“We look for stuff you don’t see in every roadside place,” Ms. Stuckey said.
Certain classics — rubber alligators and coonskin caps — remain popular, as do Mexican blankets and Baja jackets.
“Jesus stuff sells,” Ms. Stuckey said. “We brought in walking sticks recently, and we blew through them.” Less popular? “License plate signs — they are really cute, but they are not selling,” she said. “State merch doesn’t turn as well. That stuff is collecting dust. Except for Texas. Texans love their Texas merch.”
Then there is a plan to extend Stuckey’s turf by selling candy through outlets like Food Lion, TravelCenters of America and food brokers. There was even a seasonal run of a Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll beer in partnership with an Atlanta-area brewery.
“That’s part of our strategy to expand the brand, and I think collaborations are the path to scale,” Ms. Stuckey said.
Ultimately, the goal is to leverage road-trip allure to drive candy sales, use candy profits to increase manufacturing and, perhaps, turn Stuckey’s into the top-of-mind pecan brand, like Planters is for peanuts or Diamond for almonds. There might even be a handful of Stuckey’s destination superstores.
For now, Stephanie Stuckey puts in the miles and spreads the gospel of road tripping, finding joy even when the trip leads to an Arkansas Stuckey’s with a hole in the roof.
“Here’s the interesting thing — this was the moment when I realized this company is going to make it,” she said. “Because even with a hole in the roof, there were people in there. And I checked, and the store was profitable. If a Stuckey’s with a hole in the roof can be profitable, the chain can be profitable.”
The pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine, have altered how America’s economy functions. While economists have spent months waiting for conditions to return to normal, they are beginning to wonder what “normal” will mean.
Some of the changes are noticeable in everyday life: Work from home is more popular, burrito bowls and road trips cost more, and buying a car or a couch made overseas is harder.
But those are all symptoms of broader changes sweeping the economy — ones that could be a big deal for consumers, businesses and policymakers alike if they linger. Consumer demand has been hot for months now, workers are desperately wanted, wages are climbing at a rapid clip, and prices are rising at the fastest pace in four decades as vigorous buying clashes with roiled supply chains. Interest rates are expected to rise higher than they ever did in the 2010s as the Federal Reserve tries to rein in inflation.
History is full of big moments that have changed America’s economic trajectory: The Great Depression of the 1930s, the Great Inflation of the 1970s and the Great Recession of 2008 are examples. It’s too early to know for sure, but the changes happening today could prove to be the next one.
kept at it.
Now, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens the global geopolitical order, yet another shock disrupting trade and the economic system.
For Washington policymakers, Wall Street investors and academic economists, the surprises have added up to an economic mystery with potentially far-reaching consequences. The economy had spent decades churning out slow and steady growth clouded by weak demand, interest rates that were chronically flirting with rock bottom and tepid inflation. Some are wondering if, after repeated shocks, that paradigm could change.
“For the last quarter century, we’ve had a perfect storm of disinflationary forces,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said in response to a question during a public appearance this week, noting that the old regime had been disrupted by a pandemic, a large spending and monetary policy response and a war that was generating “untold” economic uncertainty. “As we come out the other side of that, the question is: What will be the nature of that economy?” he said.
began to raise interest rates this month in a bid to cool the economy down and temper high inflation, and Mr. Powell made clear this week that the central bank planned to keep lifting them — perhaps aggressively. After a year of unpleasant price surprises, he said, the Fed will set policy based on what is happening, not on an expected return to the old reality.
“No one is sitting around the Fed, or anywhere else that I know of, just waiting for the old regime to come back,” Mr. Powell said.
The prepandemic normal was one of chronically weak demand. The economy today faces the opposite issue: Demand has been supercharged, and the question is whether and when it will moderate.
Before, globalization had weighed down both pay and price increases, because production could be moved overseas if it grew expensive. Gaping inequality and an aging population both contributed to a buildup of savings stockpiles, and as money was held in safe assets rather than being put to more active use, it seemed to depress growth, inflation and interest rates across many advanced economies.
Japan had been stuck in the weak-inflation, slow-growth regime for decades, and the trend seemed to be spreading to Europe and the United States by the 2010s. Economists expected those trends to continue as populations aged and inequality persisted.
Then came the coronavirus. Governments around the world spent huge amounts of money to get workers and businesses through lockdowns — the United States spent about $5 trillion.
