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This holiday season, the consumer catastrophe never materialized

Consumers were told to expect empty store shelves, supply-chain hassles, delivery delays, and a systemic breakdown. But that's not what happened.
Black Friday shopping bags
Burak Karademir / Getty Images

With 10 weeks remaining before Christmas, Politico published an unsubtle headline: "White House scrambles to address looming Christmas crisis." In early October, this was hardly the only talk about a prospective consumer catastrophe this holiday season.

For many, a disaster appeared all but inevitable. American families would soon face empty store shelves, supply-chain hassles, delivery delays, and a systemic breakdown.

As The New York Times reported, the "Christmas crisis" never materialized.

Global supply chain problems that have led to long delays in manufacturing and shipping could ripple outward, slowing package deliveries to millions of Americans in the weeks and days before Christmas, experts warned. The prospect even became a talking point in conservative attacks on President Biden's policies. Despite early fears, however, holiday shoppers have received their gifts mostly on time.

The Times' report added that while some big-ticket items, such as new cars, are still delayed, "at least when it comes to items that are in stock, delivery companies have given consumers little to complain about. By some measures, in fact, they have done a better job this holiday season than even before the pandemic."

This is not because consumers are shopping less. On the contrary, according to the National Retail Federation, holiday season sales are up considerably compared to last year.

There are a variety of factors that contributed to the averted disaster. Major retailers and delivery companies planned ahead, for example, as did many consumers who shopped early.

It didn't hurt that the Biden administration has prioritized addressing supply-chain delays.

As a matter of politics and media coverage, I'm mindful of the fact that averted disasters receive a small fraction of the attention paid to actual disasters. Readers probably clicked on Politico's "White House scrambles to address looming Christmas crisis" headline, but there doesn't appear to be a follow-up report with a headline that reads, "White House succeeded in helping prevent a Christmas crisis."

Photographs of unstocked shelves are more dramatic than images of full shopping carts.

But the fact remains that the consumer catastrophe we were warned about didn't happen. It's hard to blame White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain for taking a little victory lap this morning, tweeting, "Merry Christmas to all, and to this over-hyped narrative, a Good Night."