The media is full of dire reports on the state of the nation’s supply chains. Ships are backed up at harbors as the nation rushes to get foreign materials and goods into American factories and stores. Immediate concerns about holiday shortages are followed by ominous predictions of the imminent collapse of supply systems.
The situation raises questions about the current economic model. What should be the nation’s policy on foreign goods and international supply chains? To what degree should there be self-sufficiency? These are the issues that need to be discussed.
The Global Supply Chain Is Fragile
Global supply chain problems occur when producers create products using materials from all over the world. Disruptions caused by COVID-19 highlighted just how much trouble such a far-reaching system of supply and demand can be. A national economy can be severely jeopardized by the relatively little control over these external supply chains. The result was decreases in American manufacturing during the COVID-19 panic. Companies that made their supply chains as “lean” and efficient as possible to save money soon found they could not adjust to the sudden changes and emergencies. The global supply chains for such products became clogged and out of sync.
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The problem is more than just a logistical difficulty. It reflects a frenetically intemperate society that demands everything instantly, effortlessly and cheaply. For this reason, industries are willing to put together these goods from far-flung areas of the globe and rush them to customers. Such consumers have little desire to buy locally or nationally and tend to balk at any waiting period of more than a few business days. They also do not care about the repercussion of their purchases upon the culture, which loses its local character and becomes globally bland.
More Fundamental Concerns: Ethics and National Security
The abundance of global goods and its accompanying prosperity have certainly benefitted America. As production shifts to developing nations, lower prices and greater profits have made globalization very attractive. There are also benefits to developing countries since the added industrial production helps them become economically stable.
However, there are concerns about the poor working conditions and human rights violations in these nations. In addition, outsourcing can lead to unreasonable dependency on hostile nations.
No more is this evident than in the disturbing reliance on Communist China. From ibuprofen to telecommunications, China is key in creating various products and can potentially wreak havoc on America’s global supply chains. The crushing authoritarianism of the Chinese Communist Party, its anti-natural ideology and technology-driven rule all conspire against the American worldview. The Chinese government’s aggressive economic and military policies threaten America and its allies and expand Chinese interests.
What are the Solutions to this Crisis of Sufficiency?
Americans pride themselves on being independent and not being beholden to foreign powers. However, this attitude is threatened by the complacency of leaning on foreign entities to provide efficient supply chain solutions. There are many proposals about how to deal with this situation.
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One position is to preserve American sovereignty in production as much as possible. The reasons for buying American-made goods are that it provides job security, helps reduce the trade deficit and provides higher quality goods.
Some claim there is no problem and that the global supply chain difficulties are hiccups caused by temporary externalities. However, others acknowledge the need for an overhaul to build tougher and more flexible supply chains. This proposed solution relies on more data-driven control of supply chains, redundancies and safety procedures to ensure that companies meet demand even in adverse circumstances. It would also significantly add to the cost of maintaining the system in place.
Author John Horvat in his book, Return to Order, argues that Americans need to make sacrifices that go beyond merely maintaining the regular functions of the present economic model. He claims that the nation needs reasonable self-sufficiency.
International trade is necessary to provide the products and raw materials that the nation lacks. However, there must also be strong connections between local producers and consumers that facilitate the organic appreciation and consumption of products that spring from the nation’s culture. A balanced view favors ample international trade but does not allow it to dominate the economy or culture.
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Such trade must also consider the common good and world security. It should involve human rights standards, national security and fair trade practices. Trade can also strengthen ties with allies and send messages to hostile nations. Balanced trade might also serve to quell the agitation of frenetically intemperate markets.
The Need for a Balanced Approach
Disease, economic malaise and conflict between nations have created uncertainty in global supply chain lines. Such problems will not go away without embracing the sacrifice of changing policies. Thus, Americans should engage in a balanced approach regarding international trade. This involves neither shunning it nor ignoring the creative work of fellow Americans who can provide local solutions. Only then can the United States weather the uncertainty of the tenuous linkages of supply and trade and preserve independence in an ever more chaotic and hostile world.