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The Commercial Impacts of COVID Will Last for Years

Have you noticed that things have changed in our country over the last 3 years? In 2019 my truck broke down. I got it into the shop the next day to be fixed. In 2022 I needed a mechanic to service the brakes on one of our cars. It took 3 weeks to get the car into a garage. 

We also had a minor fender bender this year. It took 2 months to get an appointment for an estimate. That’s 2 months to just get someone to look at the damage – not actually fix it. The insurance adjuster just sighed and said that was pretty normal these days. I halfway expected him to ask who John Galt is.

In 2019 we could go to the local diner and get a good meal with good service. In 2022 the service at the same diner is slow because of limited staff. Three quarters of the menu items aren’t available because food deliveries are weeks overdue.

Those are minor annoyances. Things get a bit more serious when we look at the medical industry. In 2019 I needed a new general practitioner (GP). I got in to see one almost immediately. In 2022 my wife needed a new GP. Most weren’t accepting new patients, and the doctor who was, had a 4-month waiting list to get an appointment.

Even worse, I found myself in the ER with a heart condition this summer. The ER doctor referred me to a cardiologist – it took 2 months to get an appointment to see him, and another 6 months to get on the surgical schedule for the procedure I needed.

Are you noticing a pattern? Prior to COVID, everything worked like a well-oiled machine. After COVID, every industry is struggling to meet customer needs. Businesses have people waiting in line to give them money, but are unable to provide the services those customers want to buy. Don’t they want the money?

Everybody’s familiar with the problems the airline industry experienced in 2022. Flight cancellations and delays have been commonplace – not because of weather or mechanical issues, but due to a lack of flight crews. 

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When everything was shut down in 2020 to “flatten the curve,” many pilots and flight attendants decided to take early retirement. Others refused to take the mandatory vaccines and lost their jobs. Some unknown number took the jab, but could no longer pass their physicals because of vaccine complications.

It wasn’t a huge number of people who left the industry. But it was enough to cause major disruptions – that will likely take years to recover from. Now the airlines are cutting routes and flights, even though customers are offering them money for tickets – that the airlines can no longer sell.

The problems of the airline industry received a lot of press during the past year. Is it possible that the problems we’re seeing in other industries were created by the same root cause, and they just haven’t been publicized as much?

All commercial systems run near capacity. Excess capacity is waste, and businesses don’t maximize profits with idle resources. Factories don’t buy capital equipment to sit idle for some future need. Retailers don’t build new stores to serve customers that may arrive in 5-10 years. Businesses stay in business by satisfying the needs that exist today, and only slowly growing as needs increase. That works well in a stable environment. But it’s problematic when disruptions happen.

Systems operating near their full capacity are sensitive to minor problems. Small glitches can cause major disruptions – because there’s no reserve capacity to respond to problems. Traffic at rush-hour can go from heavy but moving, to complete gridlock – because a motorist on the shoulder is experiencing a mechanical problem. Everything runs smooth as long as nothing goes wrong. But it only takes one flat tire for thousands to experience a frustrating commute home.

This phenomenon doesn’t just happen to traffic. It happens to any system operating near its limit. When contamination was suspected at a single baby formula factory, it triggered a nation-wide shortage that is still ongoing – 10 months later.

When the Colonial Pipeline was attacked by hackers, it created a shortage throughout the northeast. The impact was skyrocketing prices and panic buying – which further exacerbated the problem.

Unfortunately, what happened in 2020 was no minor glitch. We shut down everything necessary to meet customer needs. We naively thought we could turn it all off for a couple of weeks and then just turn it back on. We told people that they weren’t essential – though nobody understood that all workers are essential in some way. We paid people to not work – so they didn’t. The closures caused small businesses to fail – sacrificing system capacity that will take years to rebuild. 

People throughout America responded the same way the airline employees did. Some took early retirement, others took the unemployment and stayed home, some rearranged their work/life balance, and others decided to pursue different careers. It may have only been a few percent of the workforce that was lost, but for a system running near full capacity it was enough to cause a 6-month delay for a needed surgery. 

Now we’re facing years for the system to adjust, load balance, and restabilize – finding the right resources to do the necessary jobs. Garages will hire new mechanics – after they’re trained. Hospitals will add doctors and nurses – once they finish college. Entrepreneurs will open small businesses – once interest rates come down and they can get on a construction contractor’s schedule. None of that happens quickly.

In the meantime, customers wait in line, with money in hand, while businesses remain unable to trade services for the money being offered.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this. We were stupid to think we could power cycle the most complex system in the world without any lasting negative consequences. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure our leadership hasn’t learned that lesson. The allure of emergency powers is simply too seductive to not be used again – if we allow them to retain those powers.

I have a closing question. If power cycling our engine of commerce breaks it, how much damage is done when our leaders mindlessly fiddle with the dials? How much needless system disruption occurs when

  • Our government issues new regulations – because that’s what it does?
  • Favored industries receive government subsidies – because customers aren’t interested in their products at the actual cost it takes to produce them?
  • Politicians use our systems of commerce for social engineering – to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity?
  • Critical energy resources are removed from the system – in failing attempts to control the weather?

All of these actions cause perturbations to a system that always operates near its limits. How much are our systems of commerce underperforming – because our government can’t keep its hands off of the controls of a system that it doesn’t understand?

This article was first published by American Thinker.

Author Bio: John Green is a political refugee from Minnesota, now residing in Idaho. He has written for American Thinker, American Free News Network, and The Blue State Conservative.  His work has been featured on The Dan Bongino Show, World View Weekend Broadcast with Brannon House, and Steel on Steel with John Loeffler. He can be followed on Facebook or reached at