The era of deficient demand abruptly ended, at least temporarily. The money, which is still chugging out into the U.S. economy from consumer savings accounts and state and local coffers, helped to fuel strong buying, as families snapped up goods like lawn mowers and refrigerators. Global supply chains could not keep up.
were able to raise prices without losing customers, they did so. And as workers saw their grocery and Seamless bills swelling, airfares climbing and kitchen renovations costing more, they began to ask their employers for more money.
Companies were rehiring as the economy reopened from the pandemic and to meet the burst in consumption, so labor was in high demand. Workers began to win the raises they wanted, or to leave for new jobs and higher pay. Some businesses began to pass rising labor costs along to customers in the form of higher prices.
The world of slow growth, moderate wage gains and low prices evaporated — at least temporarily. The question now is whether things will settle back down to their prepandemic pattern.
The argument for a return to prepandemic norms is straightforward: Supply chains will eventually catch up. Shoppers have a lot of money in savings accounts, but those stockpiles will eventually run out, and higher Fed interest rates will further slow spending.
As demand moderates, the logic goes, forces like population aging and rampant inequality will plunge advanced economies back into what many economists call “secular stagnation,” a term coined to describe the economic malaise of the 1930s and revived by the Harvard economist Lawrence H. Summers in the 2010s.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
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Shortages of essential metals. The price of palladium, used in automotive exhaust systems and mobile phones, has been soaring amid fears that Russia, the world’s largest exporter of the metal, could be cut off from global markets. The price of nickel, another key Russian export, has also been rising.
Financial turmoil. Global banks are bracing for the effects of sanctions intended to restrict Russia’s access to foreign capital and limit its ability to process payments in dollars, euros and other currencies crucial for trade. Banks are also on alert for retaliatory cyberattacks by Russia.
Fed officials mostly think that reversion will happen. Their estimates suggest that low inflation and slow growth will be back within a few years, and that interest rates will not have to rise above 3 percent to achieve that moderation. Market pricing also suggests inflation will slow with time, albeit to higher levels than investors expected in 2018 and 2019.
But some of today’s trends look poised to linger, at least for a while. Job openings are plentiful, but the working-age population is growing glacially, immigration has slowed, and people are only gradually returning to work from the labor market’s sidelines. Labor shortages are fueling faster wage gains, which could sustain demand and enable companies to charge higher prices.
a recent essay.
Global forces could exacerbate those trends. The past year’s supply chain issues could inspire companies to produce more domestically — reversing years of globalization and chipping away at a force that had been holding down wage and price growth for decades. The transition to greener energy sources could bolster investment, pushing up interest rates and at least temporarily lifting costs.
“The long era of low inflation, suppressed volatility and easy financial conditions is ending,” Mark Carney, a former head of the Bank of England, said of the global economy in a speech on Tuesday. “It is being replaced by more challenging macro dynamics in which supply shocks are as important as demand shocks.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has the potential to rework global trade relationships for years to come, could leave a more lasting mark on the economy than the pandemic did, Mr. Carney said.
“The pandemic marks a pivot,” he told reporters. “The bigger story is actually the war. That is crystallizing — reinforcing — a process of de-globalization that had begun.”
Mr. Summers said the current period of high inflation and repeated shocks to supply marked “a period rather than an era.” It is too soon to say if the world has fundamentally changed. Over the longer term, he puts the chances that the economy will settle back into its old regime at about 50-50.
“I don’t see how anyone can be confident that secular stagnation is durably over,” he said. On the other hand, “it is quite plausible that we would have more demand than we used to.”
That demand would be fueled by government military spending, spending on climate-related initiatives and spending driven by populist pressures, he said.
In any case, it could take years to know what the economy of the future will look like.
What is clear at this point? The pandemic, and now geopolitical upheaval, have taken the economy and shaken it up like a snow globe. The flakes will eventually fall — there will be a new equilibrium — but things may be arranged differently when everything settles.
Around the world, auto assembly lines are going quiet, workers are idle and dealership parking lots are looking bare.
A shortage of semiconductors, the tiny but critical chips used to calibrate cars’ fuel injection, run infotainment systems or provide the brains for cruise control, has sent a shudder through the automaking world.
A General Motors plant in Kansas City closed in February for lack of chips, and still hasn’t reopened. Mercedes-Benz has begun to hoard its chips for expensive models and is temporarily shutting down factories that produce lower-priced C-Class sedans. Porsche warned dealers in the United States this month that customers might have to wait an extra 12 weeks to get their cars, because they lack a chip used to monitor tire pressure.
