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“Supply chain” has entered the lexicon, no longer the sole purview of economists in university offices.
The last time most people heard the phrase was probably in high school social studies class when learning about Napoleon Bonaparte’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812.
“Five hundred miles into Russia, Napoleon’s supply chain became thin, and many of his soldiers were hungry or sick, or both. Then it started to snow…”
Apparently, supply chains are still a thing in the 21st century, although these days they involve trucks, ferries and freighters, not cold French soldiers 1,000 miles from home.
No one has yet admitted that if the supply chain breaks, the toilet-paper hoarders will be proven correct, of a sort. Our society, built on stuff and more stuff and still more stuff, can sometimes run out of stuff, such as during, say, a pandemic.
Two centuries later, Napoleon’s own words remain relevant: “A supply chain that was stretched too far forced me to abandon Moscow, and also to stop importing strawberries from California.”
Alongside the worrisome supply chain, we’re hearing a lot these days about buying local. The “buy local” movement, or phenomenon, was gaining more ground than French infantrymen even before the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, with the links of worldwide capitalism’s supply chains revealed to be made of paper rather than iron, the urge to buy local is more a necessity than a suggestion. If you can get it locally, then buy it locally, because otherwise you might not be able to get it at all.
The echo you hear is a reverberation from 1988. It’s been bouncing around for more than three decades, but even the idealistic socialists in the NDP stopped listening to it years ago.
In the 1980s, when “globalization” was a mere infant, having been fathered by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservative government, there were many and multiple warnings against it. High among them was that it isn’t a good idea to stop making stuff in your own country.
Nonsense, said the free traders. We don’t need factories and farms. We’ve advanced beyond that. We now have a “knowledge economy” and a “service economy.”
In April 2020, it was finally proven: you can’t eat “knowledge” or services. Believe me, I tried. My computer keyboard tasted awful, even after I put French dressing on it.
“Free trade” originated as, and still is, a detestable euphemism. It has nothing to do with freedom. It has nothing to do with trade.
What it does have to do with is allowing those with capital — i.e., money — to invest wherever labour, materials and taxes are cheapest.
Thus the decline of Ontario’s factories and manufacturing jobs. Thus the U.S.’s infamous Rust Belt. Thus hockey gloves with a tag reading “Made in China.”
The globalizers and the ultra-rich won the argument so handily that few people today even recall or know there was a heated argument back in the day, short-lived as it was.
Opponents of globalization were, and still are, branded as supporters of “protectionism” and “isolationism.” Automatic losers, in other words.
That is, until recent weeks, with discussions arising about supply chains.
Maybe, after all, it isn’t good for the economy or for the country to import most of our necessities.
The finest example these days is personal protective equipment.
Prior to mid-March, the vast majority of Canadians had likely never heard of PPEs. Even so, the discovery that hardly any are produced in Canada is shocking, appalling … and an inevitable result of “free trade” and globalization.
Now, the federal government has vowed that henceforth there will be enough made-in-Canada PPEs.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Dwight Ball and his government, to their credit, recognized “food security” is important, and started to provide funding incentives for farmers in the province.
In keeping with modern politics, “food security” is political jargon, just another way of saying, “producing your own food.”
Maybe greenhouses aren’t such a bad idea. Maybe the delicate supply chains will convince enough people to buy local, and producing locally will become economically viable.
And when the coronavirus finally goes away, hopefully globalization will go with it.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.