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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.
It’s finally time. We can listen to Christmas music without being looked at askance.
Which is good. Because we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.
We entered 2021 with chaos in the Capitol. Thankfully, our two-century-plus winning streak of peacefully transferring power remains intact. COVID-19 vaccines rolled out to the population writ large.
Summer saw an era of good-ish feelings arise, with Democrats and Republicans joining in the Senate to send an infrastructure bill to the House.
Then things began to unravel.
Afghanistan — remember Afghanistan? — imploded. Bombs exploded, killing Americans.
The delta variant arose, pushing hospitals to capacity. Congress devolved back into rhetorically nasty tribes, whether it is the sharing of bizarre videos or the slings-and-arrows faced by Jared Golden for daring to defy Democratic orthodoxy.
Inflation is spiking, an invidious tax on many. Businesses and retailers are seeing supply chain shocks. The labor participation rate remains about 2 points below its pre-pandemic mark, leaving our economy short of millions of workers.
So, baby, it’s cold outside. Metaphorically.
Thankfully, we’re in Maine, “The state where the Christmas trees grow.”
“The Maine Christmas Song” is one of those quirks of our state. Written back in the 1980s, it evokes simplicity, a place “where neighbors still drop by, with cookies, breads, and pies.”
It is probably something we need right now.
The economic challenges we face — most notably inflation — are complex. Cheap interest rates make borrowing attractive. “Helicopter money” given to households as part of the COVID response means consumers had additional purchasing power. It stimulated demand.
Meanwhile, with all that money floating around, competition increased for everything from trucks to houses to hamburgers. With more demand and the same supply, prices increase.
But we didn’t have the same supply. COVID production shutdowns, followed by other events, meant our supply stocks were decreasing.
Part of the automotive “computer chip crisis” can be traced to February’s Texas electrical grid failure. California’s shipping ports are a mess. Massive container ships bringing manufactured products from East Asia are backed up. Which creates supply chain constraints. Which drives up prices, adding to inflation.
Fixing inflation is far beyond the scope of this column. Nevertheless, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday upon us, maybe we can take some lessons from the Maine Christmas Song.
The crisis at our ports is exacerbated by our seemingly never-ending need for stuff. And we can get more stuff as long as we are able to accept poor quality, because that can lead to lower prices.
Coming out of COVID as consumers, maybe it is time to look closer at quality over price. Buying your Christmas roast from a local farmer will probably cost you a little more than the Australian beef in your supermarket’s meat case. So maybe spend the same dollars for a little less quantity and a lot more quality.
One thing COVID taught us was how fragile our supply chains are. Decades of “just in time” management has created remarkable efficiency, leading to massive gains in productivity and decreases in price.
However, the downside to that approach is a lack of resiliency. Rebuilding resilience comes with a cost, because it decreases efficiency. Yet resilience — whether it is a local farmer feeding the community or well-made boots keeping us warm in Maine’s winters — has a quality all its own.
So, this Christmas, as we start shopping for our loved ones, consider buying a little bit less, a little bit better, and a lot more local.
“That’s the spirit of Maine at Christmas time, from her mountains to her great Atlantic shores.”