Replacements

A thoughtful post (as always) from Peter Grant, containing this insight:

[The company] sources a very large proportion of its products from that country, but its suppliers there — factories and exporters — are closed, and have been for weeks.  No-one knows when they’ll be open again.  The company is finding it very difficult to line up alternative suppliers fast enough to ensure that their products can get here in time to replace Chinese ones on their shelves as they run out.  If they can’t . . . they’ll have to close their doors.  It’s that simple.

Thousands of Chinese factories are closed because of the corona virus epidemic over there, and products of all kinds (not just the types referenced in the above excerpt) are not being shipped.

This, by the way, is why every country needs its own manufacturing base.  I know:  sometimes there are considerable cost savings to be realized by outsourcing production to cheaper (i.e. foreign) facilities — but those savings are only to be had if there is no disruption to the supply chain.  Come disaster — and given that China is one of the most consistently pox-ridden nations on Earth, and the source of so many of the world’s diseases — it should be clear that all those trumpeted “savings” are going to evaporate faster than Jeffrey Epstein’s emails.

Of particular concern is the fact that most pharmaceutical products are now either made in China, or else manufactured using Chinese raw materials — not just prescription meds, but also OTC stuff like analgesics.  Loyal Readers may recall that I myself had a scare in this regard a little while back, and learning my lesson from that, I set up a forward supply of my two most critical medications.

If you’re dependent on such meds, I hope you’ve done the same.

And just in passing, I should point out that all this has validated Trump’s initiatives in bringing manufacturing back home to the U.S. — although I doubt that Big Pharma ever responded, even though they should have — and if there is any criticism to be made here, it’s that Trump hasn’t pushed hard enough, through tariff protection of local manufacturing entities.

You see, it’s not just about protecting local workers, laudable though that may be;  it’s about strategically protecting the country from situations such as these.  And we need to do a lot more of that, if the current catastrophe teaches us anything at all.

11 comments

  1. I’ve bought spares and spare parts for some of my most-critical electronic gadgets, just in case. I’ll probably need them in the long run, but I’d hate to have to do without for several months, just because the things aren’t being shipped from China.

    Some basic things, like Arduino single-board computers, are already going up in price: an Arduino Mega from my favorite supplier has gone from $14.99 to $18.99 in the last month.

    Likewise, since my livelihood depends on business travel and tourism, I’ve been stashing cash so I can pay bills for at least four or five months, in case things shut down for an extended period.

    Then, of course, I’ve been boosting my food and other stocks, just out of good ol’ SHTF-ness. Might even make an ammo run today.

  2. We’re in this situation largely because CEOs, and their enablers, have been focused on short term finances, aided and abetted by the worthless four-letter words staffing Congress and federal agencies.

    I’m long out of the biz, but way back when, alarms were raised about the number of components critical to national defense hardware sourced from Asian (and some South American) companies. The board may come from American Company X, but the components on the board came from far, far away.

    And, it’s not just “defense” stiff; last I heard, food is a necessity, and it – mostly – comes from American farms, poultry and cattle operations. If Farmer Joe loses 2-5 days of prime harvesting weather because his mega-dollar harvester is down waiting for overseas parts delivery, he’s thoroughly screwed. So what? Well, if Joe can’t get parts, it’s a safe bet Jane, Fred, Harvey and Sally are impacted as well, and if that impact leads to severely reduced yields it affects cost and availability.

    This extends beyond food; consider how much of everything comes from across an ocean. What is the impact on you if your Toyota, Honda, Hundai, BMW, et al isn’t running because something broke or wore out that’s unavailable. “My Honda was made in Marysville, Ohio” is meaningless because it’s assembled in Ohio with some US-made parts and a lot of Japanese-, Vietnamese- and Chinese-made parts shipped to Ohio, and Honda – just like everyone else – depends on just-in-time delivery. In Japan the kanban system depends on lots and lots of small manufacturers delivering specified quantities at specified times; it’s not uncommon to see components go directly from the delivery truck to the assembly line in a matter of minutes. Same thing happens here.

    On a personal level, cirby (above) sets a good example; for whatever it is you need to operate your life, from medications to soap, and, yes, food, you should have sufficient on-hand quantities to act as a reasonable buffer against outages and shortages. I’m always amazed what happens in grocery stores when the weather guessers say “snow:” bread, milk, beer, chips and toilet paper fly off the shelves (I am baffled why “snow” affects American bowels so severely, but it seems to). For Harold, living alone, 2-3 extra packages of TP and a 12-pack of Irish Spring may suffice, but for Brad and Beverly with 4 kids, that would be just a “starter kit.”

    Until Washington recognizes there’s a valid strategic purpose in maintaining in-country end-to-end manufacturing and supplies and we demand our suppliers, of everything, fatten their pipelines we’re on our own, and even if they wise up in D.C., we’re still largely on our own. Plan accordingly.

  3. There are a bunch of reasons why so much manufacturing’s moved to China, but the two big ones are:

    1) We (the West) are massively subsidizing China’s economy. Shipping rates, regulations, etc. It’s cheaper to send a pack of specialty fasteners from Shanghai to Chicago than from Chicago to Evanston.

    2) Our evil, cretinous, vile dumpster fire of a tax code massively incentivizes short-term gains at the expense of long term sustainability and risk management.

  4. “I set up a forward supply of my two most critical medications.”
    ========
    Can I ask what your source is?
    In the past year I have started taking a daily blood pressure pill and a cholesterol lowering pill and would like to have other ways of getting them. Thanks.

    1. The insurance companies won’t pay for them, but there’s nothing to stop your doctor from giving you a three-month prescription for them, and you just pay cash for your emergency reserves.
      Sure it’s expensive, but against the risk of running out…?

      1. As a followup, I take both of those meds and as I recall the specific ones I take are rather cheap. Just take the prescription to a different pharmacy than the one you usually go to or you will get confounded with insurance.

  5. Insurers, especially Medicare, are major impediments to building a stockpile of meds. They won’t let you refill until you are almost out. It is a fairly major hassle to get an early refill and if you try to do it repeatedly or with multiple meds it gets harder. If you have enough time and stay on top of the refill cycle you can build a stockpile two weeks at a time but you should have started years ago to cope with the current crisis.

    You need to set up a FIFO system to rotate the meds so that they won’t lose potency. I am advised by a pharmacist that meds retain their potency longer than the one year period on the bottle but that some meds may become toxic. Be careful out there. It would of course be better if the system had adequate stockpiles so we didn’t have to do it ourselves but Kim has already covered that.

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