Rationing, Anyone?

Yves here. I have to confess that I’d never considered rationing as a possible response to Covid-induced economic disruptions. Most assume things will revert to a semblance of the old normal in at worst a year or two, save with more working from home and less business travel. But recall that the Russian flu of the late 1800s took roughly 7 years to mutate into a tolerable form. We are presently stuck in variant whack-a-mole. Delta has diminished the efficacy of our current vaccines, particularly with respect to low-level infections, so that the virus continues to spread. Even if Pfizer et al launch a Covid-focused booster, by then who knows if Delta will still be the dominant variant (our GM is giving us near-daily e-mail updates on new variants and where they differ from extant ones).

Admittedly, nasal vaccines are under development, and they have the potential to be game-changers, since they could achieve near-sterilizing-immunity-level reductions in contagion. But the earliest they would be ready to launch is late 2022. And if they are less successful than now hoped or wind up being on a slower timetable, we could be stuck in our new normal for quite some time. And that new normal includes supply chain disruptions which we are seeing in all sorts of places, like super pricey new cars with missing features due to missing chips, to more than occasional missing items in grocery and drug stores.

Letting Mr. Market, as in prices, handle this mess is a default response. But if shortages become persistent in “basic” items, we may see rationing. We already saw some of this sort of thing informally in early Covid, such as grocery stores limiting purchases of hamburger to 2 lbs, and in the oil crisis, where US drivers could buy gas only every other day, depending on whether their last license plate number was even or odd.

Rationing is far more likely to occur in the UK, which is facing Brexit disruption on top of the Covid sort, and also by virtue of having large-scale rationing as part of its collective memory. But it is not inconceivable that it could come to the US too….particularly since The Jackpot is nigh.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

I was in discussion with one of the very first baby-boomers yesterday. He was born just after the Second World War. What he suggested was something very interesting. He, and his generation, remember rationing, which lasted well into the 1950s. And, he suggested, maybe they will now see it again. I admit I had not thought about this until he suggested the idea, but in the intervening hours it has occurred to me how pertinent his comment might be.

Leave aside the fact that we have a Covid crisis still, although you would not believe it given the behaviour of so many in the UK. Instead focus on food supply crises in many forms, a general logistics crisis, a power crisis, political crises, a threat of enforced short working, and an economic crisis as many in the country will not be able to make ends meet through no fault of their own which may well be exacerbated by the fools at the Bank of England demanding interest rate rises and suddenly we are looking at a country in melt down.

That much of this has been self inflicted, by Brexit, by enforced undermining of working standards, by false business models that have ignored the importance of resilience, is beside the point for the moment. It is happening. And there is no sign that it is likely to get any better any time soon. Indeed, the suggestions are that it can only get worse and all we are seeing at present is the start of the chaos.

If this is true (and I accept that some (I stress, some) of these issues might resolve without full blown crises developing with regard to them) then there is a fundamental issue to be addressed, which is how the country keeps going. This, of course, is the ultimate test of resilience. That test arrives when markets fail and alternative measures have to be put in place to make sure that everyone can get access to what they need, even if they cannot have access to all that they want.

Does that mean rationing should be considered now? If not, why not, when it seems that we are on a one-way street to chaos at present? Wouldn’t it be at least wise to presume that things might get worse and that appropriate measures might be required to ensure that everyone can access the basics of life?

We have, of course, done this before. It happened in WW2. We are not at war now. I hope we never will be again. But, in the face of a similar threat to supply chains why shouldn’t the reaction in be the same – that need should overcome ability to pay so that the wellbeing of all can be guaranteed by rationing essential commodities?

This would, of course, indicate the failure of neoliberalism. Its demise would be far more dramatic than the so-called winter of discontent in 1978/79 that saw out the post-war consensus, when uncollected rubbish was the big issue (although I note the Guardian reporting this morning that a refuse collection crisis may also be on its way). But the real problem on this issue is that there is nothing to put in the place of neoliberalism as yet. Well nothing except a Green New Deal that is, because the left has no other ideas at present. So at the heart of all this there is an intellectual crisis, which is that of the failure of many on the left to consider any real alternatives to the market.

In the absence of such alternatives pragmatism will be required. I wouldn’t rule out rationing as a result. In weeks to come many might begin to welcome the idea. I sincerely hope someone has a plan for it.

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  1. Glossolalia

    I don’t recall seeing any stories last year about people throwing fits in grocery stores because they were limited to 2 lbs. of meat, but maybe that was because there was still a bit of “we’re all in this together”, sort of like how the world loved America in the weeks after 9/11. But given the videos we’re seeing these days of how people are behaving in planes, stores, and restaurants, I can’t imagine people are going to take it very well if they’re told they’re not allowed to buy all 50 packages of chicken breasts.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I don’t think that people would be able to handle the idea of rationing. Certainly not a population that is used to going onto Amazon and having immediate delivery of whatever they want. We have seen riots about stuff like mask and lockdowns but the imposition of rationing would be too much for some people who would see it as a threat to their “freedom.” And not just in America either.

    1. Basil Pesto

      I’m inclined to agree. After a period of plentiful food on demand in the post-war west for many/most people, it’s hard to know how everyone would handle such a thing. I imagine lots would be fine, but some could get violent. I guess it depends on how much things have gone to shit – if everything seems relatively normal (as opposed to, say, WW2) but for supply shortages, people might struggle to understand why rationing is necessary: “we’re not even at war, what do we need food rationing for??” Also, you just know that certain rationing rules wouldn’t apply to certain people in practice, which would only raise tensions further. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to pass!

