest of us, we’re going to be having problems for years to come. Add in the whole backlash against lower-waged “necessary” jobs not paying what they are worth and you’ll see frequent breakdowns for maybe a decade.

    “We should be back to normal by now” smacks of the same short-sighted logic that lead to the reopening of businesses well before it was reasonable to do so. “OMG this is taking too long, I’m done with this” is not and never has been a reasonable expectation of reality. Society is built on interlocking systems that stand upon each other; we can only have Amazon because we have international shipping, continent-spanning roads and a postal in each nation capable of handling the idea of mass shipped packages. Take one domino out and the chain fails to kick in, do it early enough in the process and it won’t even start.

    The world’s currently in a harsh title bout. We took some early heavy blows and are still reeling. We will win the fight but it’s only a few seconds into round 2 and will never be a knockout. Screaming ringside for a KO won’t make it happen and being pissed it’s taking too long won’t change the outcome. The fight ends when it ends – the best you can do is help your fighter so they come out on top.

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    My career, mostly in smallish manufacturing companies, spans the ascendance of Just In Time manufacturing, so I’ve done the consultant classes and watched it happen. JIT means procuring, or making, materials to arrive when needed, rather than stocking material, derided as Just In Case. Like many things, JIT works great, until it doesn’t.

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  4. wr says:

    What a shock that the meat-packing industry’s decision to kill their workers by refusing to implement any Covid protections ends up not being a net money-saver after all. Why, it’s almost as if these employees are human beings with some agency and not just cogs that can be replaced and discarded.

    Not that the CEOs are actually going to learn anything from this. Except to lean harder on the politicians they pay off to pass laws forbidding low-wage workers to quit…

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  5. inhumans99 says:

    My father was hemming and hawing a bit when it came time to move forward with buying a new car around 2-3 months earlier (replacing a car that still was technically in perfect working condition, but around 17 years old and he had saved up for a couple years to basically buy the car outright and not worry about installment payments), but my mother basically said if you are ready to buy do it fast due to the supply chain issues that are in some case preventing cars from being built in U.S. factories due to important chips that are in short supply. Well, she did not say that exactly but she was very aware of the issues.

    My dad buys the car and no joke, the 7-9 new cars that hit the dealers lot were basically gone in a matter of hours (several were probably already pre-sold, and the dealer said that the rest would be sold before the day had ended). He did not overpay, but not much of a discount either (which is okay, he is not much of a haggler anyway).

    Usually, you roll your eyes when a car salesperson says buy now or they will gone soon, but in this case that is no joke! I am just very happy he got in under the wire because not long after he bought the car I started seeing reports that Auto plants in the South literally were temporarily shutting down because they could not get key components to complete building the vehicle.

    I may chafe a bit that I have noticed my grocery bill shows less savings than usual when I look at the you saved this much section by using on-line coupons and your loyalty card part of the receipt, but I get it. This has put a bit of pressure on job makers to offer better wages so that actually makes up a bit for the price bumps in everyday and luxury goods. This upward pressure on folks to offer better wages also explains why folks like Kevin Drum remind us on occasion not to freak out about inflation just yet.

    I think things will be get back to what we might consider some new form of “normal” around 12-18 months from now. If feels like it tracks that the supply chain will be less wonky sometime in early 2023.

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  6. Scott says:

    @inhumans99: I’m also in the market for a new car but refuse to buy a new or used one at the current prices. I just keep the ones I have running (4 cars all over 100K miles). Compared to any monthly payments for new cars, a one month equivalent payment will fix any issues I have with the cars.

    The only downside is that I really want a new car. As does the wife. Pressures from all sides.

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  7. Mu Yixiao says:

    I work in manufacturing (I’m in the office end, but we’re a manufacturing plant). Our buyers are pulling their hair out. We have record numbers of orders, but we can’t get the parts we need to build the stuff. What used to have a lead-time of a couple weeks have extended out to 30 or even 50 weeks.

    Our engineers are working with the buyers to find anything similar to the chips we use, and then re-engineering our product to use what we can get.

    Assembly workers are moving around the factory, from cell to cell, building whatever it is we have the parts for today.

