Shortage by Design: Trucking in America

Image by Bernd Dittrich.

While a pandemic tying global supply chains in knots is a fresh experience for the American political chorus, it hasn’t stopped the chorus from cranking up its familiar refrains. Conservatives have predictively targeted unions and lazy workers, both for their usual alleged goldbricking and for supposedly blocking automation projects that would make American ports more efficient. Since the pandemic, they have added vaccine mandates. For his part, in October, President Biden sought to partner with the country’s largest retailers to fix the crisis as well as calling on the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle about 40 percent of the country’s imports, to work around the clock to unload the dozens of ships backed up off the coast. Around this time is was reported that some of the largest retailers were chartering their own, albeit much smaller cargo ships to get around the backlog and dock at smaller ports around the country (the top 5 U.S. importers by volume are Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ashley Furniture).

On December 23rd, Biden, speaking ahead of a meeting of the task force he put together this past spring to tackle shortages and inflation, announced that Christmas had indeed been saved with store shelves, stocked at 90 percent and the speed of home deliveries increasing, proclaiming ‘Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered, shelves are not empty…The much-predicted crisis didn’t occur.’ Meanwhile, with the emergence of the Omnicron variant, a spokesperson for Maersk, one of the world’s shipping giants, recently said in The Guardian “We do not see major improvement as long as we have a line of sight, which is into 2022…very likely that it continues thereafter and for North America even longer.’ Other experts envision problems lasting well into next year.

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Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City. He is the author of Emerald City: How Capital Transformed New York (Zer0 Books).

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