    2. Dr. John Carpenter

      Remember the people hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer last year? It was getting pretty ugly on that front for a while. I’d imagine if there was actual bespoke rationing going on, it would be even worse.
      I’ve had this on my mind lately. I know there’s too much fetishizing of “the Greatest Generation” but it’s been very hard for me to believe the sacrifices civilians were expected to make during WWII (rationing, scrap drives, civil defense drills, etc.) would fly now. Maybe it didn’t then but it’s hard to come across any account that doesn’t seem like people chipped in and dealt with it.
      Will it need to happen, I couldn’t say. I seems there are shortages of stuff here and there but it’s more supply chain at this point. I guess I’d find rationing at that level more of a possibility (and it’s probably already happening to an extent with computer chips and whatnot).

      1. lyman alpha blob

        I think if we had a “nothing to fear but fear itself” government it could work. But given that we have created a huge market peddling fear with a good dose of hate thrown in for good measure, I’d except that in the US at least we’d forgo rationing and settle for hoarding and shooting instead while leaving god to sort it all out later.

        1. Dr. John Carpenter

          Agreed totally. I was just thinking about dipping back in and saying it would be essential that we had adequate leadership as well. In addition to fear, there’s been everything from lies (noble and others) to “let them eat cake” opulence pushed in the last two years. For the same reason I feel there could never be another lockdown, rationing won’t work, even if there was political will to do so. (And for course, neither party wants it happening on their watch anyway.)

      2. Turing Test

        I know there’s too much fetishizing of “the Greatest Generation” but it’s been very hard for me to believe the sacrifices civilians were expected to make during WWII (rationing, scrap drives, civil defense drills, etc.) would fly now.

        I’ll just come out and say it: most people in First World countries today are soft. VERY soft.

        At the time of World War II people had already survived the Great Depression, and even without the Depression the general standard of living was much lower than it is today. A much larger proportion of the work force was engaged in work that was physically demanding and often dangerous, and comparatively poorly paid. The majority of the population was legitimately “working class” and accustomed to a much lower standard of physical comfort and safety than what we take for granted. Malnourishment was commonplace. Many people endured hardships scarcely immagineable to most middle class people today.

        My own belief is that Western civilization is rapidly approaching peak decadence, like Rome just before the barbarians tore down the gates. What comes after won’t be pretty, but people will adapt, just like they did when Rome fell.

        Some are going to find the transition much more abrupt and traumatic, however.

        1. d w

          not sure that soft really describes the first world countries. they may have gotten used to not having rationing, often, but it still happens (i give Texas in February 2021, no riots, or protests…maybe because it was really cold and snowy….)

          i think its more that the US (at least), its the pollicization and polarizing of every thing. course i doubt that is only happening here, its more wide spread than that. in the US, last year, people tolerated more restrictions, since we were in it together. now some seem to think its over worth already, just move on, at least till they are in the hospital on a ventilator…then they some times admit they were wrong, and some times push others to take precautions …some times

          i suspect it will be that that will make it very difficult for the US to come together. on any thing

          1. Turing Test

            By world historical standards the Texas storm was a minor inconvenience, and even COVID has not caused really large scale disruption in the lives people are accustomed to (unless people think not being able to go out to your favourite restaurant or having the kids home on school days counts as a “major disruption”, and if so they are kinda making my point for me).

            When I say people are “soft” I mean two things: first, many people in First World countries have very limited experience in dealing with adversity, indeed many middle and upper class parents regard adversity as damaging and something from which children must be protected, least their self esteem take a hit. People unaccustomed to adversity are going to have trouble adapting to rapidly changing circumstances, at least initially.

            The second thing I mean by “soft” is that people take for granted many conveniences that are likely to become unavailable in a major crisis. Many people are so reliant on GPS that they cannot read a conventional map. Some cannot even read an analogue clock. Many have never built a fire under primitive conditions, gut a fish, canned food or fixed an appliance. The quality people most need to navigate a major crisis is self reliance, and as a society that isn’t something we strongly encourage.

            As a species we’ll be fine, of course. Humans beings are very resilient, which is why we are the dominant species on the planet. Individually a lot of people are going to be in for a bumpy ride, however.

    3. jr

      I agree but perhaps it could act as a harsh but necessary corrective to our flagrantly consumerist culture. A bucket of cold water over the head of the “endless progress” fools like Jordan Peterson, Penn Jillette, and Steve Pinker; a wake up call to the fact that the Horn of Plenty app on your phone has limits and that the Garden of Paradise at your Whole Foods is an illusion with dire costs…

      Then again, there will probably just be riots and people dying for the right to eat Cheeto’s or something.

    4. Cocomaan

      Inflation is just systemic rationing. And it’s generally accepted. So I have to disagree! I think as long as it’s boiling frog level rationing, it will go over fine.

      1. Bob

        It is common for sporting goods stores to ration ammo. And, yes this means just two boxes of 22 ammo per customer when available.

        1. James Simpson

          Sporting goods stores sell trainers, tracksuits and tennis racquets. Why would they even consider selling ammunition for guns? No-one needs it. Ah, it’s lovely over here in the UK.

          1. BeliTsari

            We’d vacationed in thoroughly fulminating librul Santa Fe, prior to Obama’s election. I’d simply wanted some hillbilly, redneck “goin’ hiking with city-folk” gear, at a fru-fru “Outdoors Equipment” boutique at something called a “shopping mall” that our hosts never heard of. Walking in, there were racks of scary FN, IWI, H&K & Steyr military rifles (none, less than $2,500, before all the FLIR sights, “suppressor” & 105 round magazines). They did have artesinal tick repellent, though?