    And it’s not just boxes. It’s the plastic bags we wrap stuff in, the shaped foam that protects it in the boxes… It’s insane.

    Fortunately, we have some great teams that are getting us through this, but… it’s tough.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @inhumans99: @Scott: Consumer Reports every now and again repeat the answer to when it becomes more expensive to maintain an old car than to buy a new one. Answer – Never. But there comes a time you realize you’re no longer 99.9% sure it’ll start tomorrow, or won’t break down far from home. Just traded in my 2015 Honda Odyssey with 140K miles on a 2022. Paid list on one that arrived at the dealer that morning and felt lucky. When we bought the 2015 the dealer looked all over SW Ohio for the color we wanted and still gave us a pretty good discount.

    The new one has restyling you’d have to look closely side by side to notice, driver assist stuff that’s as much distraction as assist, heavy design influence from the Honda NA legal department, and a new ten speed automatic that has my fingers crossed. But the old one was comfortable, hugely practical, and ran like a train for it’s six years.

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  9. liberal capitalist says:

    So, maybe it was a bad move by the corporate bean-counters and consultants to move manufacturing to the lowest cost countries, and destroy manufacturing and skilled union labor in the USA?

    My my. No one could have predicted that happening. Unpossible!!!

    The 1970’s is laughing it’s ass off at us now. Service economy my ass.

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  10. de stijl says:

    @KM:

    That was a really good metphor. The boxing match. We’re gonna win on points eventually, but we will take some hard shots.

    I fully expect to get a jab or two every year for the rest of my life. And I will because I am a good citizen.

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  11. liberal capitalist says:

    @inhumans99:

    I think things will be get back to what we might consider some new form of “normal” around 12-18 months from now. If feels like it tracks that the supply chain will be less wonky sometime in early 2023.

    That sounds about right… enough time for the unvaccinated to die off in the USA and the world can get back to the usual f’ed-up shit that we do.

    A broom is drearily sweeping
    Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
    Somewhere, a queen is weeping
    Somewhere, a king has no wife

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  12. de stijl says:

    We have a national oil reserve.

    There should also be a national toilet paper stockpile too. I just happened to be running low in early March last year and went to the store to buy a 4 pack of Charmin and the whole aisle was empty. That was an eye-opener.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Has anyone noticed there’s a fukton of people down at the southern border who would love to take some of those shitty jobs?

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  14. David S. says:

    @de stijl: Win on points, crippled for life.

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  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    Part of this is the end result of corporate America’s obsession with efficiency. Excess capacity is extremely inefficient, but getting rid of it all means that as soon as something goes wrong, the entire system collapses in “for want of a nail, the horse was lost…” fashion

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  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    I fully expect to get a jab or two every year for the rest of my life. And I will because I am a good citizen.

    Seriously, just make our annual flu vaccine into annual fluco vaccines

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  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    One other question I have: why haven’t the vaccines been updated yet? They’re nearly a year old, and I’m wondering why pfizer and moderna aren’t talking about a new vaccine based on the delta variant and are still just selling the original alpha variant vaccine?

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  18. Christine says:

    I work at corporate for a major CPG company and getting raw materials be it animal, plant, plastic or cardboard has been a royal struggle. Nearly everyday my team is hit with reviewing and approving ‘alternates’- think smooth cut carrots vs crinkle cut carrots. I know, first world problems. But many ingredients and packaging materials come from Asia/China/Korea. JIT manufacturing has hit us hard and of course there is no plan to fix it. It’s a ride it out and make do.

    On a personal note, I couldn’t find hash brown patties (my comfort breakfast food) at Meijer, Jewel or Aldi. Finally found a few packages at Wal*Mart (my last resort for food).

    But my biggest disappointment is Sugar Free Popsicles. Tried store brands and it was like eating perfumed ice sticks. Nasty. I get it, my company stopped making the slower moving products to push out a ton of the #1 seller.

    2022 much less 2023 seems a long time for me to wait for my favorite frozen treat.

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  19. KM says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    They likely will be if possible. It’s more likely a business issue then a physical one as the companies own the flu vaccines will need to be in a partnership with Moderna, etc as it will be essentially a new product. It will require testing and approval on a separate track then the current ones so we’re looking at 2024 at best.

