Remember think global act local? That wasn’t just a cute 90s slogan to warm us up to globalization. Or at least it probably shouldn’t have been. Having local hookups started to look pretty smart last March during the lockdowns. Local grocery stores held up better during disruptions than the big chains did. That’s just how complexity works. Americans learned that local has advantages.
One of my favorite scenes from the science fiction epic The Expanse is a botanist explaining systems cascades to the muscle.
“It’s a simple complex system. Because it’s simple it’s prone to cascades. And because it’s complex you can’t predict what is going to breakdown next or how”
Supply chains are “sort of” simple complex systems (it’s just inputs of goods and outputs of retailers really). Which means cascades are a normal occurrence but genuinely hard to predict. The more we rely on modern inventions like “just in time” ordering and multi-country manufacturing and assembly, the trickier it gets. The money people are already worried about how distributors and consumer end points like groceries and restaurants will cope.
I’m obviously someone who likes to prepare for possible futures. I like finance, disaster preparedness and science fiction. All of which are put options on the future. So I’m beginning to give more consideration to how I can harden the supply lines in my own life. I have no control over logistics companies nor do I have special insight into choke points but I have done enough import work in my time in fashion and cosmetics to have lived through a cascade or two and seen the damage.
If it’s a topic of interest to you too I’d check out resilience and complexity studies (give Joe Normon a gander) and read the classic Lean Logic. You will start to notice the more expert someone is in complexity systems the more interest they have in providing themselves with personal protection against system hiccups or god forbid collapse.
Now I’m a globalist (in both the Hyatt points system sense and being married into a Jewish family) a capitalist, and a fan of trade so I’m pretty invested literally into a planet of free trade and open markets. But I don’t like being unprepared for a problem. Be it short or long term. So in addition to being a dedicated prepper I am giving a lot of thought into how I can harden my personal supply chain.
Some things are national or global in scope (pharmaceuticals notably) and I doubt I can find a local manufacturer of toilet paper, but I can very much get local milk, eggs, and vegetables. So I signed up for a milk coop. I already paid up front for a community supported agricultural share for the spring. And I’m noodling on what else I can find local in the Rocky Mountains. Meat is at the top of the list. I’m guessing some fuels like wood would be easy. Refined fuels might be tougher but Colorado has some options.
But it’s a fascinating exercise right? You realize you probably can’t buy clothing (even if it’s made here chances are the fabric and dyes came from elsewhere). You can’t buy most personal care products but you probably could buy some apothecary products. Most herbal medicines, teas and some cosmetics could be acquired. You notice that if our global supply chains cut off the goods you rely on simply won’t make it to you anymore. But the basics of life like food can very much be acquired and cultivated nearby. So I’m starting to buy what I can locally and build ties with farmers. Because it’s good for my community and it’s just more resilient living.