      2. ambrit

        Around here in the North American Deep South, ammo is already almost impossible to find in WalMart.
        One interesting theory I saw on the YouTube is that the ammunition manufacturers are two years behind in filling their standing orders for NATO standard ammunition and are focusing on that to the exclusion of most ‘civilian’ ammunition. This fits with my observing two weeks ago that almost the only ammunition available at the local WalMart was 7.62x51mm NATO ammo, and a lot of it. That stuck out like a sore thumb.
        Not having something on the shelves for sale is the most forceful form of rationing that there is.
        As for hunting season, hah! Try finding 30/30 or .270 or even plain old .357 for your deer gun.
        Indeed, the local WalMart has no long guns for sale at all right now. Empty displays.
        Stay safe!

        1. James Simpson

          Around here in the British North-East, it has never been possible to find ammo in
          Asda or any other supermarket, thankfully. Hunting has long been the privilege only of the richest and most stupid and I hope no-one tries to widen its appeal.

          1. Ian Perkins

            I’ve known a few English working class types who used shotguns for hunting. Not the grouse beloved of the upper classes, just rabbits and stuff. And far from seeming stupid, they had quite a nice little lifestyle going.

        2. Jack Parsons

          The Big W’s policy on guns is you make an appointment. One or two days a week, a specially certified gun-seller employee comes to work.

          1. ambrit

            When did this start? Until a few weeks ago, we had long guns of various sorts in two display cases. You had to bug the H— out of management to get someone with the keys to come unlock the case and do the paperwork, any day of the week.
            (Perhaps you’re having me on. If so, very subtle of you.)

    5. d w

      well if rationing was from business (either from pricing out of most peoples means…or shrinking the number of folks that can be in the stores…etc). since its the ‘government’ doing it…who can people blame? business. they wont care. try to get the government to intervene? doubtful. but i suppose they can riot…and protest…all they want to…and get not results…and i dont see either US parties intervening, and one because they are the friend of ‘business’ …some times
      sound familar?

    6. EMHO80

      I hope you or someone else can tell me what the “Jackpot” is? I have heard the term before, but never an explanation of what it means! Thanks in advance.

    7. Anon

      There seem to be pretty orderly lines outside BestBuy when they get shipments of Xbox/Playstations/Graphics Cards… people camp out the night before, and the line is easily 100 people long 24hrs prior.

      Ye of little faith ;)

    1. Drake

      It is the only equitable one. Every alternative represents the arbitrary value judgment of a third-party imposed by force, which leads to all sorts of waste and misallocation. That is inequitable.

      1. lordkoos

        So you think that those who have money can eat, while those who do not can starve, is the “only equitable” solution? I’m glad you’re not running the show.

      2. lyman alpha blob

        How is it in any way equitable? This is the same argument that leads to, for example, not being able to purchase any tickets at face value any more and either having to pay grossly inflated prices on the secondary market or not go. A person can eschew an overpriced concert ticket and still survive, but a loaf of bread, not so much.

        1. Drake

          Unfettered prices are the single, solitary way that human beings have ever found to efficiently allocate resources, something all the more important precisely when those resources become scarce. Socialism is the ideal way to take a problem of scarcity and turn it into impoverishment. It leads directly to things like ‘we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.’ One of the most nauseating things I’ve ever read was a transcript of FDR’s brain trust sitting around a table deciding what the price of almost every item in the economy should be. I’d love to see the modern version of this with ivory tower incompetents like Elizabeth Warren and idiotic ideologues like AOC.

          It’s no longer even possible to have functioning markets in things like food due to massive, long-standing government interventions in agriculture like subsidies and mandates, and the handful of large companies that monopolize the industry. Deal with those two (very related) problems and let prices work.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Before the Explorer Germocaust of the Indian Nations, some of those Nations numbered in the hundreds of thousands or even few million, and taken together, they were many millions of people.

            And they efficiently allocated resources among every member of their societies without any such thing as “price” at all.

          2. eg

            Um, you do realize that the sovereign sets prices by what it is willing to pay (in its currency of issue) to provision itself. All other prices in that currency are set relative to that benchmark.

          3. ambrit

            Sorry, but there is no magical “hidden hand” in any system where Terran humans take part. “Interpersonal” relations are inherently political.
            I will go so far as to assert that the concept of the “hidden hand” is superstition. As well be the hand that wrote on the wall for King Belshazzar.
            Heaven help us all if there is a Diety and it is an economist.

          4. TheoriesAndGames

            First you said equitable, then you said efficient. Those are distinct concepts. Many distributions are efficient, in the Pareto sense that no one can be made better off without someone else being worse off. If you were given all the goods and services, the allocation would be efficient. No one would call that equitable. Your use of economic terms with normative connotations suggests less an understanding or their meaning and more a preference for the preservation of the existing wealth and power distribution.

          5. Anon

            Assume a can opener… prices aren’t the only things at work, and government aren’t the only ones that collude… I find your Randian naïveté about the invisible hand as toxic as the socialists’.

      3. Objective Ace

        Sorry, money is just as equally subjective. The amount of money someone pays is less of an indicator of how much they value something and more indicative of how much money they have.

