In recent weeks, there has been something unusual happening in Saratoga Passage along the east side of Whidbey Island and, no, it is not a beluga whale swimming by. It is the sight of one giant container ship after another cruising through waters where they are usually never seen.

These oceangoing behemoths have been anchored in the inland waterway, simply killing time, because there is not enough room at the Port of Seattle or the Port of Tacoma to handle the traffic jam of ships from Asia trying to deliver goods. The same is true at ports all along the West Coast, with the biggest bottleneck in the crowded ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted industries throughout the Far East. As a result, there are shortages in consumer goods, everything from books and car parts to toys and medical supplies. While our economically revived country may be ready for a big binge in holiday spending, Santa Claus and his helpers may come up short. Christmas shoppers are likely to find many shelves empty.

There are not enough ships to carry all the goods waiting to be sent across the ocean, not enough workers to unload the ships, not enough trucks or truck drivers to deliver the products and, in many stores, not enough workers to stack and sell those products. As a result, the law of supply and demand has kicked in; there is great demand and limited supply, so prices are shooting up. 

We have gotten used to a consumer-driven world where we are able to buy anything we want for a modest price and get it delivered to our doorsteps within 24 hours after we’ve placed our orders. Well, our expectations will have to adjust, at least for the next few months.

The pandemic has taught us many lessons about the fragility of modern life; now we are getting a lesson in basic economics.

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