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  20. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The vaccines in use currently were developed against the ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2 which broke out in the world in March of last year. The Alpha variant is more recent than that, though it was already circulating by the time of the phase 3 trials.

    Pfizer, presumably with BioNTech, is known to be working on a Delta-specific vaccine. No idea what stage that development is at, but the vaccine needs to be tested all over. it’s likely safe, but how effective will it be? Not just against Delta, but against other known varieties, and whatever new ones crop up.

    Other stuff in development are intranasal vaccines. The idea here is to prime the adaptive immune system at the point of infection (the nasal cavity, throat, and lungs), as well as by another route. Again, clueless on how far along that is.

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  21. EddieInCA says:

    Real world examples:

    1. We are paying double for lumber to build sets in LA compared to 2019. Literally more than double.

    2. I had a back patio cover built for my backyard. I ordered it in July of last year. It got installed in April of this year. It was nothing fancy. Just a simple aluminum 26×16 white patio cover. Took 8 months to get the parts to build it. 8 months. Previously, according to the builder the lead time was 3 weeks, not 8 months.

    3. I had six windows in my house replaced. Ordered them in August of this year. The company expects to take possession of them in late February to be installed in March. Six windows. Pretty standard sizes. Nothing fancy, but still custom. I’d have bought them at Home Depot or Lowe’s, but the additional work to make them fit made it untenable. So… Six months waiting for six windows.

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  22. Tony W says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Those people have brownish skin and talk funny – so they are pariahs.

    We need somebody to hate far more than we need cheap carne asada.

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  23. de stijl says:

    When TP became available again it was absolute garbage crap.

    The day I saw TP available on the shelves again I nearly wept from relief and joy. Civilization has returned. Those there my literal exact words I said out loud to no one in particular.

    When I used it I realized that it was technically toilet paper but it was the worst possible instance. It was nigh useless.

    I had a roll and a half of Bounty at home and scored two packs of paper napkins because I thought outside the box, but then I learned those products should not be flushed so I had to adapt. It was not pleasant.

    I had to use 4x the number of squares I was used to.

    When you go to a store you expect the thing you want to buy will be there. When it isn’t you are stymied.

    The next week’s trip was frankly scary. The fresh and frozen meat department was absolutely bare. That freaked me out a lot.

    We are utterly dependent on the supply chain and when it fails we have little or no options.

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  24. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    Pfizer, presumably with BioNTech, is known to be working on a Delta-specific vaccine. No idea what stage that development is at, but the vaccine needs to be tested all over. it’s likely safe, but how effective will it be? Not just against Delta, but against other known varieties, and whatever new ones crop up.

    How do they get a new flu vaccine every year? Do they get some special exemption from testing requirements because it’s so routine?

    That’s kinda why I’m wondering why coronavirus vaccines aren’t updated yet, because flu vaccines have been updated for this year already and I was wondering why coronavirus vaccines haven’t gone through a similar process, especially when we’re now talking about boosters.

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  25. just nutha says:

    @KM: Isn’t there also an issue with timing of the injection on influenza vaccine? My clinic advises people to wait on flu shots until after December because the main flu season is in February and a shot taken in October or November will lose its protective qualities? If that’s so, it’s possible that Covid and flu shot may not coordinate calendar wise for at least some, if not most people.

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  26. Gustopher says:

    @liberal capitalist:

    The 1970’s is laughing it’s ass off at us now. Service economy my ass.

    So long as there’s a $15/hr job telling people that toilet paper is out of stock, I’m sure we will be fine.

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  27. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    My non-expert opinion, is that annual flu vaccines can’t be tested for efficacy, as there is no widespread circulation of the pathogen involved.

    It shows, too, as some year they are very effective and others not. This has more to do with the flu varieties targeted, than with whether or not they elicit an immune response.

    In contrast, Delta is all over the place all over the world. A Delta shot can be tested.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @just nutha: My doctor advises taking the flu shot in September-October, as the flu season often starts in the late fall (cresting in January/February). She also claims that the effectiveness wears down, but that it doesn’t go away entirely, even after many years.