        I don’t even know how much I’m paying for gas–I’ll pay whatever. Relative to my net worth, the price is immaterial. That doesnt mean I value it more then some one else. Considering I work from home and dont actually need gas except to go out for fun I probably value it less then many of the people who can’t afford what I’m willing to pay

    2. d w

      depends, on what you compare this years prices to, if its last year, it will be bad, if the year. maybe no bad
      course there are some products in short supply, like computer chips, that are because of mismanagement by some businesses (management shutdown plants thinking they would never be needed…turns out they were wrong…was just a one year deal…that just an example of business management short sightedness ) and there are others, some is labor, but that is driven some what by covid, because people in some jobs see no reason to go back for low pay, bad treatment on the job, no health benefits (who knew that would be a thing in a pandemic??) and some states that cut unemployment benefits to force workers to return…found it didnt work. they didnt have the big explosion in folks going back to work

  3. Paul Whittaker

    As some one who born in 1941 in the UK, I still remember mother having ration cards. I believe they worked quite well. Butter, meat and eggs? Sugar and therefore candy was rationed. Gas was rationed but very few working people had cars, most used the very well run Bus service with spokes (going in and out of the city) and inner and outer circular routes. a portion had motorcycles but still used the bus for the most part. There were always a few Animals on the farm who were more equal than others, these bought junker cars which sat out back but gave them extra gas coupons.

  4. Rod

    While an event that required true rationing in the usa is not something I want, it could harbor a silver lining.
    One of the ripple effects of Rationing could be the deliberate reduction of Plastic Packaging as a matter of reduced access to products–which could be institutionalized if there is a post rationing world.

    Another positive aspect could be the culling of truely extraneous products for profit, not purpose.

    Another could be a refocus. A refocus on what is truely necessary for a healthy and productive existance and the systems that can deliver that, which I can embrace.

    In a real sense, isn’t Poverty another form of Rationing?

    If it were foodstuff, I can see gardening and small animal husbandry really taking hold.

    It’s raining here, the first real rain in 34 days, quelling the aroma of dry Pine Needles and dust. So I’m feeling positive.

    1. ChrisFromGeorgia

      This is a problem that is way more complex and has deeper causes than just the pandemic. Americans have way too much stuff. And nobody has the right to expensive vacations, or restaurant meals. Those are perks of a free society and we increasingly do not live in one. Getting rid of or at least reducing the consumerist mindset would be a huge plus.

      Basic food and necessities should not be rationed, if at all possible. I believe that planting gardens and growing food locally should be encouraged.

      And yes there would be other benefits, as you pointed out with reduced plastic packaging. Weight loss and better overall health (less diabetes, heart disease) is another one that comes to mind for USians.

    2. jr

      Tell me about the plastic packaging. I will be starting work again soon and I have had to order supplies. I just got a 1.5 by 1.5 foot box with three box cutters in it. The rest of the box was stuffed to the lid with those big, plastic packaging pillows. You literally could fit several dozen of the cutters into the box and as they are >metal< already wrapped in plastic, there is no need for padding. Perhaps this is one of the efficiencies Drake is referring to above…

      1. jg

        That could very well be the efficiency Drake referred to, if it saved money via standardized packaging. Now is it efficient from a use of resources standpoint? Surely doesn’t seem like it.

        But, alas, depending on whose yardstick you use, we get/produce what we measure.

  5. Kevin

    Was in the market yesterday. There was a big hole of empty shelves where certain canned goods usually are. There were alternatives, different brands.

    Standing there, phone in hand, mouth agape, was this twenty something that looked as though she had seen an apparition. The furious, texting, going back to look at the shelf, the confusion, staring at the empty shelf, it was delicious. This one had probably never missed a meal in her life, or dentistry nor gadgets galore.

    On the drive home, counted 6 piles of stuff at the curb with “free” signs.
    Mostly clunky junk with a plastic veneer, the metal screws eroding a ring of compressed wood pulp around them, unsteady, basically a dump run avoided.

    Rationing and scarcity are a function of quality as well as quantity.

    1. Ian Perkins

      Twenty-five years ago, it was common practice here to ask for ‘food’ in a restaurant, and eat whatever came. I imagine the younger middle-class generation, who’ve grown up with well-stocked supermarkets, would find shortages much more of a shock.

      1. polar donkey

        I work at a bbq restaurant. Price of ribs the end of 2020 was around $2.50. It is now $5.80 per pound. US Food didn’t get deliveries of ribs for almost 3 weeks. Last week, I saw a report of pig ebola in the Dominican Republic. If that virus gets to the US, it will cause chaos in pork market along with beef and chicken. My job couldn’t survive. Production and supply chains are a mess and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Many people don’t understand things are running nears full capacity, a capacity that has been substantially reduced from 2 years ago. Systems can’t run very long full bore. Any disruption gets magnified and can shut the system down. These are some of the big suppliers who I deal with that are having major problems. Coca Cola, Sunbeam bakery, Hillshire and almost all meat processors, Land o Lakes.

      2. Toothpick Orchard

        “Twenty-five years ago, it was common practice here to ask for ‘food’ in a restaurant, and eat whatever came.”

        I find this astonishing. In 1996 here, and every other place in the world I’ve ever been, you would order what you wanted off a menu. Ex-USSR? Sub-Saharan Africa? Nicaragua?

        1. ambrit

          I remember seeing poor people begging the left overs at the back door of a fast food place in Bogalusa, Louisiana, back in the early 1980s. This was at closing time. Corporate said throw the excess away. The local managers had compassion and no one turned them in.

    2. hunkerdown

      That might have been a gig worker texting their “client” about substitutions, as is standard with Shipt for example.

  6. Mikel

    “…like super pricey new cars with missing features due to missing chips…”

    Hmmm…those “missing features” could actually be desirable. For those interested or in need of a vehicle, maybe the time to purchase is with the chip shortage.

