The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

N95 Mask Supply: 3M Is Not the Bad Guy (and Neither Is President Trump)

Posted on | April 3, 2020 | 3 Comments


Yesterday, President Trump invoked his executive power as Commander-in-Chief to put an American corporation under federal orders:

President Trump blasted the company 3M in a tweet Thursday evening, after invoking the Defense Production Act to force the company to produce face masks. N95 face masks are critical for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and there have been issues with mask shortages.
“We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. “P Act” all the way. Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing – will have a big price to pay!” Mr. Trump wrote, referring to the Defense Production Act.
Mr. Trump announced during the White House coronavirus task force briefing on Thursday that he had signed an order for 3M to produce face masks.
“Hopefully they’ll be able to do what they are supposed to do,” Mr. Trump said, without offering details.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro also said during the briefing that there had been “issues” with 3M not providing enough masks to American buyers.
“We’ve had some issues making sure that all of the production that 3M does around the world, enough of it is coming back here to the right places,” Navarro said.
In a statement responding to the president’s announcement, 3M said that “3M and its employees have gone above and beyond to manufacture as many N95 respirators as possible for the U.S. market.” The statement added that there would be “significant humanitarian implications” if the company followed the White House’s order to stop exporting masks made in the U.S. to Canada and Latin American countries.
“In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek,” the statement said.
3M said it was working to combat the “unethical and illegal” price gouging and unauthorized reselling of company products.
Jared Moskowitz, the head of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, said in an interview on Fox News Thursday evening that he had learned 3M distributors were sending face masks to foreign countries and had refused to send him essential equipment.
“We are chasing ghosts. I just decided to turn up the heat and tell people what is actually happening in the N95 mask space,” Moskowitz told Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. Moskowitz said 3M “decided to make a globalist decision and not put America first.”

Permit me to clarify the political image game being played here. Do you see the word “distributors” in what Moskowitz said Thursday? Like every other manufacturing company, 3M distributes its output via wholesalers who, in turn, deliver the product to retailers and other vendors and clients. Your local hospital orders their masks through a medical supply company, which obtains them through this wholesale distribution supply chain. All of this is a matter of contracts and purchase orders and if, in January or February, 3M signed a contract to deliver X-million number of N95 masks to a vendor on April 10, the manufacturer’s obligation to fulfill that contract cannot be disregarded simply because, in the meantime, authorities in New York City or Florida developed an unexpected shortage of N95 masks.

Well, what about “price gouging”? If you’re a wholesale distributor of a product that suddenly is in high demand, are you under some kind of moral obligation to pass up the opportunity for extra revenue that such a situation offers you? Nonsense! The market is what the market is, and if you get an offer of $4 per mask for a shipment of 100,000 masks that you normally would sell for $1 per mask, you take that extra $300,000 with the clear conscience of a Christian holding four aces.

Yet the New York Times blames “shady middlemen” for their city’s shortage of equipment, which is simply an excuse for the failure of Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to plan ahead for this crisis:

The next task was undertaking the vast production and allocation of masks, other protective gear and ventilators. Instead of centralizing this task, President Trump said from the White House lectern, “Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work.” He added, “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”
But governors can’t invoke the Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to order businesses to manufacture necessary medical equipment. Nor can they enlist the Federal Emergency Management Agency to manage the giant project of distributing the equipment. The vacuum left by the federal government forced states to compete for scarce equipment like ventilators, driving up their price and benefiting shady middlemen while causing fatal delays.

Those middlemen aren’t “shady,” they just happen to be in the medical supply business at a time when demand for medical supplies is high. And the New York Times led the media chorus with this idea that the “giant project” of distributing these supplies should be centralized under federal authority, making Trump the fall guy for failures of planning on the part of state and local officials. Day after day for the past three weeks, we have watched nationally televised press conferences in which Gov. Cuomo incessantly talked about the alleged shortage of masks, ventilators and other supplies. The media treat Cuomo as a saintly hero when, in fact, his pleas for more supplies reflect his own failure to prepare for this emergency. If he wasn’t signing contracts in February and March to purchase however many N95 masks the city needs now, how is that Trump’s fault? Or how is 3M to blame for not producing six weeks or two months ago whatever number of masks Cuomo says he needs now?

The media isn’t asking those questions, because the media wants to scapegoat Trump for the whole shebang. This blame-game in turn compelled Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, telling 3M to make more of the masks they were already making as fast as they can. 

Cuomo’s problem is not 3M’s fault. Cuomo’s problem is not Trump’s fault. But the media won’t hold Cuomo accountable for his failures.



3 Responses to “N95 Mask Supply: 3M Is Not the Bad Guy (and Neither Is President Trump)”

  1. Friday hawt chicks & links – The working from home sucks edition. – Adam Piggott
    April 4th, 2020 @ 4:02 am

    […] People going nuts about companies “hoarding” their own merchandise or the price increasing during periods of vastly increased demand are a little short of a dollar when it comes to understanding how markets work. […]

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    April 5th, 2020 @ 2:55 pm

    […] The Other McCain looks at 3M vs Trump […]

  3. News of the Week (April 5th, 2020) | The Political Hat
    April 5th, 2020 @ 10:19 pm

    […] N95 Mask Supply: 3M Is Not the Bad Guy (and Neither Is President Trump) Yesterday, President Trump invoked his executive power as Commander-in-Chief to put an American corporation under federal orders […]