Inflation / Supply Chain / Worker Shortage Crisis. What the hell is going on?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. It’s because I’ve been analyzing the most recent economic data in the hope of being able to relate it in some way to my theory that worsening overpopulation, and trade with overpopulated nations, is driving unemployment and poverty higher – ultimately leading to mankind’s undoing.

I find myself at a loss, however. None of what’s going on in the economy today adds. Finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t make sense because something fishy is going on. So I’m just going to present the data and let you decide for yourself.

Trade Data:

Let’s begin with this chart of our trade deficit in manufactured goods. It had begun to show signs of leveling off until June of 2020 when it took off again, but has leveled off again for the past five months, setting a record in September. The trade deficit with China soared to its highest level since December 2018, as imports rose and as China continued to renege on its commitments to buy U.S. exports, confident that the Biden administration doesn’t have the backbone to enforce the “Phase 1” trade agreement. At any rate, it seems that companies who switched to their secondary suppliers in other countries when tariffs were imposed on China had no choice but to order more from China when those secondary suppliers were unable to keep up with demand. That’s not cheap and surely factored into rising prices.

The soaring trade deficit kind of makes sense. As the pandemic began to bite and as stimulus money fattened up wallets, consumers began to simultaneously hoard some items while soing on a shopping spree for others. Companies increased their orders for foreign goods by $20 billion per month until the supply chain was choked off by a shortage of shipping containers and a glut of cargo ships stalled at inbound ports. Now, here’s a chart of our overall trade deficit. As you can see, it was fairly stable at an average of about $50 billion per month but, sometime around June of 2020, it began to soar, reaching an all-time record of $80.9 billion in September, the most recent month for which trade data is available. That’s a jump of $30 billion per month. The increase in manufactured imports explains most of it. The rest is due to a huge jump in oil imports. In May of 2020, oil imports had fallen to a modern-era record low of $5.95 billion. In September, imports were back up to $18.9 billion and climbing.

Last week I saw a news report that said the number of ships anchored offshore from the port of Los Angeles had risen to over 100. It was also reported that warehouses across the entire U.S. are completely full. So full are the warehouses that truckloads and containers full of goods are being parked in empty lots and anywhere they can legally park.

At the same time, we see rolling product outages of everything on our store shelves, including domestically produced food items. There is talk of turkey shortages and cranberry shortages for Thanksgiving. One day you’ll see an empty shelf where some commonly used item once sat. Next week, that space is full but some other items are now gone. You never know what you’re going to be able to get.

It’s these shortages that are blamed for soaring prices. But how the hell do we have these shortages? The trade data and news reports about ports clogged with offloaded containers and warehouses stuffed to the rafters all paint a picture of a glut of products beyond anything that anyone could ever have imagined.

I’m telling you, something’s not right. I believe global corporations have learned a new trick, using the pandemic as cover to create an illusion of shortages to justify big price hikes, all in an effort to grab up as much government stimulus money as they can. Domestic producers and shipping companies are also capitalizing, and blaming it all on the pandemic – something that was a factor early on but hasn’t been – at least economically speaking – for a long time now.

Employment Data:

The most recent employment data is even more confusing. We see the “help wanted” signs posted on the door of virtually every establishment we walk into. We hear the news reports about shortages of workers in every industry, from manufacturing to fast food. Companies are boosting wages and offering various kinds of “signing bonuses,” yet still can’t attract workers. The worker shortage is constantly cited as the reason behind empty shelves and soaring prices.

But wait a minute. The Labor Department reported last week that unemployment fell to 4.6% in October. That’s a pretty low level of unemployment. In the past fourteen years, it was lower than that for only a three-year period from March of 2017 to March of 2020. And look at this chart of per capita employment, which is essentially the same thing as the “labor force participation rate” which is tracked by the labor department. It fell like a rock at the onset of the pandemic, but has almost completely recovered just as quickly. Today, it stands at the same level as it did in September of 2016. (It has never yet recovered to the level that existed before the global financial crisis of 2008.) In September of 2016, we were in the final months of the 2016 election, and the Democrats were touting the strength of the economic recovery from the financial crisis. Inflation was nearly non-existent. Shelves were fully stocked. Every establishment was fully staffed. Unemployment was 5.0%. So how is it that today, in spite of the fact that the labor climate is almost exactly the same now as it was then, and the fact that we have two million more workers employed today than we did then, shelves are empty, prices are soaring and everyone complains that it’s because of a worker shortage?

I believe part of it can be explained by the explosion in highway construction work and in residential and commercial construction. Perhaps there’s even some element of growth in manufacturing employment as companies grow more disgusted with the global supply chain. I’ve said for a long time that a return to domestic manufacturing would transform the economy, creating millions of high-paying jobs that would siphon workers away from low-paying jobs in industries like fast food. We may be witnessing exactly that kind of transition. If we are, don’t be surprised if vast swaths of the fast food industry and others that provide very little value to consumers disappear. Don’t be surprised if restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s bite the dust. How long will customers wait in long lines at drive-through windows before they wake up to the fact that they could pack themselves a brown-bag lunch at a quarter of the price and in one tenth of the time, not to mention the gas wasted and carbon emitted while they sit there with their engines idling for fifteen minutes?

Even so, such a transition in the economy would shift at most maybe five million workers from those low-paying industries to high-paying manufacturing and construction jobs. That’s five million workers out of 160 million. It doesn’t explain how every industry is complaining of a worker shortage. Just take a look around and you can’t help but be suspicious of something fishy. Fast food restaurants with closed dining rooms have “help-wanted” signs at the entrance to their drive-through window. Yet, walk into the Culver’s or Chick-Fil-A right next door and you find them fully staffed.

A big part of the explanation of the supply chain crisis is that trucking companies can’t find enough drivers to move the goods. But then you take a trip in your car and find the truck volume on the interstate highways is worse than you’ve ever seen it.

I could go on, but you get the idea. None of this adds up. You can’t help but wonder: is this fast food restaurant really trying to hire any workers, or is that “help wanted” sign just there to create a phony narrative that justifies their higher prices and your long wait in the drive-through lane? Are these rolling outages on store shelves really due to product shortages, or they engineered to justify higher prices. Are all of these companies using that same narrative to raise prices not because they need to, but to suck up their share of pandemic stimulus money and social spending money that’s pouring into the economy by the trillions?

If you’re a domestic manufacturer of consumer staples, are you going to stand by while manufacturers of televisions, computers, cell phones and others rake in huge profits from people spending their stimulus money, or are you going to get in on the action by creating an illusion of shortages to justify higher prices and profits?

Where are the journalists who should be asking these tough questions? Where are the regulatory agencies who should be overseeing this crap? And why is the Federal Reserve sitting on its hands while inflation escalates out of control?

This whole supply chain/inflation/worker shortage crisis is a bunch of BS that doesn’t add up until you look at corporate profits and then realize that we’re all being taken for a ride.

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