      1. cnchal


        Moar chips = moar power sucking data centers.

        Moar chips in cars = crapified cars

        Roughly 400 cell phones = 1 car when it comes to embodied energy involved in making either.

        I love driving and to me peak car was twenty years ago. They have lots of computers in those twenty year old cars, so they are not chip free. They are repairable if something goes wrong. Not so much for today’s cars. Initial build quality means squat when electronic total loss sends it to the scrap yard way too soon. Hopefully somebody grabs the stupidly expensive mirrors, which are studded with chips, lights and gaudy embellishments, before it gets crushed.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, I am very fond of my mother’s 2003 Buick. Simple, not much maintenance (not being in an area where roads get salted is a big help), plus those old cars have way way fewer blind spots.

          1. John Richmond

            You are not kidding about blind spots. I drive my father in law’s 2012 Ford Fusion with trepidation. The side and cabin mirrors are OK, but when I look back, I look straight into the giant headrest. I’ve backed into cars while at stops twice. The second time was at a red light where I was able to see the car two behind me but not the one behind me. Boom!

          2. V Hanks

            Cracking me up about the 2003 and 2012 “old” cars – my first car was a 1977 Datsun. Standard shift, no A/C, roll windows and no mirror on the right of the car (US left hand drive). We were trained to turn our head to see who might be coming up on the side of us.

            The chat about the rationing, etc. would be a huge smack to younger folks but we all do sorely need to stop buying so much crap. It’s an addiction in addition to all the other problems – buy stuff as an activity instead of going outside, reading a book, whatever. It speaks to a huge emptiness that no matter how much you pile up, can never be filled.

        2. ProudWappie

          I had an issue with my company car last year, which is a very good example of the dangers of technology. I was at my brothers place, and when leaving, the car didn’t start. I could open the doors, but it didn’t recognize the “fob” (key). Since there is no manual alternative in this car to start it, I was just out of luck.

          Fortunately, I could call the lease company, and they got someone to tow the car away, and give me a replacement car (which I quickly switched to a replacement bike later that week, since I was hardly driving anyway). In the end, the garage had to replace the main processor used to manage the car’s systems, which took more than a week.

          So, yes, “old school” technology, which has a simple manual backup system, has my preference, but unfortunately, newer cars seem to have forgotten that lesson or the manufacturers simply ignore it.

          1. ambrit

            I imagine that “manufacturers simply ignore it (simplicity),” because there is more money in repairing overly complex vehicles.
            Just chalk this up to the present day dominance of the concept of “shareholder equity.”

  7. Terry Flynn

    I agree with others that the current generation couldn’t deal well with rationing given things like inability to cook. However I’ve a different worry – possible power cuts this winter – I generally can cook but don’t like to do so. Thus I often do big stews and freeze multiple portions for elderly mum and me to microwave together with rice /pasta cooked in no time.

    If oodles of portions are suddenly defrosted?aaaargh. We could cope with rationing but power cuts are another matter

    1. HotFlash

      Chili, stews, soups, meat, and more can all be pressure canned (lots of info on youtube). The stuff will keep at room temp for years, longer even than many store-bought canned goods, which can rust and whose contents will sometimes eat the can.

      1. Eclair

        My Amish friends can (or bottle) meat (including stuffed peppers!), especially during hunting season. They also can dry beans, putting the beans in a canning jar, adding water, then heating in a water bath. (Don’t do this at home!) Our local Amish group serves a dish made of beans and bread after Sunday service, so they use a lot of beans. A huge amount of the dish is prepared by the family in whose house the service is being held. I assume this is so, in typical Amish fashion, there is no competition as to who can serve the most elaborate meal.

        The Amish communities are probably the best equipped to deal with disruption and shortages. They have honed ‘mutual aid’ to a fine art and each parish has farmers, carpenters, cooks, who have worked together as a team, for years. Many raise their own livestock, from draft horses to chickens to goats, sheep and cows, and are skilled bow hunters as well. They have the skills, the equipment and the experience, to live ‘off the grid.’

        My Amish friend once told me, ‘no one dies alone in our community.’ Equally as true, no one starves, lacks for firewood or for shelter, or for 24 hour a day help in sickness or childbirth.

        1. James Simpson

          Yay, let’s all choose an arbitrary date in history to model our societies on. I’d not want an Amish community and I doubt it would be good for the ecology. Imagine tens of millions of people here in the UK turning to wood to heat their homes and for hot water; or every adult learning to hunt. The Amish model is suitable only for very low densities of population, as are all the other historical examples people seem to venerate ignorantly of the obvious consequences. Living off the grid is largely a selfish luxury the world cannot afford.

          1. TheoriesAndGames

            What’s the alternative? Continue to rely on energy-dense fossil fuels until the biosphere no longer supports our (higher density) living?

            1. James Simpson

              Owing to some rather foolish choices over the last few thousand years, humanity has painted itself into a corner. There are no simple or easy solutions such as these Green New Deals. Every so-called solution fails to take into account the great scale on which it would need to be applied. There’s likely to be an enormous amount of suffering in the decades and centuries to come.

            2. JTMcPhee

              I’d guess that the biosphere has been already damaged to the point that the “support” for 7.92 billion humans is way past gone. We’re running on inertia and momentum now. Eating our seed corn, salting the earth, crapping in each other’s and our own nests, burning the candle at both ends and the middle.

              In some ways, I’m glad my “expected lifespan” is only another 3.9 years…

              1. ambrit

                Don’t count on it. Using average age of decease of my male forebears, I have already exceded my “use by date.”
                We are all on “borrowed time” the second after we are conceived.

