Just in Time Just Doesn’t Cut It
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned me into a half “prepper”. No, I wasn’t one of the crazy panicked buyers of toilet paper in the early days of this coronavirus pandemic. It is what has happened during this health crisis that has led me to the gates of prepperdom. And I have walked through those gates.
Pre-pandemic, those of us living in rich nations had access to what seemed like an endless array of goods and services. On demand. Anytime. Anywhere. In-store or online, with the click of a mouse. If those of us living in a place like North America are going to be honest with ourselves, we’ve been spoiled. Spoiled with an embarrassment of consumer choices, at what were reasonably low consumer prices, for a wide assortment of goods. Goods that were often made from cheap labour abroad. As such, consumer habits have generally not revolved around a necessity to “stock up”. Just in case shopping wasn’t really a thing when prices were stable and supply plentiful. Instead, just order it online and get it next day, or just go to the store and grab it anytime, since it will always be there. This has been a prevailing mindset.
But that’s changed for me in 2021. Let me explain.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (and who could blame you given the world we live in today), it’s well known now that supply chains are broken. Badly. Many items, across just about every product category, are simply unavailable or out of stock. Product shortages also means many items have to be backordered, with timelines of many months (if lucky) or longer. Apparently, COVID-related shutdowns in factories, transportation bottlenecks, extraordinary demand etc. are to blame. I don’t really care to dig too deep into the underlying causes. All I know is that the selection and availability of products is severely constrained. Prices are up; in many cases, up a lot. And I, like many of you, am not accustomed to this.
Layer on top of the global pandemic a climate crisis and things get even more messed up. Where I live in the Vancouver region of Canada, we’ve suffered many severe weather events in 2021 alone. We’ve endured extreme heat (i.e. a “heat dome”), widespread forest fires, “atmospheric rivers” of rainfall, a mini tornado, wind storms and most recently floods and landslides that literally cut-off vital supply chain lines like highways and rail lines. We have had to ration things like certain food items in grocery stores and even gasoline, as a result. The point of sharing these examples is to simply highlight the vulnerabilities inherent in what are being shown to be very fragile supply lines.
North American companies, especially large corporations, have been notorious for offshoring manufacturing capabilities in so many industries. It’s been happening for decades. But the fragility and stupidity of this arrangement is so plain to see now. We are beholden to foreign nations for supplying us with some critical components and goods. Because we aren’t self-sufficient and are at the mercy of sometimes unfriendly world powers, we can’t count on getting the stuff we really need, when we need it.
And so it is that I’ve shunned what is the concept of Just in Time Inventory, that was popularized by the car company Toyota in the 1970’s. Simply put, the car company used a manufacturing method that minimized the amount of inventory kept on hand. They basically had things in inventory, effectively just as they were going to be needed. This method made a big assumption; that goods would always arrive and be available on demand, without hiccups. Well, it’s my belief that this idea should be buried, at least for regular people and households mirroring this way of shopping.
I’m not making assumptions anymore that I will be able to secure the things I need, when I need them. Essential items, like food, water, fuel, clothing, spare plumbing or electrical parts, are all items that I’m buying extra of. I believe that supply chain failures are revealing the fragility of the economic and logistical system we are reliant upon. Now, I am in no way suggesting that people panic buy; that will make supply shortages even worse. However, I do think that it is prudent to always keep extra supplies on hand for inevitable future emergencies. So yes, this gives a nod to some of the more rational preppers among us. You can’t count on the government to come to the rescue in a timely manner. Just ask the people of Louisiana who lived through Hurricane Katrina.
Perhaps, we will be so lucky as to see the on-shoring of manufacturing capacity and capability again in the West. This could create well-paying manufacturing jobs, build domestic supply chain diversification or resiliency and ensure self-sufficiency of critical supplies.
Common-sense logic needs to replace short-sighted MBA bean-counter type thinking. A just in time mindset is outdated, flawed and should effectively be retired. Long live a new era of just in case inventory.