The Chain Gang

The Covid-19 pandemic—I hope to have readers many years from now, perhaps during Cocks-56, the terrible Coxsackie virus pandemic of 2156, so I thought I’d better qualify it—has turned humanity on to a host (excuse the pun) of wonderful things, including masks and jail time without crime, previously known only in certain parts of Asia.

Supply chain is one of those novelty phrases—before pan arrived, this was a buzzword bandied on biz channels and overheard at Starbucks when twenty-one year old spreadsheet superspreaders crunched marketing numbers and saved the economy.

Taking a leaf from the playbook of ecology, it becomes obvious that supply chains, like food chains, are really supply webs. And just like in ecology, the supply chain ecosystem (a newish and tedious biz malaprop) benefits from diversity—ecologists recognize that diversity provides both stability and resilience.

If the supply web forks right instead of left, that may of course leave some disgruntled players—viz the French tantrum after being spurned some days ago by Australia, who bedded not one but two new mistresses. In what seems to be not just an underwater but also an underhand business, the threesome pitched itself to the public as AUKUS.

The role of the UK is not clear, and the French themselves recognize that Britain is an irrelevance in the threesome, but of course the Elysee sees the wider picture of Brexit trade deals and perfidious Albion, and twirls its mustache in Gallic contempt.

In actual fact, the whole issue is linked to the Middle Kingdom, and the competition between the two great powers in the Asian theater. Dropping the UK into the mix serves the twin purposes of a Boris boost (internally) and pretending this is a ‘allies and friends’ rather than an ‘us (US) and them’ deal externally.

If the name reflected the relative importance of partners it should be AUSUK, but someone with an extra brain cell realized this might be a marketing blow (job).

The late great Sam Cooke, who added an ‘e’ to his surname so folks wouldn’t think he was just lean cuisine. The chain gang sound effects at the start of the tune are a true classic.

No developed nation is more aware of supply chain issues than Boris Brexit Britain. Having kicked out all the East European truckers (known in the UK as heavy goods vehicles, or HGV, drivers), Britain is stunned to find it has a serious supply chain breakdown. Who knew?

Pictures of empty supermarket shelves, reports of uncollected garbage—the Guardian newspaper reported “He came home from work to find his front porch covered in what he initially thought was rice, but subsequently realised was hundreds of maggots swarming out of a food waste caddy that hadn’t been collected in a month”—and long lines at gas stations are just some of the delights enjoyed by Britons in these post-Brexit times.

The government narrative is that a lot of the problem, if not all, is due to the pandemic—this presumably is also the Brexiteer hardline. The truckers became anxious to see their families over the past year and returned home. No mention made about the way the pandemic was handled in tousled-Trump fashion in the early stages.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why no countries in the EU are struggling with food shortages, including nations like Spain and Italy, both of which were devastated by Covid. Germany and Italy certainly rely on mobility of EU citizens to deal with some of their labor shortages, including truck drivers.

I did a lot of hitch-hiking when I lived in the UK—it was an easy and cheap way to travel—and I got rides on trucks all the time. All the truckers were English back then, mostly in the thirty to fifty age group. I got some insane guys—it’s not an easy job, spending so much time alone, I recall one guy had amazingly mad theories about extraterrestrials and other bizarre things—since I’d just smoked a joint while waiting for a ride, I found all this most enjoyable.

One driver told me that when he drove in Texas, the motorbike cops liked to get up right behind the truck and sit in the blind spot—when the trucker went over the speed limit, the cop would pull out and bust him. Then a couple of fellows fitted a mirror below the cab and slammed the brakes on the next cop who did that. Apparently, the police were quickly discouraged—so I learned a lot, probably more than in the classes I skipped.

The average age of British truckers is now fifty-eight. As with a host of other low-paying and hard-wearing jobs—none of which are on the Brexit skilled worker visa list—the dearth of truck drivers is causing mayhem.

Along with the Brexit narrative came the promise of higher paying jobs for UK nationals—and the appetite to pay more is certainly there, but not the employees. Britain can’t pick its fruit and vegetables, collect its garbage or stock its shelves, and is now in the middle of an energy crisis—natural gas prices are soaring and there isn’t enough carbon dioxide to stun animals at slaughterhouses—you’d have thought all that extra CO2 from climate change could lend a hand.

Along with all this insular joy, UK inflation is pushing to a rampant 4%, totally predictable since shortages drive prices up. As the all-important Christmas holiday approaches, the news is full of reports that there may be a shortage of turkey in supermarkets.

It’s a sad state of affairs.

Last year no family, this year no turkey.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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