How often do you think about where things come from?
We don’t just mean whether or not you check if your candy comes from a factory that processes tree nuts, or if you know the farm where your vegetables were grown, picked, washed and delivered from.
Do you ever think of where the metal to construct the bagging machines that package your Skittles comes from? Or where the oil and plastic tubing comes from to fuel the tractor that pulls the plow that helps your cabbage grow to add to your salad? How about where that porcelain bowl holding your salad comes from?
Without getting too political, it is fair to observe how the inauguration of Donald Trump as president has created a renewed discussion about America’s place in the geopolitical environment. For the first time in many years, the idea of becoming more reclusive on a world scale and “dealing with our own problems” – so to speak – has garnered interest and become the topic of water-cooler conversations.
On its face it seems to be a simple and wholly beneficial idea. Let America focus on America for a while, and let everyone else deal with their own issues.
However, it simply isn’t realistic. The modernization of the civilized world has led all first-world nations to become inseparably connected by one simple fact – there exists no country on Earth that holds all the materials for a “modern” economy.
You can have all the manufacturing power in the world – like a China, Germany or United States – however, if you don’t have the precious metals that go into batteries and microchips, you are forced to import those materials. And there are countless more examples in fields such as intricate manufacturing, consumer goods and food products, where something might only grow in a few specific corners of the globe.
Knowing this, in order to import and not be raked over the coals by tariffs or added expenses, having an amenable relationship with the other country or countries that has access to the good is necessary.
Therefore, being isolationist – as America desperately tried to be in the bloody wake of World War I prior to Pearl Harbor shattering that notion – in the modern world is a purely romantic notion. We rely on other countries just as they all rely on us as the home nation of the universal currency.
A recent bout of frigid weather that is threatening to seriously freeze Narragansett Bay should put this matter into real perspective, at least for Rhode Islanders. As a state, we import ($8,750,128,766 total value in 2016) far more than we export ($2,269,116,794 total value in 2016). These imports include everything imaginable, from seafood (we import more seafood than 35 states, surprisingly enough) to home heating oil.
Now imagine if things got worse and the bay was covered in a thicker sheet of ice. Days turn into weeks and perhaps longer in between regularly scheduled shipments as imports are delayed or cut off entirely because ships can’t get into the bay. Perhaps ships have to dock in a different state and products must be shipped via trucks – adding significantly to importing costs and resulting in real impacts on the local economy.
As the temperature continues to drop, and the supply of heating oil is hypothetically hampered, costs would go up as we have to turn to other sources of fuel for higher rates, putting a strain on individuals who are already having difficulty paying normal rates. It’s a frightening scenario.
The oil embargo of the 1970s provides some historical context about how much of an impact a drastic change in imports can have on our economy. Oil prices shot up 350 percent when OPEC launched their embargo, and it had real effects on everyday life for Americans who may not ever otherwise think of where the fuel that drives their vehicles comes from.
Perhaps it is prudent to take time to learn just how interconnected our modern society truly is.