Japan’s Earthquake Jolts Shreveport

The corporate chieftains who’ve relentlessly pushed American factories and middle-class jobs offshore rationalize this globalization of production by declaring that it’s all about efficiency, as though that’s the highest value to which a civilization can aspire.

Values aside, however, the problem with corporate efficiencies is that too often they are simply not efficient. The corporate scheme of moving stuff from A to B to G to Y to achieve the narrow goal of maximizing profits can look so simple, sensible, and even slick in a boardroom Power Point presentation. This is largely because it ignores inconvenient realities, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear meltdowns.

For example, Shreveport, Louisiana has been jolted by the horrific one-two-three blow that has pummeled Japan. What hit Shreveport was not a seismic aftershock, a tsunami, or a radioactive nuclear plume–but the inherent fragility of the distant supplier networks built by profiteering globalizers. A GM truck plant in this city has shut down because one truck part, made at a factory in a devastated area of Japan, isn’t presently available. One part. Amazing. Cars and trucks have about 20,000 parts, but the inability to get even a single one delivered from abroad can bring an entire assembly line to a halt.

GM’s bean counters had decided at some point that they could have this gizmo made in and shipped from Japan a bit cheaper than making it here. So GM and other globalizers have made themselves–and all of us–dependent on an unreliable, far-flung network of foreign factories. Moreover, these scattered suppliers also are at their suppliers’ mercy–a plastic gadget-maker in Japan, for example, might rely on a Chinese factory for the chemical to make the plastic.

Globalization’s “efficiency” is nothing but a cross-your-fingers fantasy.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.