Thursday, April 23, 2020

Protecting Our Global Economic Network from Pandemics

The word pandemic comes from the Greek words “all” and “people.”  It is a fitting title given to the COVID-19 disease that crosses all people groups, economies and continents without respect to ethnicity or status.  It has a way of pulling back the curtains and showing us what makes the world run.

Pandemics travel on our community’s economic and transportation networks. Because pandemics are international travelers, they disrupt our global economic networks, which are the sources of much of our economic prosperity today.  

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of international relationships, agreements and cooperation.  A disease outbreak in the morning overseas can be infecting families at a mid-America backyard barbecue by the afternoon.  Unknown diseases without immediate symptoms can be carried by unsuspecting travelers at any time.  The only defense any of us has against current and future epidemics and pandemics is to work closely with the international community to identify and isolate emerging diseases while scientists, healthcare professionals, manufacturers and world leaders organize efforts to degrade the disease and or its impact.

Our lifestyle and economy, the one we are all itching to reopen after our pandemic imposed shutdown, is supported by a vast global network of international business relationships, systems, processes and agreements that underpin our economy.  In 2019, the United States had $2.5 trillion USD in exports, and $3.1 trillion USD in imports of both goods and services, which represents $5.6 trillion in products and services going through the global economic network on behalf of the USA.  The USA’s total GDP was $21.44 trillion in 2019, so if my math is correct the global economic network is 26% of its GDP, a significant and important amount.

Nearly 80% of Walmart’s suppliers are located in China, and over 40% percent of the products that Dollar Tree sells are from China.  These are just two examples from a multitude of businesses that rely on imports.  Often these supply chain networks are nearly invisible behind the scenes, but when events disrupt them, they quickly make the headlines as a result of their immediate impact on all of us.  

We must get serious about protecting our global economic networks.  They are not perfect, and they need constant improvements to make the benefits of them fairer and more equitable, but they’re the foundation of the economic engines that support our economies and lifestyles today, so until we find something better let’s vigorously defend the health and utility of them.  How do we do that?  We must recognize how valuable they are to each of us.  We must recognize the real and potential risks to them.  We must carefully watch for, prevent and defend against disruptions to them.  We must cooperate.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.