    2. swangeese

      Portable generator?

      Running a deep freezer and a fridge together wouldn’t take much gas and/or propane. You also don’t have to run it continuously if you limit how often you open the door.

      However a generator does require minimal routine maintenance year-round and during operation and probably would only be worthwhile to you if power cuts become an expected hazard in your area.

      I would also recommend a wireless (not wifi) thermometer for your freezers/fridge to ensure that your food stays at safe temperatures. It’s a good idea to have one regardless because you’ll get an advance warning if your freezer is beginning to die by not cooling as much as it should. My unit runs off a battery and works well.

      This is at least how we solve the issue here in disaster central otherwise known as Louisiana.

    3. Nick Alcock

      Another problem. Even if you can cook, even if you have a gas oven… does it actually work without electricity? Mine has a gas hob and I just tested it and with the power off, no gas flows. There must be an electrically-driven regulator in there somewhere.

      And it’s *hard* to reconnect ovens in particular to alternate power sources, because they tend to have dedicated wiring. In some countries I’m told they even run off a different phase to the rest of the house (though that sounds bloody dangerous to me).

      1. Lambert Strether

        My mother’s ancient streamlined oven was an object of awe whenever tradespeople would show up. Big knobs, insanely simple and rugged construction, and no electricity at all.

        Makes me wonder if such things every show up at estate sales.

  8. vlade

    I’ve lived under rationing, and there are two things to consider there:
    – black market is pretty much inevitable under any rationing regime
    – if there’s rationing, people _must_ get (vast majority of the time) what they are notionally entitled to.

    Random changes in rationed goods availability are the worst thing for any credibility of the system (“This week we again don’t have any toilet paper, but we managed to get some canned pineapples”. True example).

    1. Questa Nota

      Toss in supply chain disruptions, random or weaponized, and that can reduce menu options still further. Just-in-time food deliveries, what a concept to demand attention.
      Workaround, grow more of your own food

  9. David

    Unlike WW2 (and unlike the rationing system still in force when I was born), it’s unlikely that there will be global shortages of food or essential goods. In wartime, these things were managed centrally, and the amount and types of things that could be imported had be balanced against other priority imports (no bananas during the war, as my mother was fond of telling me). So the issue is less rationing as such, than how to handle sudden and unexpected shortages, caused either by delivery problems into the UK, or distribution problems within the country. (These can be cumulative, of course: fuel shortages can in turn affect deliveries to shops). My own feeling is that the likely pattern of shortages is going to be complex and ever-changing. Your local supermarket may have run out of bananas from Africa, but one in the next town has plenty from the Caribbean.

    With general shortages (eg of power generation) there are established precedents – the “Three Day Week” of 1973 for example. For the rest, I suspect all the government would be able to do is to urge supermarkets not, to sell more than a certain quantity of items to the same person. The other problem, in addition to those Vlade mentioned, is rumour and panic buying. I well remember the phantom Sugar Scare of 1974, where rumours that sugar was running short encouraged panic buying, which led to … a real sugar shortage.

    1. ambrit

      There are work arounds to every problem. The expected ‘shortage’ of rubber for tyres in World War Part Two was dealt with by curtailing the average distance driven by Americans on the “Homefront” through the rationing of gasoline with which to motivate said vehicles. There was always a surplus of petroleum products in America during that war.

    1. Cocomaan

      There’sa great cook book from the ration era called How to Eat a Wolf, I’ve been meaning to check it out

      1. ChrisPacific

        We have it and I’ve read parts of it. It’s a fascinating portrait of the time and a testament to the creativity of that most underappreciated of innovators, the traditional American housewife (I’d love to see how our supposed value-creating billionaire CEOs would manage with a ration card and a family of three picky eaters under five). But it’s not a book that will ever make you wish for those days to return.

  10. Louis Fyne

    Rationing works only with civic trust/civil unity. Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam have it. The USA absolutely no (as in the Dems would be booted from office if they enacted rationing
    —and the associated exemptions/loopholes)

    from my armchair I would put The UK 2/3rds of the way towards the East Asia end of the spectrum

    1. Turing Test

      Rationing works only with civic trust/civil unity

      The affluence of late stage capitalism has largely destroyed the traditional communities and social relationships on which people depended for survival for 99.99% of human history. The problem is worst in the US and UK, where the full blooded embrace of neoliberalism deprecated the role of social relationships, and perhaps most especially social OBLIGATIONS, in favour of an ideology of individual merit and achievement. Remember Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as society”.

      I think we need to acknowledge that the dictates of social cohesion also run counter to many of the values Western liberals hold most dear. Social cohesion is built on a foundation of social conformity, and is incompatible with an ideology that valourizes individual identity and agency above all else.

      Historically communities enforced strong norms of conformity because people needed to conform to cooperate, and they needed to cooperate to survive. Contemporary affluence has given us the luxury of embracing individualism as the highest and most true standard of self actualization, but I fully expect that in a genuine and sustained crisis many of Western liberalism’s most sacred cows will be among the first to be slaughtered.

        1. witters

          Pack animals is one aspect, another is our total vulnerability/dependece on the care of others after we are born and for years afterwards. As the much underappreciated 3rd Lord Shaftesbury put it: we are born “most helpless, weak, infirm.”

