Add the potential for a blue Christmas to the list of crises that are bedeviling the Biden administration right now. A list that already includes a still-strained economy (the “Great Resignation”), and inflation as high as it’s been in 13 years. Plus the Afghanistan debacle, food and gas prices soaring, the disappointing September jobs report, this year’s Delta COVID variant, and a bottleneck in the US supply chain have all contributed to a slump in Biden’s approval rating. And now? An administration official has just warned that the congested supply chain could actually threaten some Americans’ Christmas.
Supply chain crisis
When a reporter on Wednesday asked if the White House could offer some sort of assurance that the supply chain bottlenecks will be worked out, such that people’s Christmas packages and presents will arrive on time, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded with a — well, “no,” the White House can’t actually promise that.
“We are not the Postal Service or UPS or FedEx,” she said. “We cannot guarantee. What we can do is use every lever at the federal government’s disposal to reduce delays, to ensure that we are addressing bottlenecks in the system.”
President Biden said the Port of Los Angeles would move toward 24/7 operations in an effort to untangle supply chains and clear disruptions that have threatened the holiday shopping season. https://t.co/pWCLxQMjxs pic.twitter.com/8Us1WGNmh1
— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 14, 2021
One thing that’s important to note is that the Biden administration did not create this crisis. A crisis, specifically, that’s manifested itself in the form of things like clogged ports. As well as increased costs to transport products, which, of course, get inevitably passed down to consumers. Part of the problem is the just-in-time nature of the shipment of goods that’s been completely wrecked by at least two huge externalities: An explosion in e-commerce, thanks to the pandemic. And also the pandemic itself.
Employees in the logistics industry like truck drivers and warehouse staff, for example, can get sick with COVID. And when, say, ports are clogged as they are now, the pandemic-induced explosion in e-commerce means extra pressure gets put on alternate methods of transporting goods. Which just spreads the problem all around.
As a reminder, by the way: The US Secretary of Transportation, now dealing with cascading bottlenecks across the US supply chain, is only three years removed from being the mayor of a small town in Indiana home to a little more than 100,000 people. Just saying.
Ships wait off the California coast, unable to unload their cargo.
Truckers are overworked and overwhelmed, often confronting logjams.
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 10, 2021
So, what now?
The million-dollar question is not whether the Biden administration is responsible for causing all this (it didn’t). The question is what this administration is doing about the problem.
One incontrovertible fact along those lines: This problem has actually festered for months. And while it’s a positive step that the administration on Wednesday tapped leaders from relevant companies — like FedEx, UPS, Target, and Walmart — to gather for a virtual White House meeting to discuss possible solutions, the president of the trade association for the US toy industry also said that it’s going to take “many, many months” to unclog the US West Coast ports to get them back to a state of normality.
“It’s hitting us at the worst time of the year, which is the holidays,” Toy Association President Steve Pasierb told Fox News this week.
President Biden on Wednesday announced two California ports would operate around the clock to help fix the problem. But that’s not an end-all solution.
Shop now, shop early
Psaki’s comments, to be sure, don’t imply a guarantee that most people’s Christmas will see a disruption. One of the consequences of this crisis has to do with an inability to replenish goods on shelves. That’s because those goods are sitting stuck in a port somewhere. In other words, get your shopping done as soon as possible.
“The bottom line is that there are challenges — because of the demand, because of the systemic issues — that affect the supply chain,” Federal Maritime Commission chair Dan Maffei told Politico. “They are not going to cancel Christmas but are maybe going to make it so that you can’t get the exact toy you want for your kids.”
The pessimistic outlook about all this? That we’ll have a somewhat muted Christmas retail season this year because of all these challenges. The fourth quarter is the most crucial time for so many businesses. This means the negative effects of all these problems keep snowballing ever deeper into the future. And next year is a midterm election year, too, in case anyone forgot.