The supply chain crisis is how the universe teaches Americans about logistics. Before COVID-19, most Americans neither knew nor cared about the intricacies of just-in-time management. We have remained largely indifferent to the tactics by which all possible efficiency has been demanded throughout the journey of making our knickknacks, from the raw materials to the box at our doorstep. With a 6.2% year-over-year price increase in October, we’re starting to pay attention to the architecture and management that we once took for granted.
We have learned that in order to take every possible moment of work from warehouse workers, bathroom breaks have been reduced. The shifts have been extended from eight to twelve hours. Health care plans have lost dental care and vision, and premiums are higher. Unionized staff have been transformed into sub-contractors, who can be hired and fired at will. When the pandemic knocked aggregate demand down, the big engine of just-in-time logistics slowed down as a result. Now, with the restrictions lifted and the savings ready to be spent, the machine is at a standstill.
As demand returned, just-in-time production did not have the capacity to produce enough on time. The effects spill over into both large and small purchases. Persistent semiconductor shortages are partly to blame for PlayStation’s absence under the tree at Christmas. The number of new homes under construction in the United States is limited by supply chain issues.
In US ports, backlogs are increasing as warehouse space becomes more expensive, drivers are quarantined, and capacity at each stage is limited. The number of ships waiting outside the Port of Los Angeles, a single digit before the crisis, recently hit 100.
Climate change is making matters worse. Droughts in Canada and Europe mean already high corn and soybean prices are even higher, with ripple effects hitting your Thanksgiving table.
Increasingly, Americans are also discovering the last step, the most finely crafted and then forgotten cog in the supply chain: us. It’s harder to identify how we’ve been educated by the supply chain, in part because it’s been happening for so long.
In the 1930s, American marketing textbooks encouraged manufacturers to adopt a style that would date a product so that a consumer “would realize that a lot of things are seemingly decrepit before the works wear out.” Planned obsolescence was an idea adopted by British porcelain makers in the 1800s and on which French fashion houses depended in the 1670s. Although the term “door buster” is an idea barely 100 years old. For years, tender products have been a tool of marketing to consumers since the mid-1700s.
This long story makes sense, as logistics empires were once quite simply called empires. British and Dutch East Indian companies invented the modern supply chain, using gunships and imperial orders to secure territory, labor, raw materials and markets.
With Black Friday and holiday shopping approaching, it’s tempting to think that we might be able to reverse a few centuries of accumulated training and retire. (I went to a mall on Black Friday when I first arrived in America and will definitely not be going back.)
The Church of Stop Shopping and Buy Nothing Day encourage us to cancel Black Friday by not engaging in transactions. It’s hard to avoid spending, in a culture that has created “vacations” around it: Online retailers have introduced Cyber ââMonday, and there’s even the convenient (and important) karmic purge of Giving Tuesday. But resisting the rituals requires more than economy, and a few days of consumerism’s cold turkey doesn’t solve the problem.
Remember what exactly we get when we open the box on the doorstep. Whatever the object, we don’t just buy the right to use or care for something, to show it or to savor it. As David Graeber and David Wengrow’s âThe Dawn of Everythingâ suggests, the defining characteristic of modern private property is the right to abuse and destroy it. In exercising this right, capitalism has turned the world into a garbage heap. Humans precipitated the Sixth Extinction, the burning of the planet and the exploitation of hundreds of millions of workers. All of this so that we can get this pre-Christmas fidget spinner for $ 3.99.
At the center of consumer society, in other words, is an ethic of learned recklessness. Supply chain disruption is a long overdue call for attention. Getting back âto normalâ would be a tragic missed opportunity.
Consumerism is not disturbed by Buy Nothing Day, if afterwards we simply resume shopping as usual. But if we learn a deeper lesson from this time of inflation and shipping delays, there is the potential for lasting change. What if consumers came to see the supply chain more completely, not only as the reason we anxiously refresh the UPS delivery page, but as the long-standing cause of social and global disruption? This awareness would be the foundation of an ethics of care.
Caring is not about refraining from commerce, but living with a clearer knowledge of how meeting our needs depends on the fabric of life around us. We depend on each other and the planet we live on. Acute care can be transformative.
For students of today’s supply chain uprisings, there are some instructive lessons. In the history of the supply chain, it was the revolutionary concern of his fellow workers – freed and enslaved – that broke a cotton supply chain founded on white supremacy and the commercialization of enslaved humans. .
The workers of the 21st century are tired of being treated like animals and are not ready to join the ranks of the minimum wage. You can support the wave of strikes across the United States by taking action, as Teen Vogue notes, like going to a picket line or donating to aid funds.
Direct action, based on caring for the Earth where resources come from, is also one of the most effective ways to deal with the disruptions of climate change that will continue to disrupt the supply chain for the rest of the world. this century. The Indigenous Environmental Network points out that direct action on pipelines, led by Indigenous groups over the past decade, has delayed or stopped greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to one-quarter of annual US emissions. United and Canada.
The opposite of consumer culture is not to refrain from trading, but to appreciate the people and resources behind the things we buy and to change our behavior accordingly. By thinking about those harmed by consumer choices and the irreversible effects on Earth, we can begin to re-sanctify what the supply chain has belittled. The dignity of our fellow human beings is sacred. Land and water are sacred. The deed should reflect this, not obscure it.
If we now buy less things, or wait longer to get them or pay for them more, these are invitations to reinvent the system of work and extraction that makes us complicit in acts of violence and unworthiness in the world. whole. This âbrokenâ supply chain is an opportunity to realize that the opposite of individual consumption is not abstinence. It is part of a collective care revolution.
Raj Patel, professor and researcher in public affairs at the University of Texas, is co-author of âA History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planetâ. Â© 2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.