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New book explores how the pandemic has revealed issues with the supply chain

Written by on June 15, 2024

(NEW YORK) — Esteemed economist Peter Goodman’s book, “How the World Ran Out of Everything,” offers a comprehensive analysis of how the pandemic disrupted the global supply chain and its profound impact on daily life.

Goodman starkly points out that shipping prices are skyrocketing, reaching levels comparable to the pandemic era when container shortages were rampant.

In his book, Goodman uncovers a disturbing pattern. He asserts that for an extended period, major corporations have manipulated their markets by restricting product supply, resulting in inflated prices and societal disparities.

He mentioned that meatpackers at slaughterhouses are now exporting more meat than ever. According to Goodman, we are essentially sacrificing the lives of slaughterhouse workers for the profit margins of monopoly companies.

ABC News sat down with Goodman to discuss more about his book and inflation in the U.S.

ABC NEWS LIVE : The global economics correspondent for The New York Times, renowned for his in-depth reporting in his new book, “How the World Ran Out of Everything,” Peter Goodman is taking a deeper look at how the global supply chain was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it could still be impacting your daily life. Peter Goodman, thank you so much for joining us.

GOODMAN: Thanks for having me.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Talk a little bit about what inspired you to write this book. We all remember those days where people didn’t even know what the supply chain was. And then very quickly, we learned about the supply chain during COVID.

GOODMAN: Yeah, I mean, it was cosmically bewildering, right? We’re already dealing with quarantine kids, cooped up with distance learning. And suddenly, I mean, in my own case, I’m living in London with a newborn born in April 2020, and we’re dealing with the fact that we can’t find hand sanitizer. We can’t find the ingredients to make hand sanitizer. We’re hearing frontline medical workers are treating COVID patients without any protective gear. And you just wondered, like, what’s going on here?

ABC NEWS LIVE: It’s just it was a scary time for a lot of folks to realize how dependent we are on the supply chain.

GOODMAN: I mean, we are dependent upon this kind of rickety, improvised series of networks heavily focused on China. One thing is missing, and suddenly there’s serious shortages. And we’re still there for many products. And we’re back in a shipping crisis, because the Hutus are opening fire on container ships heading toward the Red Sea. So we’re again seeing shipping prices going up. And this is at the center of our inflation problems as well.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Well, in your book, you allege that for decades, some of the largest businesses had amassed chokeholds on their markets while limiting the supply of their products as a way to charge higher prices. Talk about that allegation a little bit.

GOODMAN: So monopoly power is at the center of this, right? We all like to think about supply and demand. If demand is constrained, well then we understand that the price is supposed to drop. If there are shortages, then eventually production kicks in and makes more stuff and prices kind of equalize.

But we have so many markets. like I focus on the beef industry, where the robber barons would blush, you know, four companies control 85% of the capacity for meatpacking in the United States. So even while ranchers were going out of business because they can’t find people to buy their cattle in the midst of the pandemic, and we’ve got slaughterhouse workers, I profile a woman who actually lost her life at a slaughterhouse in Greeley, Colorado.

When we decide, you know, we got to keep these plants going and the public is told, if not, you know, we’re going to run out of meat. Well, these meatpackers are actually exporting more meat than ever in this time. So we essentially are sacrificing the lives of slaughterhouse workers for profit margins for monopoly companies. When things are scarce, price goes up. We know that. And there’s a lot of engineered scarcity in this economy.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Is that still the case as much today as it was two or three years ago during the pandemic? We’ve heard a lot more about this issue of the robber baron and this corporate greed and companies having this market power, but has anything been done to change that?

GOODMAN: I mean, the unfunny punchline in my book is every chapter, whether we’re looking at rail, trucking, shipping, which is essentially this large, unregulated international cartel where, you know, during the worst of the pandemic, we saw shortages of containers.

We saw the cost of moving factory goods from Asia to the West Coast of the United States, which is the gateway for most of our imports go up tenfold. Well, we’re there right now. We’re seeing shipping prices soar back close to those levels. This is not a history book. This is a book about the present and the future.

ABC NEWS LIVE: That’s concerning when we do have this already persistent inflation, those higher costs that people are still struggling with even as it’s gotten better.

GOODMAN: Well that’s right. I mean, the inflation rate has cooled quite a bit, but the prices haven’t come down for all sorts of things. That’s not news for anybody who’s gone to the store to buy milk, eggs for their family, put gas in their car.

I mean, we’ve got scarcity. A lot of it’s engineered, some of it’s disruption from the supply chain. But if we don’t figure out how to make this system work, not just for the investor class, but for society as a whole and also for working people, you know, we’re dependent upon this army of working people who most of us don’t give a thought to.

ABC NEWS LIVE: A sobering reminder as we forget when it’s not quite in front of us as it was a couple years ago, but still a problem there, as you point out. Peter, thanks so much for being here.

GOODMAN: Thanks so much for having me.

ABC NEWS LIVE: ‘How the World Ran Out of Everything’ is now available wherever books are sold. 

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