Resident Luddite David Benjamin ponders the parallels between the global supply chain and the Dickensian "ponderous chains" that Jacob Marley forged in life.
But that’s not the point. Seven thousand miles on trucks, trains and
ships is — by the judgment of the MBA wizards at Bain Capital — way more
businesslike and cost-effective than 45 miles in a Dodge van on Route
This is apparently how the supply chain works nowadays. It’s not for dilettantes like me to plumb its mysteries.
then, I read about Apple’s plans to “reshore” to America a tiny share
of its computer manufacturing in China. Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested
that he’d like to do more, but he’s hobbled by a supply chain that’s
hard to lift up and move around. This reminded me of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where the ghost of Jacob Marley describes Ebeneezer
Scrooge’s burden of penance — for a lifetime of greed and selfishness —
as "a ponderous chain."
Still, I couldn’t help noticing a
paradox. On one hand, Apple can’t make stuff in, say, Freeport, because
putting together a new supply chain would cost a fortune and displace a
network of established links.
On the other hand, Bain Capital
and Sensata, for the sake of trimming the wages, benefits and pensions
of a mere 100 hourly workers, find it easy, thrifty and strangely
gratifying to cast aside a comparatively short and completely intact
supply chain — some of whose links are less than an hour away by Dodge
van — in favor of one that stretches some 7,000 miles over two
continents, requiring interaction among people who speak at least three
distinct languages. And in the process, they ship a whole factory —
lock, stock and heavy machinery — across the Great Plains, the
Continental Divide and the Pacific Ocean.
Far, again, out!
there’s a lot about supply chains that I don’t understand, especially
the rules for outsourcing. But it does occur to me that if shipping jobs
overseas were more like sending Christmas packages to my kids — the
heavier the box and the farther it goes, the more I have to pay —
companies like Bain might be less eager to back up the moving van.
--David Benjamin writes occasionally on technology issues from Brooklyn, usually from the Luddite point of view.
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