J ani, a 4-foot plush giraffe, arrived on my doorstep in mid-July, her neck bent backwards so that she could fit in the FedEx box, her brown eyes glassy, as if still finding her bearings after a long journey at sea.
What a journey it had been. Viahart, the company that sells Jani on Amazon, had ordered a container’s worth of plush toys including her in August of last year. This was around the time that U.S. consumers, cooped up at home, started spending again after an initial dip in the beginning of the pandemic. And as the demand for toys and TVs and couches rose, the ships and trains and trucks carrying them got overwhelmed and added hefty congestion surcharges. That made it much more expensive to get Jani to my doorstep.
“Good Day, No rail schedule yet. Rail delays due to chassis shortage & port congestion. Please continue to monitor,” reads an email from COSCO Shipping NA, the company responsible for getting the container from China to Viahart’s Texas warehouse, about why the container was sitting in the port of LA for weeks and weeks. Viahart now pays around $21,000 to send a 40-foot container from China to Texas, up from $4,700 before the pandemic.
There’s no question that the U.S. economy is experiencing a surge in inflation. The cost of goods was up 5.4% in July from the same period a year ago, the largest annual increase since 2008. Inflation can be caused by many things—increased consumer demand, a rise in wages, a spike in other costs. This time around, economists agree that inflation is being caused by an overwhelmed logistics network. “If you look at where prices are rising, it’s not across the board, it’s in really specific sectors” like lumber and cars, says J.W. Mason, an economics professor at John Jay College. These sectors can’t produce things as quickly as consumers want them for a variety of reasons, he says—”It’s about those specific glitches that come from reopening.”