    Her claim is that even when the flu is a complete miss, her elderly patients who get the shot every year seem to do better than the ones who don’t, and that you’re basically just collecting vaccines for decades (perhaps weakened by the time they get put to use, but still better than nothing), but that it might just be that people who get the flu shot tend to take care of themselves, or that those who don’t get the flu shot don’t bother going to the doctor when it’s a mild flu.

    Flu shots are basically harmless, and I get it every year even when it is predicted to be a complete miss on the circulating strains as part of the “collecting vaccines like pokemon” theory.

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  29. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    Part of the TP problem is that apparently consumer TP and commercial TP use entirely separate supply chains and factories, and when everyone started going at home instead of work/restaurants/schools/etc., there was too much commercial TP and not enough consumer TP and no way to get the TP from the former to the latter.

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  30. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    The next week’s trip was frankly scary. The fresh and frozen meat department was absolutely bare. That freaked me out a lot.

    PSA: FEMA recommends having a two week supply of food and water for each member of your household in case there is a disruption of supply chains after a natural disaster

    In my case, I have 64 cans of Campbell’s Soup and three five gallon water bottles set aside (which I gradually rotate through so they don’t get too old).

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  31. JohnSF says:

    In the UK we a currently experiencing a REALLY serious lesson about the importance, and inter-connectedness, of supply chains.

    Simple (LOL) version:
    Food and other supply badly stressed by Brexit & Covid: shortage of largely formerly East European labour for harvesting and processing food.

    Chronic shortage of HGV (heavy truck) drivers becomes acute due to covid and Brexit: isolate app pings hit drivers hard due to level of contacts, European drivers no longer contracting in UK, European delivery rivers losing easy means to pick up “fill in” loads while in UK before picking up the “back home” load.

    UK electricity market in September very tight.

    Large number of reactors down for maintenance over Summer: get the job done before Winter, and maintenance load getting worse as reactors being kept online long after original dates (Hinkley Point A came online in 1975!)

    Still but cloudy weather: wind (and solar) generation drops off a cliff. Under 3000GW; about a quarter of the September average.

    Gas generation sets are brought online, but still can’t hold the load.

    Stand-by off-lined coal stations spun up at West Burton and Drax.

    Due to wind power shortage Ireland shuts the Moyle and EW grid interconnectors.
    17/09/21 fire at the Anglo-French IFA interconnector; thought to be due to “grid load” drawing too much power through the link; site in Sellindge, Kent expected offline for months.

    Power production trade market prices spike to £4037.80/MWh, ten times above the average in September 2020(bloody hell!)

    Across Europe gas prices have been high due to shortages after end-covid restarts and problems in Russian supply related to lag in maintenance over past years (and, possibly, Kremlin games re. pipeline use).

    Gas prices in UK are ramped due to European shortage, UK out of “market smoothing” EU buying pool, lack of UK gas storage since idiotic decision to shut down the Rough Sea storage facility in 2017 (down from several months store to days) and massive demand for electricity generation.

    Gas price per therm now at about 170p, up from around 8p in summer 202o!

    Domestic gas suppliers start falling over: consumer energy price cap and lack of finance to hedge meant many were running hand-to-mouth anyway.
    Six bust so far.

    Due to cost of energy (both electric and gas needed for ops) the two big fertilizer plants in Britain cease production due to being uneconomic to operate.
    Problem: these plants are also, (as a side effect of nitrogen fixation IIRC) the main sources of carbon dioxide in the UK.
    And said CO2 turns out to be very important indeed: low-oxygen food storage, dry ice for chilled goods, various low oxygen industrial processes, steel making, plastics, stunning animals for slaughter, bread making, oil recovery in the North Sea, and (sheer hilarity) nuclear reactor operations.
    Food suppliers forecast critical collapse of already over-stressed supply chains within days.

    Oopsie.

    Government now subsidising the fertilizer plants and arranging for subsidised customer transfers from failing to viable gas suppliers. Happy taxpayers!
    (No news yet of any electricity suppliers going bust, but I suspect some are teetering)

    What fun.

