Dangerous Complexity — Supply-Chain Breakdown Edition

Standard

In 2019, before the pandemic insanity, I wrote a blog, “Dangerous Complexity: What To Do About the Complex Problem of Complexity,” which explored various systems where human operators were unable to correctly diagnose a problem leading to disaster. 

In each case a small glitch led to a spiral out of control.  The problem being our capacity, as finite creatures, to sift through all of the alarm bells going off and come to the right answer before the clock runs out.

As I write, countless container ships loiter offshore and waiting to be unloaded.  It is a logistics nightmare directly the result of lockdown mandates.  It is something I had warned about way back when governors were arbitrarily declaring livelihoods to be “essential” or “nonessential” and playing out currently as the slow motion trainwreck of predictable consequences.  

To those seeing conspiracy in this, I would suggest Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

This is what you get when you elect lawyers, with the most political experience, rather than those who understand the basics of business, trade, and supply-chains.  Many who hold office, like their constituents, are economic illiterates and can only see what is right in front of their face.  

As a TWIC card holder with a long time interest in economics and logistics, I do feel qualified to explain.  We have been heading this way for a for decades.  The economy has become extremely complex and also increasingly in fragile.

How did we get here?

From Locally Produced To Corporate Globalism

There was a time when most things were produced for local consumption.  For most of human history transportation had been very slow and costly.  Sure, there was the silk road and the spice trade between the continents.  But it was simply impractical, and unnecessary, to ship things long distances. Food was grown close enough to market that it could be brought by horse and cart.  Towns had their own millers, tailors and blacksmiths.

Comparatively to modern times, this was very inefficient.  In the 1800s one farmer could only feed three to five people and 90% of population lived on a farm.  Today one farmer can feed 128 people and only around 1% live on a farm.  This is due, in large part, to the internal combustion engine, as well as advancements in agricultural science, and also the ability (with refrigeration) to move vast amounts of fresh produce to far away markets.  Meat can be trucked from Texas slaughterhouses to New York City grocery shelves in a matter of hours.

But the bigger revolution has been the imperishable items, the gadgets that require labor intensive manufacturing processes, and generally are produced by the lowest bidder.  This is mostly for our benefit.  If an iPhone might cost $2000 if it was produced in the United States and thus outsourcing production means that more people can afford to buy this technological wonder.  Of course Apple and big corporations are the biggest beneficiaries of this global trade paradigm, still the consumer does get a lower prices.

Slowly, but surely, due to the advantages of economies of scale, small local mom and pop businesses are bought out by ever more expansive corporate conglomerates.  Like that old abandoned dairy farm I used to see, from the interstate highway, on the outskirts of Richmond or in upstate NY. Once thriving farms, within miles of the market, are simply unable to compete with those bigger (and oftentimes further away) producers.

Our Very Fragile “Just-In-Time” Supply-chain

Manufacturing our complex technology takes a large variety of materials and components, these are sourced through a tangled web of suppliers.  If parts don’t come in from Taiwan, then automobile factories in Michigan sit idle.  And you don’t just go out and build a semiconductor industry overnight.  Even if it were possible, the raw materials would need to come from somewhere.   All it takes is couple links in the chain to be broken, even just one, and whole swaths of the economy will grind to a halt.  

In the past there were droughts and famines, countless people died of starvation due to changes in climate.  But then the problem was often local, like the potato blight that hit Ireland hard from 1845 to 1852, and contained.  The overall system was robust because it was decentralized and full of redundancies.  There were places to flee to, like the United States, where there was a chance.

But that’s not the case anymore.  Not only are supply lines stretched very thin and delicate, with many moving parts, we also have the ‘just-in-time” manufacturing concept where inventories are kept low as a cost saving measure.  Inventory is a big business expense and “lean manufacturing” has been the rage for this reason. The end result being there is no extra capacity in the system.  

Ports lack the additional capacity and should never have been shutdown.  A minor disruption of an already overtaxed system will very quickly lead to major backlogs and a cascade of failures down the line.  It’s not only unloading the ships, but finding space for containers, having the rail cars and chassis to put them on.  There was already a shortage of CDL drivers before this started and there is no fast or easy way to fix the situation.

We Need Local Production and Built-in Resilience

We are seeing the weakness of the current economic paradigm in full display and it will likely get worse before it gets better.  I would expect slim pickings when it comes to the Christmas season.  No, it is not likely that we’ll run out of food or fuel here in the United States.  We do produce those things locally and therefore have some security in that regard.  However, that doesn’t mean there will be no pain.  Prices are likely to continue to rise.

It is a good time to reflect on where we’re headed.  Do we really want to continue to outsource our blue collar jobs to countries that do not follow our environmental standards or labor laws?  If climate change is an issue, why not use tariffs to bias the market in favor of domestic and local production?  Sure, it makes sense for big corporations and their bottom lines to chase cheap labor overseas, but does it serve national security or the betterment of Americans who aren’t privileged with college degrees?

Efficiency is a good thing.  It is of some benefit for us to have access to the lower priced labor in the developing world.  But then this is not coming at a cost.  It may relatively inexpensive to ship things around the globe in some regards, it certainly has made big corporations very powerful (with a lobbying and propaganda arm to match), yet it does come at an environmental cost and has also left the whole economic system vulnerable to collapse.

It is totally wrongheaded to increase taxes on domestic manufacturing and then remove tariffs on imported goods.  Sure, this might slow economic growth and possibly even lead to a small recession.  But real leadership is about seeing a little further down the road, and being prepared, rather than always doing what is politically expedient.  We need a new crop of elected leaders who are locally, and not globally, oriented.  

