The supply chain shortage starts at the top

This is a false analogy:

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.[1]


Micheline Maynard argues that U.S. consumers became spoiled—tellingly, she doesn’t mention Amazon, and not just because Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post—by plentiful selections and rapid deliveries in the pre-pandemic era. Her advice?

Rather than living constantly on the verge of throwing a fit, and risking taking it out on overwhelmed servers, struggling shop owners or late-arriving delivery people, we’d do ourselves a favor by consciously lowering expectations.[2]

The advice isn’t wrong, but her diagnosis is incomplete. And because her diagnosis is incomplete, her solution—patience—is inadequate.

Class has long loomed as a problem in U.S. society. One of the recurring themes in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is of the elite’s effort to give just barely enough to barely enough people, and thus to divide the poorer classes against themselves, to avoid an insurrection.[3] and indeed the elite rely upon divisions amongst us to preserve their power and privileges over the rest of us.[4] But it was not a factor in the shortages Maynard points to in the way it is in the present.

Customers’ persistent whine, “Why don’t they just hire more people?,” sounds feeble in this era of the Great Resignation, especially in industries, such as food service, with reputations for being tough places to work.[5]

“Hir[ing] more people” would require employers to actually pay people a decent wage.[6] It would require them to provide decent working conditions. It would require them to stop reducing workers to units of production. It would require them to treat human beings as human beings rather than as objects subject to bosses’ power.[7] It would require them to stop using some of us to intimidate the rest into submission.[8]

It would, in short, require the elite to give up the very means by which they maintain their power and privileges over the rest of us. Their refusal to do so is at the heart of the shortages we now experience.[9] That’s different from the Arab oil embargo. It’s different from the sacrifices made to defeat the Nazis. It’s different from the rise of automobile manufacturing in Detroit.[10]

Yes, indeed, we need to treat each other much better than we do. But this needs to start at the top.

  1. [1]Micheline Maynard, “Don’t rant about short-staffed stores and supply chain woes. Try to lower expectations,” Washington Post, October 18, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/18/dont-rant-about-short-staffed-stores-supply-chain-woes-try-lower-expectations/
  2. [2]Micheline Maynard, “Don’t rant about short-staffed stores and supply chain woes. Try to lower expectations,” Washington Post, October 18, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/18/dont-rant-about-short-staffed-stores-supply-chain-woes-try-lower-expectations/
  3. [3]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: HarperPerennial, 2003).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 19, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/2012/03/19/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/
  5. [5]Micheline Maynard, “Don’t rant about short-staffed stores and supply chain woes. Try to lower expectations,” Washington Post, October 18, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/18/dont-rant-about-short-staffed-stores-supply-chain-woes-try-lower-expectations/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “The right to survive,” Not Housebroken, October 17, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/10/17/the-right-to-survive/
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Factory farmed humans,” Not Housebroken, May 17, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/05/17/factory-farmed-humans/; David Benfell, “The wages are injury enough; the insult in some ways even worse,” Not Housebroken, August 14, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/08/14/the-wages-are-injury-enough-the-insult-in-some-ways-even-worse/; David Benfell, “The contradiction of class,” Not Housebroken, October 2, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/10/02/the-contradiction-of-class/
  8. [8]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/; David Benfell, “About that alleged ‘labor shortage,’” Not Housebroken, June 10, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/05/09/about-that-alleged-labor-shortage/; Eric Levitz, “Letting the Economy Create Jobs for Everyone Is (Sadly) Radical,” New York, June 4, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/06/biden-full-employment-policy-labor-shortage-inflation.html; Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/; Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam, “States that cut unemployment early aren’t seeing a hiring boom, but who gets hired is changing,” Washington Post, July 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/07/27/unemployment-insurance-go-away/; Matt Petras, “In the continuing pandemic, businesses need workers, but are jobs meeting the needs of residents?” Public Source, August 12, 2021, https://www.publicsource.org/pittsburgh-workforce-covid-unemployment-hiring-worker-shortage/; Greg Rosalsky, “Is There Really A Truck Driver Shortage?” National Public Radio, May 25, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2021/05/25/999784202/is-there-really-a-truck-driver-shortage; Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  9. [9]Amy Davidson Sorkin, “The Supply-Chain Mystery,” New Yorker, September 26, 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/10/04/the-supply-chain-mystery
  10. [10]Francis M. Grunow, “A brief history of housing in Detroit,” Model D, November 17, 2015, https://www.modeldmedia.com/features/detroit-housing-pt1-111715.aspx

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