All Things Disconnected

Paula LaBrot

David Goodhart, author of The Road to Somewhere, writes, “We no longer need the help of rats or fleas to spread disease—we can do it ourselves thanks to mass international travel and supply chains. We are no longer self-sufficient when things go wrong.” There is a myriad of lessons to be learned from this pandemic



The Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, is poetically headquartered in Xi’an, the original beginning of the old Silk Road, where globalization began over 2000 years ago, when Chinese luxury goods like silk were sent out into Europe. From the 7th to 15th centuries, Moslem traders (Mohammed was a merchant), created the Spice Trade and established trade routes all over the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean from Indonesia to Spain.

After the Industrial Revolution, global trade really picked up. As economist John Maynard Keynes observed, “The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole Earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.” Today, the internet has exponentially powered global shopping. Hello, Amazon delivery.

Regions of the world produce what they do best and send their products out into the world market. Right along with these products, the ever-connecting world has sent pandemics like Measles, Syphilis, Bubonic Plague, Cholera, Spanish Flu, Ebola, Aids, Sars, on and on right up to COVID-19.



The whole coronavirus situation gives an excellent view of the two sides of globalism. On the pro side, international pooling and sharing of data and advanced technologies have resulted in swift genetic analysis and identification of the virus. International cooperation will lick COVID-19 at an astonishing speed. Telemedicine is bringing expert consultants from around the world to the most remote regions and right into people’s homes, so they can avoid contagious offices and hospitals. From medicine to education to jobs, globalism offers vast opportunities for development.

The cons of globalism can be sinister. Countries who have outsourced the production of vital products like antibiotics, medical consumables, medical equipment, or even steel, food products, and electronic components find themselves, as we are finding, quite vulnerable to being cut off from necessities.

The Brits learned their lesson of the cons during World War II. John Goodheart writes for, “In the 19th century, Britain did completely embrace free trade. It was enormously to our advantage to do so and we imported most of our food by the end of the 19th century. The result was that we nearly starved in two world wars. After the Second World War, we did not make the same mistake; even with the enormous change in tastes and increase in food imports in recent decades, we still produce more than half of what we eat.”



The coronavirus is a real wake-up call to the United States. Outsourcing has resulted in cheaper products from a hyper-connected world, but, as we see clearly, it has left us at tremendous risk.

It is not just the United States that has found itself struggling because of its reliance on China. South American countries have been making a killing selling (out) their natural resources to China. Now that China’s economy has tanked, “…it points to devastation for their economies, hardship for their people, and potential civil unrest. The same is proving true in the Middle East and large parts of Africa, where a cascading waterfall of negative impacts are slowly unfolding,” according to David Wagner writing for International Policy Digest.



Chin up, neighbors! Goodhart writes, “The unlikely bedfellows of populism, environmentalism, and technology are all pointing in the same direction—the reshoring of some forms of production, a bit more self-sufficiency, more teleconferencing with people in other countries—all in all, a retreat from the hyper-globalization of recent decades.”

While populism is a difficult word for some, you can see from this virus episode how important it is to maintain a healthy degree of self-sufficiency. This is something we Topangans can appreciate, knowing what it is like to get cut off in the fires of the last few years. Those who were prepared fared well and were able to help their neighbors.

In terms of environmentalism, Peking has not had such clean air in decades, because manufacturing was cut way back. And who needs the rain forests of the world made into knick-knacks anyway? With telecommunications, why fly around the world to attend a meeting? How many of us stayed connected with friends, family and work on Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime during this isolation period?

There is value to the individual nation state as there is value to local government versus centralized government. Life is not just about economics and a one-world ease of doing business for banks and giant multinational organizations. There is culture, there are values, there are human beings, not just producers and consumers. Humans are unique creatures, and I love their diversity of cultures, people, and, especially, ideas! To be of service to my fellow humans, it is my responsibility to be prepared. Then I can help others, which, I think, is what we are here for. I think Americans see this clearly now and will be much more supportive of certain products being produced here in the United States.

This virus is making us think.

As Wagner says, “Of course, we still want lots of trade and sustainable growth but at less cost to other things that people hold dear.” The COVID-19 virus has shown us where we need to make ourselves independent and strong so we can follow Seneca’s thought: “God made men, so they could help one another.” We are always told on a flight, put the oxygen on you first so you can live to help others.

We live in fascinating, challenging times…as usual.

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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