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Posted Jan 17, 2022 by Ray Patrick

Muh Supply Chains

It’s a winter afternoon in the North Rockies. I decide to swing by the grocery store on my way home from work.

On the way there, I hear a talking head on the radio spluttering about “massive supply chain shortages” and “irreparable damage to our economy.” While he’s talking, I pass car lots full of brand new automobiles, convenience stores stocked brim-full of stuff nobody needs, and several gas stations with normal(-ish) prices. Auto parts stores, hair salons, and restaurants are all open. I don’t know where all these goods are coming from, but I’d be surprised if it was from anywhere within a hundred miles of here.

When I get into the store, the first thing I see is a display of strawberries, peaches, and avocados. All this in January, mind you, and in Colorado. Some “supply shortage.” There was a time within living memory when out-of-season fruit, much less exotic fruit from abroad, was a luxury reserved for the mega-wealthy. It’s so commonplace now that we barely notice it , and in fact people become indignant when it is interrupted.


It strikes me while I’m in the store that we’ve taken the “JIT” model to its logical extreme. “JIT” or “Just-In-Time” manufacturing is a technique for maximizing economy of resources by only producing parts the moment they’re requested and only taking delivery of raw materials the moment they’re needed. This cuts down on warehouse space, processing time, and associated overhead. “Made-to-order” is a similar concept that you’re already familiar with.

The JIT model is great in times of plenty and when demand is stable and well-known. But when it’s extended all the way to your local grocery store, there comes a point when the psyche of the average person becomes affected. Our grandparents and great-grandparents would have thought having months of food on hand was sound and prudent. We now regard people who buy more than a few days’ worth of food at a time as “panic buyers,” or worse, “hoarders.” Why would those inconsiderate people come buy up all the stuff? Don’t they know it’s delivered Just In Time and you can just show up the day your cabinets run empty and be all right? The cognitive dissonance is amazing. We scream about “supply chain shortages” while we can go down to the store anytime we want (usually in a gas-powered vehicle) and have our pick of produce from literally all over the world, proving that (at least in one way) our complaints about shortages are unfounded. On the other hand, we also demonize those who “hoard” or “panic buy” which belies our real faith in the JIT system and reveals just what a house of cards it really is.

I guess what I’m saying here is that you ought to grab a few extra cans, bags, etc. of shelf-stable food the next time you’re at the store. Don’t “hoard” or “panic,” just be prudent is all. Remember the grasshopper and the ant.

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Topics: politics