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  32. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I do keep emergency supplies. I did even before 2020. After covid I added tp which was a tactical oversight on my part in the past. Added packaged beef jerky too.

    Pro tip: if you smush a roll of toilet paper you reduce the volume by about 20 percent.

    Another pro tip: when you switch out water use the old as pasta water. You’re gonna bring it to a full boil so you’re safe as houses.

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  33. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    This might be too revealing, but I have not pooped in a public restroom in decades.

    That is just not a viable psychological option for me. I would do anything to not do that.

    I have driven home from work, did my business, then went back a time or two if my regular schedule got bollixed up.

    Quasi public pooping is a hard no for me.

    I was a zero burden on the tp part of the pre-Covid public restroom supply chain. In retrospect, I may have used a tiny bit more of my share of public restroom soap products.

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  34. JohnSF says:

    A good couple of articles on the issues in the UK:
    Ian Dunt at iNews.
    (Also note Ian re. the terrible decision of the government to withdraw the universal credit welfare top-up)
    And Will Dunn at the New Statesman: Gas price crisis

    And this article by Felicity Lawrence in the Guardian: The empty shelves crisis isn’t just down to Covid and Brexit – it’s been decades in the making

    It’s making even “conservative” me think about what a Labour activist said to me decades ago:

    “A unionised workforce is a more resilient workforce. Not to mention one that is treated with the dignity and respect due to human beings.”

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  35. de stijl says:

    @JohnSF:

    I was shocked when a very slight majority voted “Leave”. I thought there would be a last minute reckoning of cost-benefit private analysis.

    I was shocked when Trump won by a tiny sliver of electoral votes.

    Both were clearly maladaptive and driven by spite.

    It astonishes me when a collection of folks decides on a course that will ultimately and obviously harm them. And then they do it anyway knowing full well the consequences.

    It’s why “Cutting off your nose to spite your face” is still a valid adage or proverb.

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  36. Lounsbury says:

    @liberal capitalist: No it was not a bad thing for developing countries to get their own opportunities to develop and not be condemnded to being pictureques colonial holidays for rich white people to coo over and give some spare cash to picturesque poverty development agencies who sell their poverty porn, while engaging in domestic mercatile protectionism.

    The fact there is a logistics logjam in the midst of the most severe global pandemic since 1918 says nothing in particular there.

    On the other hand, short-term, quarter driven investment patterns and lack of attention to redundancy (or lack of mandate in particularly logistical capacity redundancy) is rather something that deserves critical attention.

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  37. JohnSF says:

    @de stijl:
    Both shocked me too.
    Lost my prophet wings there.

    In terms of causes of Brexit, spite was in there, without a doubt.
    But there was a section of the provincial working class that was genuinely not well served by the economy from the 1990’s on.
    Casualisation, harsh competition on wages and conditions enforced by not just employers but the whole structure at the bottom end of the markets; and not ameliorated by government regulation or unions.

    Mixed up with deal of racism, nostalgia, inchoate sub-cultural and class resentments, half understood economics, deprivation, educational failure, genuine but warped patriotism, right-populist print media, blatantly lying leave campaign propaganda, opportunistic politicians, the incompetence of the Corbynites etc etc.

    It’s sad; the cure opted for is only making the disease worse.

    But IMO most Brexit voters genuinely didn’t believe the warnings then; and I think a lot still don’t.
    It can be damned hard to admit you are wrong, if you can distort the evidence to show that you WERE right, dammit!
    Just ask me about that.

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  38. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    Just got my flu jab voucher via work (can get them done at supermarket pharmacists).
    Should get a slot booked in the next couple of weeks.
    Expecting covid booster shot in February.

    Though I hope govts. are looking seriously at ramping vaccine supply to poorer countries as per President Biden today.
    I may have bashed Joe Biden at times (and may again), but he really is one of the good guys when you get down to it.
    Can anyone imagine Trump making a speech like that?
    Go Joe!

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  39. JohnSF says:

    @Lounsbury:
    Words of a teacher:

    “Generally speaking, the more efficient a system is, the less resilient it is in proportion.”

    To which he sometimes added: “Unless you’re talking about Tsarist Russia, of course.”

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