Perpetual Trade Deficits and COVID: Or, Why You Can’t Find Yellow Pillows Anywhere

Regular readers know TRH deals with logistics and financial matters every day. But always local and ultra-micro. Perpetual trade deficit and implications from COVID are global and complicated issues.

This is not a WSJ or NYT-level piece. TRH is only attempting to draw a straighter line here, so readers can better understand, and plan. 

January 2020 was a lot like January 2019. Also January 2018, and pretty much all my Januaries since 2009.

On the threshold of a typically busy season, I purchased large amounts of bright pillows,Trade Deficits and COVID wall art, cool tabletop and lighting. Inventory for Props2Go, the prop rental part of The Refreshed Home.

So it was grace, and sheer luck-not clairvoyance-that let me continue to make a living: Preparing properties, styling listing photos throughout one of the busiest spring markets we’ve ever seen. Careful planning let it continue through 2021.

Mid-2020 we understood COVID forced manufacturers to shut down, reducing available product. Temporarily humbled, toilet paper hoarders provided some dark humor during that very grim time. Things righted gradually that summer, then leveled off. And we kinda-sorta went back to our normal ways, inwardly rolling our eyes and adapting when we had to.

But we are an embarrassingly consumer-based nation. Used to have lots of choices. Unapologetically, price-shopping is practically a lifestyle. But perpetual trade deficit and COVID circumstances will make the months ahead more difficult than we might be able to imagine. Census data shows

  • We import roughly twice of what we export
  • Much of what we export are intangibles-services (travel, insurance/financials, and intellectual property)
  • Our tangible exports are of a narrower and largely more industrial scope. And they decreased mightily in 2020.

Basic issues on production, again, most of us non-economists can kind of understand. But this CNN article explains what we probably never think about: supply chain workers, all that’s involved in getting product from Point A, to Point B, the consumers, and why we are on very thin ice.

Yellow pillows and the like will be the least of our problems in the months ahead. The takeaway here my friends is to plan. 

I will cop to a purposely flippant title because I wanted you to read this. Not looking to be alarmist, prepper-ish, or judgemental (ohyes I know it’s quite a slippery slope to talk about anyone’s personal consumer habits.)

Being prepared is not the same thing as rampant consumerism. In all likelihood you don’t need to fill the SUV with TP, or canned goods. And not suggesting consider replacing the 60″ TV with a 72″ one.

2020 forced us to reconsider what was essential. As colder months approach, only suggest proactively looking towards shoring up your, and your household’s most basic needs:

  • Infrastructure: Schedule regular services like oil burner cleaning, vehicle inspections, and health check-ups
  • Repair or replace what is on its last legs: Car tires, appliances, leaky roofs/gutters, or new prescription eyeglasses
  • Re-assess what you can do/purchase so you’re not cut short: Switch to cloth diapers, start a cold-frame garden for greens, buy that extra charger, or update your Fred Flintstone-era phone

We are living in one of the wealthiest nations, and overall, beyond fortunate to have the lifestyle we do. Ours are first-world problems.

While trade deficits and COVID circumstances are beyond any one person’s control, we can all help. Keeping your family safe comes first. But consider donating what, and where you can. Continue to pass along what is usable to others (including kindness).

Wrapping up my sermon: Please. Chill. Take nothing for granted.  Remember we have so much to be grateful for.  And while choosing to export care and consideration to our neighbors won’t register on a balance sheet, it will make a difference in all of our lives.