All I needed was some yellow feathers and craft foam. A Target, two Michael’s stores, and a Party City later, I was still looking.
I cursed myself for the series of questionable life choices that led me to need a rubber chicken costume under deadline. I was frustrated and tired and the empty shelves I kept encountering – labeled neatly with names and barcodes for items that weren’t there – gave me unsettling flashbacks to early pandemic stories about fistfights over toilet paper.
In between stores, I sneered: Isn’t this what capitalism is supposed to solve? In exchange for a society that prioritizes industry over human life, aren’t we at least supposed to have unfettered access to consumer goods?
My exceptionally patient partner pointed out that I was “hangry,” so I had a snack and was able to get a grip on myself, but the supply-chain crisis is not limited to the craft supplies necessary for absurdist performance art. I can live without a costume, but people starve when food pantries struggle to keep up with increased demand while food costs are soaring.
The 6.2 percent inflation spike we’re seeing is the largest in 30 years and every news outlet has a different idea about why it’s happening. Nearly every piece reports goods are being produced and delivered more slowly. Certainly, issues in the supply chain – from blocked canals to a prolonged labor shortage – aren’t helping the matter. Many stories are quick to blame government spending that “disincentivizes participation in the labor market.”
But few spared so much as a passing mention to the decline in real wages from October 2020 to October 2021. None acknowledged the fact that the United States is still losing more than 1,000 people a day to COVID-19.
This, of course, led me back to my pre-snack tantrum: Why, in a country that has clearly decided to prioritize the wheels of industry over human life, is industry failing so spectacularly?
Could it be that there is no industry without human life?
It sounds simplistic, but policymakers and talking heads seem hellbent on ensuring the whole thing seems too convoluted to really examine. This is almost certainly because our corporate overlords, who have seen exponential growth in their wealth over the course of the pandemic, have good reason to want you to be angry.
If you stay mad at your neighbor for not getting a job, you never reach the conclusion that the real problem isn’t the government “disincentivizing work” but rather that industry refuses to pay people as much as the government has determined is necessary to live.
If you stay mad at your neighbor for using pooled resources we have amassed through our tax dollars, you never reach the point where you get angry at megacorporations for factoring welfare into their budgets when considering labor costs.
If we stay mad at our neighbors while we’re staring at empty shelves, we never stop to wonder if the problem might just be that our entire political and economic structure treats the livelihoods of the vast workforce needed to produce and deliver those goods as being less important than profitable quarterly earnings reports for a handful of billionaires.
But this is a time when simply going to the store – let alone working 40 hours in one – still carries the risk of our neighbors contracting a deadly disease without any guarantee that their wages will cover the hospital bills.
Maybe it’s time to turn the old chestnut about supply and demand back on those titans of industry. The demand for labor has gone up and the supply is down. The sooner they accept that, and stop bolstering their profits with the government aid their poverty-wage workers need to survive, the sooner we can get enough labor to produce and deliver goods at a rate that will slow inflation.
And I can finally get my rubber chicken costume.
Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].