Dr. Syed Nadeem Fatmi
We all know that people have been trading across vast distances for centuries. We only have to look at the medieval spice trade, or the East India Company, to know that. But globalisation is really about the scale and speed of international business, which has exploded in the past few decades to unprecedented levels. The outbreak of coronavirus has become a kind of test for globalization. As crucial supply chains have broken down and nation states hoard medical supplies and are limiting travel, the emergent crisis is demanding a need for an assessment of the global economy. So far not only has globalization helped for the rapid spread of the pandemic but it has also fostered deep interdependence between business firms and nations that has made them more vulnerable to unexpected and unprecedented jolts. Now, the enterprises and big business houses and nations have started feeling about their vulnerabilities.
On the macro level, many of the trends, such as the conflict between the U.S. and China is not going away. The virus will accelerate those tensions. It may further accelerate the de-globalization. But the lesson of the coronavirus is not that globalization failed. The lesson is that globalization is fragile, despite or even because of its benefits.
However, the supermarkets are confident that they can cope, not least because there is a limit to how much people can sensibly stockpile. But the coronavirus pandemic has awakened wider fears about the security and strength of the hugely complicated supply chains, or logistics systems, that modern societies depend on. There is an old military saying that while “amateurs talk about tactics, professional soldiers study logistics”.
So, keeping logistics working is essential to be able to provide food for all, and keeping the country’s economy working. But how robust is it, and what plans are there to keep it working when more and more people become ill, or are isolated, by the virus?
At the moment this system still seems to be working. Goods are still arriving even though the country is in a shutdown. But it would only take one country to start banning the export of food for the whole system to be at risk, as others retaliate to secure their own supplies.
If coronavirus has shown us anything, it is how complicated and delicate supply chains have become. After this crisis has passed, there is bound to be immense pressure on companies and governments to strengthen and simplify them.
Dr. Syed Nadeem Fatmi is an Assistant Professor at Department of Sociology, Aligarh Muslim University