Letter Re: Kanban: America’s Ubiquitous “Just in Time” Inventory System–A Fragile House of Cards

I’ve heard many, many people bash our ‘just in time’ distribution model. but, I’ve never heard of even a single military official from any other country brag or boast of the same assertions. Our ‘just in time’ delivery of goods is one of the most survivable, re-configurable and defend-able supply chains ever in the history of mankind. It can grow to surge resources into a disaster area, it can shrink to conserve fuel, it presents fast moving small targets of no individual strategic significance, it can bypass destroyed cities, it can use improvised warehouses, it can cluster around railway junctions or sea ports, it can support the military and civilian infrastructures concurrently. In short it is a very, very hard nut for a foreign enemy to crack.
In my opinion, many Survival/Preparedness people who disparage ‘just in time’ delivery, dislike it for the underlying perception that it depends on a group of un-elected, publicly unaccountable people managing the system and is driven by corporate profits. And these people have throughout history, worked to keep the rich, rich and not so much worried about the plight of the common man, especially during hard times. I agree with this and would add that a wartime nationalization would replace the corporate management with less experienced military people, and that these people would be focused on keeping the military supplied, and again not so much worried about the plight of the common man.
I believe our ‘just in time’ supply system and infrastructure was fostered by our post-WWII and cold war governments to safeguard the American way of life, even in the presence of multiple massive disasters. It will do well, and America will survive. But the system we have is not going to guarantee anything to individual Americans. I urge everyone to prepare your families accordingly.
Regards, – Mark

JWR Replies: I wish that I could share your optimism. I would only have a warm fuzzy feeling about our wonderfully resilient and fast-reacting JIT supply system if we had both the benefits of that resilience/quick reaction and a deep inventory at key points in the pipeline. But unfortunately, in most industries, consumer sales, and especially in the medical field, the supply chain is perilously lean. These supply chains are not prepared for major disasters that will degrade transportation systems. If the trucks simply can’t get through, then the world’s best organized supply system cannot compensate for lack of supply where it is needed. What is required are deeper inventories much closer to where they are actually needed.