By Oliver McPherson-Smith, American Consumer Institute
With the nation in shut down until April 30, most Americans are enduring an unprecedented disruption to their daily routines. To make safe social distancing possible, however, countless workers continue to keep supply chains moving. In addition to the frontline medical professionals who are treating COVID-19 patients, it is the grit and resilience of millions that is keeping the country safe.
There is little doubt that healthcare workers are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. With limited resources, doctors and nurses continue to work grueling hours to treat the sick—all while facing the risk of infecting themselves and their families. The risk of fatality is even higher for older doctors, such as those that have come out of retirement to fight the pandemic.
Much like their medical counterparts, there are also millions of men and women who continue to work through the crisis while risking their own health outside of hospitals. Although more than half of the country’s states are in a form of lockdown, the demand for food, medicine, and household items does not simply disappear. To make these products available for purchase in a local supermarket, a supply chain of farmers, manufacturers, logistics and freight rail operators, and grocery store employees are all needed. In such a complex system, there is no such thing as a ‘non-essential’ component.
While being accustomed to well-stocked supermarkets across the country with relatively stable prices, it is easy to overlook the extraordinary feat that is occurring out of view. However, history is fraught with failures of bringing food to market while keeping prices in check. For example, rising prices coupled with accusations of hoarding saw food riots break out in New York City in 1837, while the pressures of the Civil War resulted in bread riots and looting in Richmond, VA in 1863.
Even in contemporary times of peace, supply chain failures have prompted food protests. The profiteering of middlemen led some Italians to protest the price of pasta in 2007 and again in 2015. With the added stress and challenge of a global pandemic, the resilience of the American supply chain has so far managed to stave off punishing price hikes and the protests that they incite.
Despite the fact that each link in the American supply chain have so far functioned cohesively during the COVID crisis, this is no thanks to an empowered supreme planner. Rather, the resilience of the system is derived from the age-old wisdom of mutual economic success. As Duke University’s Michael Munger notes, the merits of economic specialization coupled with cooperation are evident in the historic works of Plato, Ibn Khaldun, and Adam Smith.
Simply put, the American businesses and workers that keep the country functioning during this crisis are doing so because they are left to get on with the job. From the freight train operators and manufacturer workers to the grocery store employees and hospital personnel, workers and businesses across America are making an invaluable contribution to keep the country safe.
Only with their help will we shake off COVID-19 for good.
Oliver McPherson-Smith writes for the American Consumer Institute, a non-profit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.