In 1989, Boris Yeltsin visited a Randalls supermarket in Texas. He was astonished at what he saw: shelves, coolers, and freezers bursting with groceries. Were the late Russian president to visit today, he would find many of America’s stores having a lot in common with those of the centrally planned Soviet Union, where the inventory was chronically low, the customers morose.
According to reports of the day, Yeltsin, then still a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “roamed the aisles of Randalls nodding his head in amazement,” declaring that “even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev.”
“He told his fellow Russians in his entourage that if their people, who often must wait in line for most goods, saw the conditions of U.S. supermarkets, ‘there would be a revolution,’” the Houston Chronicle said in a sort of “remember when” article a few years back.
Yeltsin’s biographer said that afterward he “was despondent” and “couldn’t stop thinking about the plentiful food at the grocery store and what his countrymen had to subsist on in Russia.”
“For a long time, on the plane to Miami,” after the visit, “he sat motionless, his head in his hands,” Leon Aron wrote in his biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life.”
“What have they done to our poor people?” Yeltsin asked.
“On his return to Moscow,” Aron wrote, “Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’”
The New York Times said in its Yeltsin obituary that an aide reportedly saw that in the grocery store visit “the last vestige of Bolshevism collapsed” inside of the man.
Today it’s U.S. consumers who, if not depressed, are at least frustrated by the state of affairs in stores in which they’ve come to expect to be filled with goods. The wide-open spaces have even trended on Twitter under #BareShelvesBiden and #EmptyShelvesJoe.
We admit: The supply chain breakdown is global. It can’t be fully pinned on President Joe Biden and his party. But poor public policies advanced (and protected, in the case of productivity-killing union work rules) by Democrats and private-sector policies driven by big-government pressure have left U.S. retailers looking like Moscow’s GUM department store failing to serve its “grim customers” in the Soviet era. Too many “incessant experiments” in the form of generous “rescue” spending that have stripped some of their incentive to work; lockdowns which bit big chunks out of the economy; and vaccine mandates and unrelenting pandemic fearmongering that have created labor shortages across multiple industries within the supply chain.
Biden declared “problem solved” three days before Christmas when he said “Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty.”
Yet here we are well into 2022, and store shelves are looking worse than a Christmas stripped of its ornaments and tossed on the curb in the middle of January. While we’re far better off than the USSR was on its best days, the trend doesn’t inspire confidence.
Were Yeltsin still alive, he would feel pain for an America that’s performing far below its history as well as its capabilities.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board