Holiday-Toy Delays

A shipping container is moved along the Delaware River recently in Philadelphia. With less than three months until Christmas, toy companies are racing to get their products onto store shelves as they face a severe supply network crunch. Toymakers feverishly are trying to find containers in which to ship their goods while searching for new alternative routes and ports.

LENOX — Remember the Great Toilet Paper Shortage?

In the early days of the pandemic, there was some hoarding. Understandably, sanitizers and other products in the cleaning supplies aisles were in short or nonexistent supply.

Now, welcome to the “Era of Depletion and Disruption,” as Axios describes it, or even more dramatically, the “Everything Shortage,” as The Atlantic calls it. This goes far beyond the obvious “we’re hiring” signage signifying the shortage of service staff and entry-level employees.

A minor fender-bender (with a not-so-minor price tag for repair) drove this phenomenon home. Many of us have seen videos of huge cargo ships, more than 50, bobbing, weaving and idling in the Pacific, waiting for a berth at the Port of Los Angeles or Long Beach to offload as many as a half-million shipping containers. A shortage of truck drivers (estimated at 60,000 vacancies nationwide) and of workers to service the ports is blamed.

If you need parts or paint at your preferred collision center, be prepared to wait for three weeks or more, I’ve learned.

Other shortages include Fancy Feast (preferred by my felines) and Cat’s Pride unscented litter (I discovered my cats will refuse any other).

As Axios summarized succinctly: “Whatever you want or need — at work, at play or at home — you’re going to have to wait. There is simply no escaping the complex web of labor, product and service shortages unleashed by the pandemic, and this era of disruption is nowhere close to ending. A rental car shortage has made longer trips unaffordable. As individual car owners try to fill the void by renting out their own wheels, it can now cost the same to rent a Ford Fiesta from an agency as it does to rent a Maserati from a guy who owns a Maserati.”

A shortage of computer chips has made new cars scarce on dealers’ lots. Because of COVID surges in Southeast Asia, production and shipments of electronics, major appliances, clothes, shoes, home improvement materials, mattresses and furniture are bottlenecked.

Retailers and suppliers warn that popular Christmas toys will be gone within a few weeks.

“I’ve been doing this for 43 years and never seen it this bad,” Isaac Larian, the founder and CEO of toymaker MGA Entertainment, told Bloomberg News. “Everything that can go wrong is going wrong at the same time.”

There are even reports that smaller, fresh Thanksgiving turkeys will be hard to find because of high demand, among other factors at the farms.

While it’s a gross exaggeration to claim that America is running out of everything, it’s beginning to feel like that if you’re seeking certain products, such as home COVID-19 tests, for example. Even books, especially bestsellers, are no longer automatically in stock at stores, or available for overnight shipping from that online jungle many use for convenience and, hopefully, reliability.

I’ve sought solutions in vain, at least for the short term. It makes sense to pump up manufacturing in the U.S. rather than rely on overseas producers and the inevitable chokepoints. “Supply-side progressivism”, as advocated by New York Times commentator Ezra Klein, makes sense, but would take years, even if some targeted funding from the Biden administration’s $2 trillion (plus or minus) “Build Back Better” bill ever becomes a reality.

For now, it looks like we’ll have to learn the virtue of patience, hoping we can avoid the United Kingdom’s recent gas-line ordeals, and a repetition of empty shelves for toilet paper and paper towels.

Idealists might suggest that if we shook our obsession with things and became more attuned to outdoor experiences, the supply chain jumble could be untangled. But, in our real world, where Americans are called consumers and our economy runs on marketing what we don’t need but would enjoy having (like the latest iPhone), unclogging the ports and offering pay that potential truckers won’t refuse are the first steps.

As for those under-20-pound Thanksgiving turkeys, be ready to gobble them up and make space in the freezer.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.