Start Your Day Off Right With A Food Shortage

So, I have been rather disappointed and concerned with the food supplies at the local supermarkets here recently, so I decided to check them out in the morning, right after getting ready, to see if they had more supplies in the morning.  I was even more concerned to find only one loaf of wheat bread (I bought it), a few crackers, very few drinks (even bottled water supplies were low), and large amounts of unappetizing foods like ramen noodles.  Needless to say, I grow even more concerned, since news out of Bangkok is that the floods may linger in Bangkok until New Year’s.

That’s more than a month away.  I wonder if there will be anything to sell in a grocery store in Chiang Mai by then.  By natural inclination my strongest suits are strategic, and my weakest logistical.  That said, my entire life has been one giant logistical struggle, trying to acquire the resources I need to do what I want.  I find it ironic that I have to spend so much time and attention on something that I’m not particularly skilled at when I would prefer to spend my time on other matters.  Nonetheless, it is what it is.

Since it is possible to engage in logistical strategies, or at least strategic discussion about logistics, I wish to comment on what sort of concerns Thailand’s flood crisis brings to my mind.  Other people can take these concerns and build upon them, or neglect them, however they wish.  I am somewhat more surprised that the evidence of nations using logistical strategies is so limited.  Perhaps people just do not tend to think that way.  China’s exports to the United States and other places have been found to contain poisonous products (like lead in WWJD bracelets, or toxic “filler” in pet foods, to give but a couple of examples).

I am surprised this sort of action is not more common.  If a nation wished to harm others, it would be easy to do so by tampering with supplies.  We take food, shampoo, electronics, and other consumer items for granted.  To deliberately sell or export tampered items would be a clear act of war against another nation.  I suspect some nations have already engaged in such practices, modern-day the equivalent of selling smallpox-ridden blankets or high-proof alcoholic beverages to American Indians with ulterior motives.  Making such actions even worse is that many countries (particularly ‘developing’ ones) have such a poorly designed infrastructure.

There are really two kinds of development a nation can take.  Internal development requires a large investment (as well as continual upgrading) in infrastructure like roads, railroads, canals, and bridges, so that internal trade and communication can be maximized.  In an internally developed nation one’s transportation networks are focused on local consumption and development.  This leads to less flashy wealth but a more egalitarian basis of land ownership and wealth.  The contrary model is external development, which focuses on transportation (river or land or air) from factories and plantations to a port city for export to other countries, with comparatively few (and poor) connections from one area of the country or region to each other.  This was a major problem with the antebellum American South, with Latin America, and with Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia today.

And these problems, strategic though they are, are also logistical matters.  One of the reasons why the North was able to defeat the South in the Civil War was because of logistics.  Certainly it is a lot sexier to focus on battles and heroism, but it was bullets and saltpeter and cloth and railroads to ship food that proved to be more important.  A starving army is going to have a hard time beating a well-fed one.  A victory is still a victory even if it is based in large part on logistics.

And that is what concern me about our modern world.  Our nations depend on very long trade connections with others.  We ship consumer goods and food and raw materials across the Atlantic and Pacific, through the Suez Canal and Panama Canal and the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz and through the Gulf of Aden.  Our port cities are often in geographically vulnerable places, whether one is talking about Bangkok or Berbera or Los Angeles/Long Beach or New Orleans or Bahrain or Singapore.  They are vulnerable, as I discussed earlier, because they are gates, where goods and people travel and where access and entry are necessary.

So when I look at the empty shelves in the grocery stores in Mae Rim, and wonder how I am going to find enough Western food, I think about the problems of logistics.  In Thailand, food comes from the outside world through Bangkok.  Since Bangkok is flooded and will continue to be for some time, the transportation links are cut off.  The fact that Bangkok will get a great deal of aid because of its humanitarian disaster and will in the short-term horde what it does receive from the outside world, there will be less for those of us in the periphery like myself.  It is a problem of logistics.  We are vulnerable because our links are far-flung, because we are not self-sufficient, and because we are dependent on outside sources.  Sooner or later that vulnerability will catch up with us, so long as we remain heedless and dissolute in our behavior.  But we will have been warned, even if we ignored all the warning signs we saw around us.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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15 Responses to Start Your Day Off Right With A Food Shortage

  1. Alex Zajac says:

    This post reminds me of two things: last Friday, NPR’s Planet Money did a story on the rice shortages back in 2008 (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/11/04/142016962/the-friday-podcast-how-fear-turned-a-surplus-into-scarcity). Summation: there was no actual shortage, only a series of government actions that when combined, created a market panic and price spikes. Most economists look at it as a classic case of too much intervention into an other efficient market; the government officials saw it in reverse: nations like India that took preemptive steps to shield their populations from volatility avoided the panic all together.

    The other thing I am reminded of by this post was how all the wealthy nations of Europe and North America went to great lengths to build massive infrastructures to move goods internally, while in their colonies they built to only extract resources (the Indian Railway System being a notable exception). Events like floods and earthquakes that would cripple poorer nations barely register since the supply networks can reroute “automatically”.

    • Agreed. Because Bangkok is where the panic is, and because they are the capital, and also the main trade hub for imports and exports (due to external development) it causes a huge shortage for everyone else. You’ve got it. And you’re quite right. One of the reasons that America rebelled against Britain in 1776 was over Britain’s desire to enforce export restrictions to prevent America from internal development. America, even then, had imperialistic dreams and that was unacceptable. Of course, we have not always granted other peoples and nations the same respect that we demanded and took for ourselves. As long as you have a strong infrastructure supply networks can reroute pretty easily. If you have one window to the world and it goes down, you’re out of luck.

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