Fascism By Any Other Name

Standard

Many Mennonites, in North America today, are horrified to find that some who shared their religious/ethnic heritage collaborated with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (aka: Nazi Party) and rightfully so.  And, predictably, there have been various woke adjacent Mennonite commentators that, while claiming to be above this somehow parrot far-left radicals that accuse anyone with a positive view of traditional American national values of being “white nationalists” or fascists without seeing it as ironic.

The irony is that these moralizing finger-waggers, blinded by their arrogance like those self-righteous religious elites whom Jesus mocked in Matthew 23 (“If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood…”), are unwittingly aligning themselves with the modern variant of fascism.  Their simple minds apparently cannot comprehend that the same evil, to avoid detection, can be dressed differently and that this time it is their turn to enable the tyrants and true fascists.

Real Fascists Please Stand Up

Fascism is a hard word to define, many dictionary definitions are insufficient or too narrow and do not give a sufficient description. The following quote (from an article, “What Is Fascism?”) gives a better picture of what the term is referring to and why some of us see this emerging in the current corporate and government institutional regime: 

Mussolini coined the term “fascism” in 1919.  The word “fascism” comes from the Italian “fascio,” meaning a bundle or group, and is considered a term for a militant brotherhood. The word “fasces” means an ax tightly bound with sticks, an image that became a symbol of the fascist movement, according to the History Department at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

How is fascism defined? Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York, who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, told Live Science that fascism is “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques.

Two common themes of fascism that Paxton lists “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” also “exclusion of certain groups, often through violence,” and I’ll add that fascists have tended to have an obsession with what they consider to be impurities.  A particular German leader saw certain groups as being vectors of disease and thus justified their elimination.

So, the two primary elements of fascism, distilling this down, are this obsession with contaminates and the merger (or bundling) of power.  The only real difference between fascism and Socialism is that the latter had been more concerned with class distinctions and the prior with racial difference.  But, in the modern era, when the ‘Socialist’ left regularly uses skin color to divide people, and seem fine using corporate power to advance their social agenda, and are the masters of propaganda, it is basically a distinction without a difference.

Sure, they can call themselves “anti-fascists” or “Antifa” and claim that they’re only assaulting Nazis. But, come on people, a guy at the mall can wear a red suit, black boots, and call himself Santa—he’s still not going to come down your chimney with Christmas goodies. And look who is behind most of the violence across this country in the past few years.

Hint: It is not those individuals, totally unarmed, many of them military veterans, who entered the Capital Building on January 6th.

Not defending that either, they should be held accountable, but the difference is that these rioters do not have the corporate media shilling for them nor free reign of the college campus with their demands or sympathetic prosecutors who look the other way at their criminal behavior.

Like it or not, Trump supporters are not anti-democratic, not in the least, and simply wanted allegations of fraud and abuse to be heard. I mean, isn’t it is a little strange that the most well-armed part of our population would go into January 6th planning to take over the government and forget their entire arsenal at home?  If it truly was an “insurrection,” as our totally fair and unbiased political establishment would have us believe, why did they not bring any weapons with them?

Night after night a Federal building, a court house, was attacked by far-leftists in Portland. In Seattle we had a whole section of the city taken over and declared an “autonomous zone” in defiance of the government. Over two billion dollars of damages, dozens murdered, in a summer of violence that our corporate media called “mostly peaceful protests” and yet we’re only talking about the wrongness of this one outburst?  Propaganda much?

Funny how January 6th was not called an unguided ‘mostly peaceful’ Capital Building tour, why is that?

But I do digress.

Fascism is “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” and basically Marxism on steroids. In other words, fascism is authoritarian, collectivist, my tribe versus yours, willing to close private business (or churches) and undermine the democratic process to achieve their ends. So, ask yourself, who was asking for mail-in ballots that are an invitation for fraud banned in most countries? Who is asking for collective judgment (or pardon) of people based only on their skin color? Who was creating the dictatorial mandates, in name of keeping us pure of disease, at the expense of our freedom?

Those Who Defend “Papers Please” Are Fascists

My reason for writing this is the response to the meme below by some exceedingly ignorant people from my own Mennonite tribe:

The first response, a virtue signal about those dying in India, a total whataboutism, was completely insensitive to those suffering under the current nonsense. I’m pretty sure this smug individual won’t bother to watch this video nor ever question approved content they spew on social media. They can’t, they were raised in and remain in a religious cloister that taught them, “go along with the group” and “do as your told.” They might eventually drop the cultural costume some day, and yet they have not demonstrated any ability in our brief conversation to think independently or beyond the narrative being pushed.

No, they “believe science,” which is actually only an appeal to an authority they themselves do not posses, and ignore the mounting evidence that the ‘vaccines’ are totally ineffective. They will continue to think of themselves as well-informed, smarter than their cautioning peers, despite the fact that the six-foot social distancing rule was bogus, as was the focus on surfaces and mask mandate. This coming from someone who had N95 masks back in January of 2020 and while the ‘experts’ were still saying that we should be more concerned about the seasonal flu. Masks make a negligible difference if any at all. There is no proof otherwise.

So now that we’re talking about vaccine passports and literally forcing people to get an injection that has little or not value, that should not be necessary for those who have natural immunity through infection, and comes with the unknown long-term risks of any experimental new product, they still don’t see the problem?

I’m sorry, but only a fascist would be okay with this, because only a fascist is okay with “exclusion of certain groups” and take no heed of the individual rights or civil liberties of those who wish only to travel freely without harassment. To see the religious elites of the Mennonites not only tolerate, but enthusiastically endorse such policies, should send a chill up the spine of those moderate or apolitical in their ranks. These ‘educated’ nitwits don’t seem to get that the Nazi party came to power and won Germans over with the good they were doing—the Holocaust came later.