Monday, March 29, 2021

The Boat as Metaphor

So now the world is following the tale of the boat stuck in the Suez Canal, there's even a website Is The Ship Still Stuck?
And all the pundits are engaging in their favorite indoor activity - coming up with "takes" on how the situation illustrates the ridiculous and profound nature of life in these pandemic days, etc etc. 
At the Atlantic, Amanda Mull writes about how we're going to need a smaller boat:
For people who don’t work in shipping, these problems have reared their heads over the past year in an endless and seemingly random series of consumer-goods shortages, affecting products as varied as sofas and spandex bike shorts. Now, though, these problems—and the persistent frailty of the global system on which corporations have built our physical world—have a singular visual metaphor in the Ever Given. She is huge, and she is stuck, like I am when I wake up with a hangover. Right now, there’s not enough ibuprofen and red Gatorade in the world.
The most interesting takes, however, aren't the metaphysical ones, but the economic ones. 
Here's Matt Stoller talking about what the stuck boat is telling us about the constructed fragility of our economic supply chains:
What is new isn’t the vulnerability of the Suez Canal as a chokepoint, it’s that we’ve intentionally created lots of other artificial chokepoints. And since our production systems have little fat, these systems are tightly coupled, meaning a shortage in one area cascades throughout the global economy, costing us time, money, and lives. 
It’s a dumb way to organize a global supply chain system, just as it was dumb to build ships that are too big to fit into canals. And that’s why the "big boat stuck in canal" is such a great illustration of the problem, it shows our policymakers and corporate leaders couldn’t even think through what would happen if Really Big Thing Got Stuck In Important Canal.
Yes, the stuck boat has definitely revealed some problems in world commerce, just as the pandemic revealed problems in public health.
Once again, in spite of all our society's attempts to anticipate and prepare, we just don't seem to be able to really get a grip on an issue until something actually goes wrong.  
But never fear, then its Canada to the rescue! UPDATE: Fascinating article today in The Guardian about how they got that boat free.


DBK said...

How ya been Cathy? Ol' Frogsdong here. Don't know what made me look you up. You may be the last one still at it. Hope you're well. I've so far managed to survive a pandemic and the Trump presidency. So far.

Cathie from Canada said...

Hi Frog! I stopped blogging for several years but recently got back into it. I don't get many comments, though - I think everyone just does Twitter now, most of the time.
Great to hear from you again!