Liz Peek, Opinion Contributor
President Biden has figured out how to fix the supply chain problems that are pushing prices higher and frustrating consumers. His solution? Threaten the private sector.
That’s what he did recently as he spoke of measures that are being taken to ease the shortages of workers and materials that are clogging ports and railyards, delaying shipments and adding to inflation.
Biden announced that, after weeks of negotiations, the Port of Los Angeles has joined the Port of Long Beach in allowing 24/7 operations, which is the norm for most such facilities around the world, but which conflicted with union contracts in California. Biden also said that FedEx, UPS and Walmart have agreed to initiate round-the-clock operations in a bid to shorten delivery times.
But Biden saved his fire for this remarkable statement: “If the private sector doesn’t step up, we’re going to call them out and ask them to act.”
In other words, Biden suspects private corporations of not working hard enough to satisfy customers’ needs in a timely manner. He seems to think that retailers are content to have bare shelves come Christmas, and that shipping firms don’t worry that they will not get goods delivered to their destinations on time.
What on earth is he talking about?
Since, as usual, Biden took no questions from reporters after his remarks, we will never know.
Maybe Biden is simply ignorant of how businesses operate since he has no real-world private sector experience. He has never run a store, solved logistical challenges or met a payroll. He doesn’t appreciate what makes CEOs sweat or know how to incentivize business owners.
On the other hand, maybe he is just preparing to pass the buck. When Christmas comes, and all those soccer moms who elected Biden are howling that the toys and dishwashers they want to buy are out of stock, hung up in some port halfway around the world, Biden will point the figure at “obstinate” retailers or truckers, and say it is all their fault.
After all, Biden’s approval ratings on his management of the economy are already abysmal – underwater by an average of 6 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics. Americans are not happy that prices are rising, with some polls showing it is the country’s number one concern. Worse for Biden, some surveys show that voters blame him for increasing inflation.
The most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will not calm those concerns. The Consumer Price Index showed inflation running at 5.4 percent in September and getting worse. The price of nearly everything is going up, including food, gasoline, rents and fuel oil. Even the Federal Reserve, running unimaginably late to the party, has figured out that recent cost of living increases are not slowing anytime soon.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell told Congress about a month ago that “Inflation is elevated and will likely remain so in coming months before moderating.” That was a distinct departure from his Panglossian remarks from a few weeks earlier, which had repeated his pronouncement that price hikes were “transitory.”
The problem, Powell has finally acknowledged, is that supply chain bottlenecks are lasting longer than expected.
For sure, the hiccups in shipping and manufacturing around the world are not entirely Biden’s fault. There have been COVID-19-related shutdowns in Vietnam and other countries integral to global manufacturing and distribution. There have been energy shortages in China that have caused rolling blackouts and factory stoppages. There was even a giant container ship, the Ever Given, that got stuck in the Suez Canal for six days back in March, freezing some $10 billion in traded goods.
But Biden is not blameless. He and the Democrat-controlled Congress have helped cause an outsized surge in demand by unnecessarily pumping too much money into an already-hot economy. They have also contributed to a shortage of workers that is plaguing every aspect of the supply chain. By rolling out benefits like extended unemployment pay, rent subsidies and increased food stamps, all offered with no work requirements, Biden and Democrats in Congress reduced the pressure to get back on the job.
In addition, the president’s vaccine mandate has caused truckers and other workers key to the movement of goods, already in short supply, to leave their jobs at the worst possible time.
Biden has not just crimped the number of people working; his administration has also intentionally raised prices by pursuing pro-labor policies that are also uniquely ill-timed. For instance, in August the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) started fining companies shipping Alaskan seafood to the East Coast for violations of the 1920 Jones Act – a law requiring all freight to be handled by U.S.-made vessels operated by U.S. seamen.
The violations involved a decades-old work-around of the pro-union law that sped the delivery of fish to consumers in Eastern states and helped keep the price of seafood down. The industry and the CBP were aware of the arrangement, but the Big Labor- allied White House decided this was the time to halt the shipments.
Thankfully, a judge just days ago issued an injunction against further penalties, allowing 26 million pounds of seafood stranded in Canada to travel to the factories awaiting their arrival and hundreds of employees to return to work.
Instead of arbitrarily enforcing an outdated union rule that ends up hurting American fishermen, factory workers and consumers, the White House should be doing everything possible to cut costs and put people to work.
Biden is stuck in the 1950s, sure that private corporations are the enemy and Big Labor is the solution. Someone should tell him: Now is not that time.