          And a bit more Shaftesbury (I can’t resist):

          “Does not this defect [the infants helplessness and dependence] engage him the more strongly to society and force him to own that he is purposely and not by accident, made rational and sociable and can no otherwise increase or subsist than in that social intercourse and community which is his natural state? Is not both conjugal affection and natural affection to parents, duty to magistrates, love of a common city, community or country, with the other duties and social parts of life, deduced from hence and founded in these very wants? “

        2. Nick Alcock

          It’s more than that. Almost all “pack animals” aren’t pack animals: e.g. “wolf packs” turn out to be an emergency response to the forcing together of lots of unrelated individuals, and normally they live in perfectly ordinary family units (parents and a couple of years of children), like most predatory mammals.

          But humans and for that matter most apes and monkeys… we are *tribal*. We really do do the group thing.

    1. lordkoos

      That is an excellent video, perhaps it should be lifted from the comments and put in the NC links.

      I don’t drink milk or dairy products, and I’m noticing a shortage of soy milk, which I am having a hard time finding locally. I buy it when I see it, to stock up.

      1. ProudWappie

        It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s relatively easy to make yourself, and it’s cheaper that way as well. Most commercial offerings are pretty expensive. In the comments someone suggested to use more of the oats, almonds or soy to improve the flavor. Unfortunately, the video about these types of “milk” is in German, but it might be useful nevertheless:
        Creating your own oat or other milk

    2. Ian Perkins

      I’m not at all convinced it’s a sign of the Great Reset, planned reduction of the world population, and all that.

  11. WhatdoIknow

    The only sustainable way of living is the french village models with the church at the center of the village, farmers all around selling their product locally with a local butcher, cheese maker, bread maker etc. Its a model that has proven its sustainability over centuries by how little it has changed.
    Its insanity to go to local costco to buy bottled water shipped here from italy or france.
    How did we come to this?

    1. James Simpson

      Well, partly, but autarky has never been a successful model and Western Europe relied for thousands of years on imported goods from the East and later from Africa. The triangular trade of slavery demonstrates how much we needed goods from outside the continent.

  12. Tom Doak

    Rationing will work very well. The rich will just send the au pair for an extra round of suppl — oh, no, that means they would also have to go to the store themselves! That will never work.

  13. Alex Cox

    “We are not at war now.” Really? The MOD’s own website lists a couple of dozen foreign adventures in which the English army is currently killing people, including Iraq, Syria and Mali.

    England’s support of US sanctions and theft of Venezuelan funds can also be considered acts of war.

    1. James Simpson

      The UK has a Ministry of War, not of Defence, and it was an act of truly Orwellian doublespeak when it was renamed from the War Office in 1964.

  14. Wukchumni

    In my ongoing comparison of the USSR & USA in mutual collapse mode albeit in Bizarro World style, we’re in the beginning stage of having to wait for things that may never actually show up, rationing of sorts.

    It would have taken a Soviet citizen years to acquire a new car, for us at the moment they assure us that new inventory will be coming in 3 months.

    New car dealerships currently resemble a Moscow Lada People’s Store circa 1984, with a few cars on display but no inventory for sale, including the ‘showroom models’.

    I keep reading tales of various consumer items bought online with a 4 week out delivery date that turns into 2 months later being cancelled, and you know it is going to get worse.

    1. GramSci

      My son’s father in law was promised delivery of an electric Ford Mustang (why did he marry into Wokeville?) 13 months ago. The car has been at the dealership down the street for six months. They can’t get it to start. They say it needs a “chip”. (How did they get it onto the truck at the factory?)

      1. JTMcPhee

        Move the “chip” from one incomplete vehicle to another, so it will run enough to get up on the car carrier?

        1. jg

          Exactly. There are thoudsand(s) of F-series trucks at Kentucky speedway, completely built except for requisite chip(s) to finish the product. Think of the chip as the one key needed to start any of the trucks. Don’t dare sell the one “key”… just keep re-using it to keep parking almost complete trucks until more “keys” are available to send with the new units.

  15. Jeremy Grimm

    During World War II, people were convinced they were sacrificing and rationing for a cause, and to support the needs of the forces of parents, siblings, and children who stood at the pointy end of the war effort. World War II was framed as, and was a bitter war for survival with ruthlessly brutal enemies. [It was only after the war that people returned to study and reevaluate — here and there — the propaganda that obscured the unsavory role our Power Elite played in profiting from building the war machine for our enemies, from building the war machine for the home team, and constructing world economic and Government systems to their benefit in the aftermath.]

    Faced with a situation similar to World War II, I am confident the present generation would ratio and sacrifice the same as people did in World War II. But when rationing becomes necessary in our not so distant future — what cause will we be supporting? What evidence could convince anyone who has lived through the last several decades that the sacrifices would be shared by all? Matt Stoller has an interesting take on the reason we are seeing so many shortages: “ShortageWatch: “Sorry. No French Fries with any order. We have no potatoes.” [https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/shortagewatch-sorry-no-french-fries]

  16. Susan the other

    In the process of downsizing neoliberalism-style capitalism there will be times when availability of stuff is iffy. That only makes sense because energy is most definitely being rationed. The producers say they can’t afford to pump crude and they will either have to go out of business or be subsidized by the government. Renewables will be subsidized to fill the gaps. And that travels down the line of production, probably in fits and stops right to the point of sale. Rationing would be one way to actually analyze how it is all going. Beginning with rationing gasoline and other sources of energy, as well as the products that are simply too extractive and destructive to the environment. Then watch for the shortages and then ration them to ease the pressure; and on and on. Make best decisions on what exactly is worth subsidizing. There will certainly be black markets. There will be a renaissance of second-hand and thrift stores. Logically there will be more focus on recycling for various cottage industries and niches as well as industrial supply. I don’t think rationing should be looked at as a big discipline chair. More like a way of finding balance. And one thing might be nice – rationing and downsizing our current rate of consumption will logically lead to more local businesses providing goods and services because the global network can’t afford to shift down into a lower gear and still be “profitable.” That’d be my guess.

