Ever since the 1950s, we Americans have prided ourselves on the success of our capitalist system, which has provided material wealth for generations.
Back in the days of the Cold War (from the end of WWII until the fall of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s), the success of the American economy stood in stark contrast to the economies of the Soviet Union and its Communist allies behind the Iron Curtain.
The shelves in our supermarkets always were full and there never were shortages of goods of any kind. The post-World War II era brought us a cornucopia of products. In addition, the nation’s housing needs largely were met as we expanded into the suburbs.
In the Soviet-bloc countries however, their inefficient economies, lacking competition, provided fewer and inferior goods. A paucity of housing in those nations resulted in generations of families living together in small apartments in drab, high-rise housing complexes.
What brought to mind the Communist economies of that era was our recent visit to a department store chain (Macy’s) at the end of February when we ordered a new couch and chair. We were told that we could expect our items to arrive in May, but just this past week, we received an email telling us that the expected delivery date now is late July.
This past weekend a family member was set to return from Florida (on Jet Blue), but his flight was canceled — along with hundreds of others across the country. That was bad enough, but trying to rebook the flight via the phone or the internet proved nearly-impossible. The wait time on the phone was 241 minutes and the Jet Blue internet site was overwhelmed and kept knocking us off the site.
On top of that, we now have rampant inflation — with no sign of it cooling off. In addition, we have been forewarned that the computer chip shortage is not ending anytime soon (so new cars will still be at a premium) and food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine will mean higher prices on just about everything.
The predicament in which we find ourselves is almost entirely self-inflicted thanks to a combination of trends of the past 40 years, most especially the offshoring of manufacturing jobs, “just in time” inventory controls, and overly-stringent government regulations for new infrastructure projects.
Today we are facing massive housing shortages (just as millennials are setting out on their own), food shortages, and chip shortages with no quick remedies in sight.
In many respects, our economy more closely resembles the 1970s-era USSR than the 1970s USA — and it seems we will be stuck here for a long time to come.
Americans also are on the front lines
Although we may feel relief that the horrific images from Ukraine of the genocidal actions of Putin’s army against the civilian population are half a world away, every American literally is on the front lines of this terrible conflict thanks to the interconnectedness that is the hallmark of the age in which we live.
It is estimated that 80% of America’s critical infrastructure is controlled by the private sector, all but making a concerted national defense of our electrical grid, water systems, hospitals, and energy supplies nearly impossible.
Moreover, because almost all of these companies have abided by a penny-wise and pound-foolish business model which has precluded investment in defense against cyberattacks, almost every aspect of our life is vulnerable to disruptions by a determined cyberattacker.
So while it may be true that we are safe from a physical attack by bombs (unless Putin goes fully-nuclear), every American must be prepared for the inevitable cyber warfare that will be waged by Putin and other actors that could affect every aspect of our daily lives.
A welcome sight in Boston Harbor
We were sitting in our home office Monday morning when we saw something we hadn’t seen in more than two years — a cruise ship (the Norwegian Pearl) sailing into Boston Harbor.
A half dozen or more cruise ships routinely sailed from Boston each week before the pandemic, but this was the first large cruise ship we’d seen since late 2019.
We looked up the Pearl — which makes seven-day cruises from Boston to Bermuda (with a stop at Bar Harbor, Maine, on the return) — and saw that its first cruise of this season is set for later this week.
Although a cruise aboard a large ship (the Pearl has a capacity of about 2400 passengers) is not exactly our cup of tea, so to speak, it was nice to see the colorful ship making its way past Graves Light, the Brewsters, Lovell’s Island, and Deer Island along the main shipping channel of President Roads.
Hopefully, it’s a sign that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and better days are on the horizon.