The French automaker Peugeot, part of the newly formed Stellantis automaking empire, has gone so far as to substitute old-fashioned analog speedometers for digital units in some models.
consumer electronics, which tend to be more lucrative customers.
German economic research institutes warned in a joint report this month.
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The crisis has exposed not only how dependent the car industry is on a few suppliers, but also how vulnerable it is to disruptions. Supply chain managers shuddered last month when an early-morning fire knocked out production at a factory owned by Renesas Electronics in Hitachinaka, Japan, north of Tokyo. Renesas is a crucial supplier of chips used to monitor brake functioning, control power steering, trigger airbags and in many other tasks.
Storms in Texas earlier in the year temporarily forced the shutdown of three semiconductor factories. And Taiwan is in the midst of a severe drought, analysts at IHS Markit warned in a recent report. Chip manufacturing requires large amounts of very pure water.
Even without a pandemic and supply chain disruptions, the auto industry is in turmoil. In the United States, sales have been basically flat since the early 2000s. Profit margins are slim. Some big automakers may not survive the shift to electric cars.
“If I were a chip manufacturer I wouldn’t start investing in a new plant unless I got free money from the government,” said ManMohan S. Sodhi, who teaches supply chain management at the business school at City,University of London.
Ford Motor said Wednesday that it would keep several U.S. plants idle longer than expected because of the chip shortage.
The auto industry has been paralyzed by supply chain disruptions before. Mr. Källenius recalled an episode when a hurricane struck Puerto Rico and shut down production at a factory that, to his surprise and pretty much everyone else’s, was the only source of a coating essential to some kinds of auto electronics.
Automobiles have tens of thousands of parts and so many layers of suppliers and sub-suppliers and sub-sub-suppliers that even carmakers have trouble keeping track of every component’s provenance.
The economics of the industry are such that only suppliers with the highest volume survive. Smaller suppliers tend to die out because they can’t produce parts or materials as cheaply as the big players, leaving the industry dependent on one or two manufacturers of high-pressure fuel lines, for example, or a certain specialized plastic.
The current semiconductor shortage may not be the last. The auto industry’s need for semiconductors is expected to explode in coming years because of autonomous driving features and the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, which are more reliant on software than internal combustion engines.
Mr. Källenius said, though, that the most sophisticated chips were not the ones currently giving him headaches. “We are missing the most simple of chips, that maybe only cost cents or dollars,” he said. “That’s holding us up from building a product that costs $75,000.”
Soon, she made up her mind: Once her grandsons entered preschool, she would embark on a trip of her own. She had bought a small white Volkswagen hatchback several years earlier, with her savings and a monthly pension of around $300.
Her family was resistant. Ms. Su reassured her daughter that she would be safe. She ignored her husband, who she said mocked her.
On Sep. 24, she fixed her tent to the top of the car, packed a mini-fridge and rice cooker, and set off from her home in the city of Zhengzhou.
She posted video updates as she drove, and in October, one of them went viral on Douyin, the Chinese TikTok. In it, she described how oppressed she had felt by housework and her husband.
“Why do I want to take a road trip?” she sighed. “Life at home is truly too upsetting.”
Millions watched the video, sharing it with hashtags like “runaway wife.”
Ms. Su continued across the country, visiting historical Xi’an, mountainous Sichuan and the old town of Lijiang — covering more than 8,500 miles so far. She saved on highway tolls by taking country routes. At night, she unfolded her tent atop her car like an accordion, feeling safer up high. Before setting out again each morning, she draped her wet towel on a clothesline strung across the back seat.
In her videos, she marveled at her newfound freedom. She could drive as fast as she wanted, brake as hard as she liked. At each stop, she made new friends, she said. Wrapping dumplings on camera in a Hainan parking lot in February, she laughed when tourists passing by asked who was traveling with her.
With Covid vaccinations underway, many people are wondering about travel.
The C.D.C. has recommended that Americans, even those who have been fully vaccinated, not travel yet. Case numbers have been rising in the U.S., and variants are spreading. But the reality is that many people who have received the vaccine are booking flights and trips again.
Though this summer likely won’t see travel at prepandemic levels, and many places remain closed, “bookings for almost everything are up,” Tariro Mzezewa, a Times reporter who covers travel, told me.