  17. Anthony Stegman

    Interesting comments here. I personally haven’t experienced shortages of anything I would like to purchase. Grocery store shelves are full, auto dealer lots seem to be full of new and used vehicles. No lines at gas stations. Where are all these shortages??? Oh, and Tesla is pumping out so many EVs they are paying the local transit agency (BART) to use excess parking lots for storage.

    1. jg

      Just a question- why would Tesla need all of that extra parking? Wouldn’t their EVs be shipped to eager consumers right away? Are they waiting on parts, too?

      I have a family member who owns a repair shop. Tire availability…replacement parts availability…both are an issue and have been for months.

  18. Eustachedesaintpierre

    The Blitz is perhaps not the best comparison, but in a scenario of rationing & loss of power those 2 factors, could result in what Mad Frankie Frazer called the best ever 6 years for criminals. Gangsters thrived on the black market, & from ordinary citizens there was looting of bombed out stores, wholescale forgery of ration cards, while the murder rate rose steeply as did burglaries & other petty crime. There was also widescale corruption from shopkeepers, farmers & officials, while GI’s turned Soho into a boomtown.

    The dark tinted as opposed to the usual rose tinted version.

    I remember the 3 day week which as a kid was an incredible opportunity for getting into mischief. My Mum started to bake bread due the lack of, which she fortunately continued with & piece workers in a local factory that my Aunt worked in shot themselves in the foot by going flat out in producing the same amount in 3 days as they had formerly done in 5 – which received the obvious response from management when the crisis ended.

  19. TroyIA

    Does cutting the work week count as rationing?

    Energy crisis raises spectre of UK three-day working week

    The mounting global gas crisis has raised the spectre of Britain rationing energy and being forced to impose a three-day working week.

    A surge in gas prices globally has already led to the closure of two of the UK’s largest fertiliser plants, prompting supply fears in the food industry. A number of energy suppliers have collapsed, with more on the precipice.

    It has led to days of emergency talks between the UK government and energy leaders, who are calling for a state bailout.

    The gradual reduction of gas supplies in the UK has led to its reliance on European imports. But with price increases affecting the whole of Europe, there are rising fears that the UK will soon be on an energy knife-edge.

    Clive Moffatt, chairman of the Gas Security Group, told the British government three years ago that this could happen.

    The GSG was established in 2017 following the closure of the UK’s Rough gas storage facility, which accounted for 75 per cent of all the nation’s gas storage.

    Now, he says, the country could face returning to a 1970s-style three-day working week if the situation worsens.

    1. Richard B

      Wow – is this a new depth of stupidity? – replace a physical storage facility with a committee, then ignore the committee. Also, Brexit leads to greater reliance on European imports – smacks head into wall repeatedly.

      1. Eustachedesaintpierre

        We can only hope – maybe they will repeat the 70’s plea to the country to share a bath which was met with much derision & probably not but I wonder if it will have consequences for the put all your eggs in one basket internet.

        I have been reading up on pandemics & they always appear to leave behind large ripples – not that this one is one is over yet which of course is added to for the UK with the extra similar effect due to Brexit.

        Here in Northern Ireland many are now set to become homeless as landlords sell their properties to take advantage of the current looney boom in housing – maybe it’s all getting too interesting.

  20. James Simpson

    “nothing except a Green New Deal that is, because the left has no other ideas at present” is bizarre and untrue. The Left has plenty of great ideas and it always has done – unless you regard The Guardian and Keir Starmer as arbiters of Left ideas. Socialism is, as ever, necessary but barely tried and – it seems from the above article – not even worth considering. If Cubans could manage through decades of economic warfare by the USA and have a health care system far better than its self-declared enemy’s, then so can the UK through our unnecessary and ruling class-caused crises. As someone who has been living on Universal Credit for several years, I would welcome rationing which might well improve my standard of living.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      see “the special period”, where the Cuban gov did radical land reform and engineered a wholesale shift to autarkic sustainable/organic agriculture…causing, among other things, a global shortage of mules.
      if i ever hafta flee the country, that’s where i’m headed.

      and, regarding the Stoller thing:https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/shortagewatch-sorry-no-french-fries

      on canning lids…i’ll re-use them if i have to…which is why i take care to not damage them, and put them away.
      but i’d rather not.
      but…they’re just a disk of tin, dammit!…i’ve searched around and can find no DIY sites on making one’s own.
      it can’t be that difficult.
      I doubt they’re under patent…although i suppose the FDA would take an interest if you tried to sell them.
      i can see rigging a stamping machine with a hole die(i have a hand hammered version that would work, but it’s the wrong size) and getting a sheet of stainless(supposing that can be had, lol).
      haven’t figured out the rubber ring, though.

      there’s shortages galore, out here…from saltine crackers to pvc pipe fittings to lawnmower parts to milk and beer(!!).
      it’s pretty random, so far…and the store owners and counter persons tell me that the distributors blame walmart and home depot and such…the big boys wet their beak first, and the independents get short shrift.

      and i feel like a frelling genius for saving and absconding with all those window units over all these years…have a great big stack/pile of them…but the high copper prices haven’t made it down to the salvage places that will buy from me…those guys are still paying pre-covid prices, last i looked.
      planning on getting the sawzall and carving out the good parts this winter, so i can pounce when the prices get high enough eventually.

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