This logistical model is the engine of breakneck capitalism. But its fragility is now being exposed
A price shock on the global natural gas markets brings down several small energy providers, leaving customers without heating and facing rising fuel prices. A fire knocks out the huge cable sending electricity from France to the UK, threatening homes with darkness and increasing power bills. The container ship Ever Given, bound for Felixstowe from Malaysia, gets stuck in the Suez canal for six days, backing up shipping traffic at an estimated cost of £730m and delaying that electronic gadget you ordered from Amazon Prime.
What these incidents have in common is the speed at which a single event can disrupt the supply chains that crisscross the world . Almost every time you order something online, it is transported via a network of factories, rails, roads, ships, warehouses and delivery drivers that together form the global economy’s circulatory system. This tightly calibrated infrastructure is designed for perpetual motion. Once one link breaks or stalls, the impact on today’s just-in-time supply chains can be felt immediately.
Kim Moody is a visiting scholar at the University of Westminster