Globalization and its false dissatisfaction


“I’m a prankster, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight smoker, I make my love on the run.” To unwind, District of Columbia health officials imbue this vaccination center on the banks of the Potomac with the soft-rock styles of the Steve Miller Band. Here I am, after the jab, left deltoid buffered, so calm as to take Pfizer’s world-changing wonder for granted as she teaches my cells new tricks. But then I got used to the exploits of the private sector over the past year. We all have. And here is the problem.

If in April 2020 someone had given you a glimpse of the next 12 months, what would have struck you about global supply chains: how well they fared or strangely well? The physical containment of much of the planet’s workforce “should” have ended the lives of consumers as we know it. Instead, my Amazon order history for the past year is a souk overflowing with headphones, electric corkscrews, masks, Burgundy glasses, phone chargers, Richard E Grant briefs, hypoallergenic bedding. , Sonos speakers, masala chai, and ink cartridges, with an otherwise median delivery time mode of 48 hours. Apple gave me a MacBook in 90 minutes. Nothing that I would normally eat or drink was lacking or even rationed in restaurants or supermarkets, and my tastes tend towards the baroque.

These are not nation-specific wonders that make the client a deity. While Europe has been locked down to an extent and for a length of time that Americans struggle to understand, it scores just as well for product availability. “They’ve got it all,” a friend recounts, reviewing the major food groups at a reopened tapas restaurant in Marylebone. “Argentinian rosé, quince pie, dulce de leche. The private sector has outdone itself. “

And so, in a deep way, it is. The past year has been declining in public opinion as a year of rebuke for globalization. Shortages, some of which involved property like life or death as personal protective equipment, justified this view from the start. The more recent crisis in semiconductors and other business-to-business gadgets is slowing the recovery. But the fact that most of these pinch points are easy to name attests to their relative rarity. In relation to both the sum of the commodities in the world and popular expectations at the time the pandemic began.

In most problem areas, supply has caught up with abnormal demand, which is why masks are no longer scarce. And even though the blockages remained, they did not At first glance discredit the whole system. For that, we have to believe that things would have been better in a more self-sufficient world. It is necessary to believe that the nations would have stored essential elements or the means to make them to face a single contingency in a century. What sweet faith.

The immediate lesson of the pandemic was the fragility of modernity. The ultimate lesson might be his underrated resilience. We have lived, and in too many cases failed, to experience global historical trauma. But we’ve also seen miracles of robustness and ingenuity, and they go far beyond the biosciences to go to the very heart of the economy. It is not easy to say that. The opposite – pessimism about the system – is the real invitation to future problems.

In the first episode of Civilization, Kenneth Clark at his most languid gives some reasons for the fall of the ancient world before specializing on one of them. “Confidence”, or rather the loss of it, is what he says destroyed Rome. Without “belief in its philosophy”, a culture becomes suggestible to outward subversion, to its own senseless experiences, or simply to decline through neglect.

Globalization – though Clark would have hated the term dried out – has been the philosophy of most of the world for most of my life. After a year-long stress test in which it scored more respectable than anything but the most serene optimists could have hoped for, the result is Buy American, Just-in-Case, and the confusion of a prank. burlesque in the Suez Canal with some inner sickness of the world order. As confidence wanes, don’t be sure the result will be a sensibly reformed system, or anything as cohesive as a system.

Email Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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