In Focus

Empty shelves: a nation of disappointed shoppers

Is it fair to blame the ‘materialistic citizenry’ for the shortages impacting US shoppers?

Why are American shoppers facing so many shortages? Experts have blamed a long list of factors, from shipping-container traffic flow to a shortage of truck drivers, said Lee Schafer in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. But the root cause is simple: too much demand. Americans have been buying stuff in huge quantities – as a result, imports hit an all-time high in September, eclipsing the same period in 2020 by 17% – and the system can’t keep up. The pandemic kicked off the spending spree, said Terry Nguyen on Vox (Washington DC). Locked down in their homes, Americans went online to blow the money they could no longer spend in restaurants or hair salons. Stimulus cheques only fuelled this addiction. Experts say supply chains will remain snarled into 2023 unless we can break “the cycle of thoughtless buying”.

Hear that, America? The supply-chain crisis is your fault, said James Freeman in The Wall Street Journal. You might think that President Biden would accept some responsibility for this “era of scarcity”. After all, it was he who handed out “astronomical” sums through Covid relief packages that fuelled demand even while his extended unemployment cheques were deepening labour shortages. But no, his administration and its allies would rather blame the materialistic citizenry. The messaging has been “insulting”, agreed Kaylee McGhee White in the Washington Examiner. The White House press secretary Jen Psaki sarkily lamented the “tragedy of the delayed treadmill”, as if the only people suffering are affluent home- gym owners. But many families are watching food, gas and other prices soar and wondering if “they have enough for groceries this month”.

It’s not just a problem for individuals. In Denver, schools are “struggling to get enough milk for breakfast and lunch”, said Jim Geraghty in National Review (New York). Small businesses are failing to get the goods to stay afloat. At this rate, necessities including food and medicine will be hard to find, said Amanda Mull in The Atlantic (Washington DC). It’s not our fault we’re a nation of consumers. We have been trained to think that by spending money, we are helping to keep our economy buoyant. We’ve also been persuaded that buying stuff makes us happy. But if, as good citizens, we want to do our part to keep the shortages from getting worse, we must re-evaluate what we really need – and “stop shopping”.

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