Why there are More Supply Chain Problem in our Future

A bunch of old nuts and bolts
This is just a box of scrap metal until you need a specific size nut and bolt to repair something. Then it's a veritable gold mine.

When you go on a diet, they tell you to write down everything you eat, from a single almond to that breakfast sandwich. When you are making up your budget or trying to determine how much you spend a month, the experts tell you to record every penny that leaves your pocket, wither it does so physically or electronically.

I’m going to suggest you write down everything you buy and where it was made, grown/harvested, or processed.

The idea with writing down data is you can’t control what you don’t know or can’t measure. You can’t lose weight until you see what you eat and when. You can’t save your money until you know how you are spending it. And you won’t be able to determine how well you will survive the side effects of a war with China until you know how much of what you buy is made in China.

We may see a shooting war with China. Before that happens, we may see an economic war that sees the end of imports from Cinese factories. A shooting war would also disrupt merchant ships from other Asian ports. That means goods made in Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and other countries will have a tougher time getting to the U.S. Shipping prices will rise, availability of goods made in Asia will drop, and goods will become more expensive because of scarcity.

We all remember how the COVID lockdowns caused a shortage of appliances, cars, tractor parts, patio furniture, home goods, and made it difficult to repair anything. The purpose of knowing where your goods come from is to avoid getting caught up in that kind of supply chain pinch again.

Tracking Purchases

When you buy something, look at the packing to determine where it is made, like a pair of boots I own that were made in Vietnam. Sometimes, it will list multiple countries. For example, the label might say “design and final assembly in the U.S. from parts made in China.” Final assembly means they could screw a few things together here in the U.S., but it is no assurance you will still get these items if we are at war with China.

Sometimes, we ship raw materials to China or Mexico and they ship back finished goods. For example, a set of long underwear I own was made from fabric produced in the U.S. but cut and sewn in Mexico. This also happens with cotton, which is grown in the U.S. and shipped to Mexico, China or another country to be made into textiles or apparel. Steel or aluminum used on parts and products made in China may also have originated in another country. War will make that kind of global trade impossible.

U.S. Manufacturing

If forced to do so, we could move manufacturing back to the U.S., but it would take years before we were up and running. The production machinery would have to be made (assuming we have both the know how and the raw materials), installed in new facilities, and the workforce would have to be trained. (Or maybe we’ll just automate it, because I doubt many people want those jobs.) We could ramp up injection molding plastic components more quickly than we can fabricating electronics, but we probably need the electronic more.

Even making something straight forward like pants in the U.S. instead of China or Indonesia would take some time because besides cutting and sewing, we would need to make the fabric, buttons, snaps, and zippers. it could take years to line up every link in the supply chain. I imagine making pharmaceuticals would take even longer because the FDA has to approve the plants and the plants that make the raw materials.

In other words, it’s taken 40 years to move manufacturing overseas. It’s not coming back in four years. We’re going to see shortages for a good decade if Global trade fails. You need to prepare for that.

Seeking Substitutes

If you can’t get oranges or strawberries in the off season because we are no longer getting imports from Brazil, it may be inconvenient, but you can live without them. Same with patio furniture. (Just buy a locally-made Adirondack chair.) If you can’t buy tires for your car, that’s a more significant problem. Even worse is when a combine that harvests grain needs a part only made in China.

After compling your list for a few weeks, review it. Look first at things you buy frequently, which are likely consumables, and determine what you don’t want to live without. Then stock up on that item or seek out U.S.-made alternatives. You may find that there are similar U.S. made products, but they are much more expensive. They may also be of higher quality, but are likely to be in short supply if they limit passage through the Taiwan Straight.

Consumables are frequently replaced items, like food, batteries, and health and beauty aids that wear out, get used up, or are consumed. Other items to consider are occasional or seasonal items. You need to check where those are made and consider buying a backup.

Pete’s List

On our homestead, consumables include pet food, chicken feed, firewood, and prescription drugs, and we stock up as much as possible, none of which are made overseas. We currently keep a three to six month supply on hand and are increasing this to six to nine months.

Items we use up occasionally include bar and chain oil for the chainsaw, 30-weight oil for the garden tractor and small engines, nails and screws, tape and glue, fertilizer, and other garden supplies. Some of these items are produced overseas, but most are domestic. If you have to stock up on garden supplies, do it now while these items are on the shelf. It will be hard to find a bag of 10-10-10 in the big box store in October.

At our house, the one-time items are those most likely to be imported from China. When I look at my online-shopping records, the Chinese-made things I see include solar-powered motion-sensor lights, flashlights, vacuum cleaner filters, electronics and some clothing items. Only the vacuum cleaner filters are consumables and we can manage fine without the others.

Your lists will vary depending on your lifestyle and if you have kids. That’s why you need to make your own instead of relying on the Internet to tell you the ten or 99 items you need to stock in an emergency.

The Missing Item

If we experience another breakdown of the supply chain, you can assume there will be an item or three you forgot or didn’t realize you needed. Or the device that worked fine for more than ten years will break, and you won’t be able to find a replacement. That’s when you will have to barter for it, visit a thrift store, or find someone who can make a replacement part, either by hand or with a 3D printer. It could be something simple, like when we needed an inner tube for the log splitter’s tire, or it could be something complex, like a new solar charge controller. Once the last ones leave the warehouse, you’re out of luck.

The point is, you cannot foresee everything and even if you have spare parts, they will eventually run out. That’s when you will need to McGyver a solution. That’s why I save broken items. For example, I have a box of failed headlamps and flashlights because in a pinch, I might part together a light. It may not be pretty, but that won’t matter if it works. And yes, I have a bin of screws, nuts, and bolts. I also keep parts from small engines because I may use them on a different engine one day. We’ve gotten away from reusing and rebuilding items, but the ability to do so could be a useful skill in the event of a global trade breakdown or a TEOTWAKI situation.

Beyond Food and Water

It’s always good to have food, water, shelter, guns and ammo, radios, and first aid, but don’t forget things like extra cold weather clothing, a couple pairs of spare boots, garden tools, spark plugs and other small engine parts, grease and oil, a couple tarps, some 5-gallon pails, and other handy items. We may need to be prepared for war and financial collapse, but should also prep for a lengthy period of supply chain disruption. Use the lessons you learned from the COVID lockdowns to better prepare because the world ran out of more than just toilet paper and Clorox wipes.