It was a bit disconcerting to discover that the Biden administration’s Secretary of Transportation, one Pete Buttigieg, had previously not announced that he would be out of the office beginning mid-August through, well, now. Especially since Americans are beginning to see empty shelves at stores and maps showing the backlog of ships trying to dock at US ports and being stalled off the coast.
Buttigieg, it turns out, who is supposed to be working on a “sectoral supply chain assessment” with the secretaries of agriculture and commerce, has been on paid paternity leave. It’s the fact that no one announced it that’s particularly galling. With a serious supply chain crisis and Christmas coming, did no one think it wise to let people know?
Some observers noted that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been pretty quiet as the supply chain crisis worsens. Turns out he's been on paid parental leave since mid-August. But don't worry. He's coming back now! From @politico: https://t.co/p2tQuLydXT pic.twitter.com/W0ZcA8Tx10
— Byron York (@ByronYork) October 15, 2021
More to the point, Buttigieg is taking a LOT of paternity leave. Most men take 10 days on average from a very quick Google search (do with that as you will) and neither he nor his husband are recovering physically from giving birth. And, perhaps I’m just a callous capitalist, but if you take a job with the responsibilities of a cabinet secretary, it’s incumbent upon you — it’s your duty, in fact — to find a better work-life balance than months-long paid leave. Or it’s not the right fit for what you want in life. Women have to make those decisions all the time. And it’s not a tragedy. Life is a trade off. And as my colleague Bonchie said on Twitter:
If your argument is "oh, come on, Pete Buttigieg being at work wouldn't have made a difference in the supply chain crisis," you've just made the case for his resignation.
— Bonchie (@bonchieredstate) October 15, 2021
In any event, word is he’s back now (how remarkably coincidental that he’s back as the story of his leave is breaking!) and he’ll have plenty to do. Here’s just a taste:
Start with transportation. While some Chinese ports have been dormant or operating at reduced capacity because of Covid, that is hardly the only issue. A robust trade in durable goods has placed great strain on containers, ships and port operations around the world. The price of containers has skyrocketed, and can be more than 10 times higher than it was just two years ago. In short, a lot of international trade has slowed considerably, plus some of it no longer is profitable.
In some cases, transport-related services are being rationed, as prices are being kept down — maybe to avoid alienating loyal buyers, or maybe because the sellers are not sure if the current demand shocks are permanent. Again, the net result is that a lot of trade simply isn’t happening in a timely manner.
Welcome to work, Pete.
I gab about all that and more, including my thoughts on “Strike” (trailer below), which satisfies my interest in scruffy veterans and British mysteries, and how George Clooney really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.