“Travel will go beyond the road trips of last summer,” she says. “Vaccinated people will be more comfortable being around other people.”
So what will change?
Expect to show some sort of proof — either of a negative test or of vaccination — when traveling. “You should be planning on showing your negative test or staying home if you don’t have one,” Tariro says.
Digital Green Certificate, a so-called vaccine passport that countries can use to verify a person’s health status and allow free travel across the bloc.
The concept of a vaccine passport isn’t new: To travel to certain countries, for example, you already need inoculations against yellow fever and other diseases.
The travel industry and tech companies have been working on ways to streamline digital credentials for years, and during the pandemic some have started to repurpose that technology to show proof of vaccination. “It isn’t far off in the future,” Tariro says.
Countries are approaching travel differently. The Biden administration has said that it will leave the development of a vaccine passport in the U.S. to the private sector. At least 17 initiatives are underway, The Washington Post reported.
“Some think a coordinated, nationwide vaccine passport system could help us get back to a semblance of normal life and speed up economic recovery,” Rebecca Heilweil wrote in Recode. “But this seems unlikely.”
The economy has reopened with help from a “Green Pass,” an entry ticket to society.
The pass isn’t being widely used for international travel — Israel is still closed to foreign visitors out of fear of variants — but it offers access to restaurants, concerts and more. Newspapers and commercials in Israel are already advertising summer getaways for the fully vaccinated in countries that have agreed to take them, including Greece, Cyprus and Georgia, according to Isabel Kershner, a Times correspondent in Jerusalem.
If you’re looking for more answers about vaccine passports, read Tariro’s article. And here’s what you need to know about the simple white cards you get after receiving a vaccine.
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which began yesterday, is that it’s somewhat normal. After the pandemic forced major changes last year, including a 60-game schedule, the league is returning to a standard 162 games and fans are back in the stands.
Here are three things to watch for this year.
Lots of home runs. For the past five years, home runs have been flying into the stands in record numbers, and pitchers aren’t happy. To address it, the league has introduced a baseball that is less springy. Still, during spring training, batters hit it out of the park at the highest rate yet, according to The Ringer.
The best get better. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been to three of the last four World Series, and won it last year. And they seem to keep getting stronger: Over the winter they added pitcher Trevor Bauer, who won the National League Cy Young Award last year. Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times has high expectations: “This season they’re going to be the best team in baseball history.”
Pandemic disruptions. The league has already postponed a game because of Covid — the opening day matchup between the Mets and the Nationals. As the season goes on, expect the virus to complicate things: Players could miss days, and teams may have to reschedule games.
For more: Tyler Kepner, a Times baseball writer, explains where all 30 teams stand. — Tom Wright-Piersanti
“Unvaccinated children would still need to quarantine for five days, and the parents, of course, must stay with the child,” said Eric Newman, who owns the travel blog Iceland With Kids. “Iceland’s brand-new travel regulations are not friendly to families hoping to visit with children.”
After a year of virtual schooling and working from home, parents have no desire to quarantine with their kids, said Anthony Berklich, the founder of the travel platform Inspired Citizen. “What these destinations are basically saying is you can come but your children can’t,” he said.
Instead, families are opting for warm-weather destinations closer to home.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in January that proof of a negative PCR test would be required of all air passengers arriving in the United States, many tropical resorts — including more than a dozen Hyatt properties — began offering not just free on-site testing, but a deeply discounted room in which to quarantine in case that test comes back positive. That move, said Rebecca Alesia, a travel consultant with SmartFlyer, has been a boon for family travel business.
“What happens if the morning you’re supposed to come home, you get up and Junior has a surprise positive test?” she said. “A lot of my clients have booked this summer because of this policy.”
For parents struggling to decide how and when to return to travel, there is good news on the horizon, said Dr. Shruti Gohil, the medical director of infection prevention at the University of California, Irvine.
“The chances of a good pediatric vaccine coming soon are high,” she said, noting that both Pfizer and Moderna are already running pediatric trials on their vaccines. “There is no reason to think that the vaccine will have any untoward effects on children that we haven’t already noted in adults.”
In the meantime, she said, parents with children need to continue to be cautious. That doesn’t mean families shouldn’t travel at all, but she recommends choosing to drive rather than fly; to not allow unvaccinated children to play unmasked with children from other households; and to remain vigilant about wearing masks and regularly washing hands while on the road.