Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Coronavirus outbreak is making people seriously question globalization

We are all (well, all North Americans and Europeans at least) used to being able to obtain pretty much anything from anywhere in the world at any time of year. This is the boon that is globalization. By the same token, people think nothing of just hopping on a plane and crossing the globe.
However, globalization does not come without drawbacks, some of them profound. Ever wonder why a bombing in Iraq or an attempted coup in Venezuela pushes up the price of gas in Canada overnight, even though Canada is all but self-sufficient in oil and gas? That's globalization, baby! Most of the drawbacks of globalization we do not even think about on a day to day basis, although the climate change impacts and the environmental challenges of globalization are becoming better understood as we struggle to come to grips with global greenhouse gas emissions.
And now, the latest coronavirus outbreak, which has rapidly progressed from a localized epidemic to a global pandemic (depending on your definitions), has caused further soul-searching about the merits of, and justifications for, globalization. Indeed, no less a personage than arch-conservative Eric Reguly, in the business pages of the Globe and Mail, is now expressing severe reservations about the whole globalization project.
Most of the world has been affected by the virus one way or another. For one thing, it spread from China to other countries with unprecedented rapidity, first to nearby South Korea and Japan, but then to an estimated 67 countries at last count, despite precautions. Because everywhere is so inextricably connected, it is almost inpossible to stop it from spreading further.
But COVID-19 has also made the world face up to just how reliant it is on China, and Chinese manufacturing in particular. As large segments of Chinese industry have shut down overnight, many other industries around the world have ground to a halt, even though they are not directly affected by the outbreak. Here is just one report about how much the loss of  Chinese parts is affecting business in other countries, to the tune of around $50 billion in February alone according to this report.
As people used to say about Canada's unhealthily close relationship with the USA, when China sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold, in both a metaphorical and an all-too-literal sense.

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