A comic strip that appears in newspapers around much of the country, "Arlo and Janis," celebrates the joy of the commonplace in the lives of a couple approaching middle age, along with their son and their cat. For those of us of an age to immediately recognize the origin of the characters' names, the strip has a certain resonance.
I mention it here because a recent strip built off news developments that involved, of all things, the supply chain. In the strip, Arlo senses his cat's reluctance to eat from the bowl of food in front of him—a clear reference to the tainted ingredients that found their way into the pet food supply chain. Arlo reflects that the cat is worried about globalization. "With globalization and outsourcing, you don't know what you're getting," he tells the cat, "and you're powerless to do anything about it, aren't you?" He then adds, "Now you know how we humans feel."
So globalization has made it into the comic strips. We probably shouldn't be surprised. Global trade may have been second only to the war in Iraq as the most hotly debated issue in last fall's elections. Washington pundits expect that Congress will make some efforts to restore protections for U.S. businesses and workers, with labor and environmental rules at the top of the list. With news coming out of China about counterfeit drugs that have caused deaths there and elsewhere, it is near certain we will see greater vigilance over the food and drug supply chains than already exists. Add to that the fears that terrorists will make use of the international transportation system to smuggle bombs or other weapons into the country and the resulting demands to tighten shipping security, and new strictures of some kind seem assured.
The benefits and costs of globalization for the United States are a continuing source of debate—and not just among politicians, as the "Arlo and Janis" strip demonstrates. It is on the minds of those who have seen their jobs exported or worry that they will be, and among those whose jobs have come into existence thanks to international trade. Environmentalists, labor union leaders, manufacturers, and many others are trying to figure out whether it is a net benefit or not. In the meantime, international trade has become—well, pick your metaphor: Tsunami. Irresistible force. Juggernaut. That train that has left the station. All those have become clichés, but they capture just how powerful a force globalization has become.
It goes beyond economics to the most serious of topics: war and peace.
That became clearer to me as I listened to a riveting speech during the Logistics and Supply Chain Forum, a conference held each year aboard the luxury cruise ship Norwegian Dawn. Thomas Barnett, an author, political scientist, and global security strategist, argued that one consequence of an interconnected world is rising anger—particularly among young men in traditional societies that historically have kept women under submission. They loathe forces they see as undermining that culture. The result, Barnett contends: a rising wave of jihadists. But he asserts that economic development— as well as a big military stick—is the cure. He calls for some unusual new alliances—between China and the United States, for example— to pave the way for the private investment he considers imperative. It is an intriguing argument.
Having heard just one of his speeches, I'm in no position to make any judgment on whether Barnett's prescriptions are good for global health. His description of the ailment, however, leaves me as jittery as Arlo's cat.
Note: As a result of our partnership with the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals to launch a new quarterly journal, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly, and the expanded responsibilities I have taken on for that magazine, I have handed over the day-to-day management of DC VELOCITY to John Johnson. That includes writing the editor's column, BigPicture. However, I'm not parted from my musings that easily. I'll continue to contribute them, for what they're worth, in this space in the future.