The Suez Canal Debacle Reveals Less—and More—About ‘Globalization’ Than You Think

Dear Capitolisters,

Last week the world was gripped by a very large ship blocking the Suez Canal—one of the global economy’s most important commercial waterways. The culprit, the Ever Given, was finally freed on Monday after days of digging and tugging, but not before we were treated to plenty of (good) jokes about the situation and (bad) takes about its broader meaning for trade and “globalization.” The New York Times, for example, told us that the “Stuck Ship Is a Warning About Excessive Globalization” (the paper was not alone), while at least one nationalist pundit openly hoped that the ship would stay stuck as a “monument” to outsourcing, multinational corporate greed, and other trade-related evils.

As is often the case, these piping hot takes were pretty misguided: While certain companies, ships, and consumers undoubtedly took a financial hit and while the mess contributed to ongoing supply chain tensions, the overall damage is relatively small and the Ever Given will be forgotten soon enough. Sometimes a stuck ship is just a stuck ship, until it becomes an unstuck ship, at which time things go back to relative normalcy and we find other things to goof on while waiting for dinner.

For us at Capitolism, however, the Ever Given isn’t just a stuck/unstuck ship. It’s an opportunity to learn a little about the nuts and bolts of global trade and in the process debunk something I briefly noted a few weeks ago: the populist caricature of “globalization” as “a new phenomenon created by corporatist (probably libertarian) elites” through “trade deals” and other forms of supposed “free market fundamentalism.” Instead, we’ll see what “globalization” actually is: the daily work of millions of individuals to conceive, produce, ship, and consume goods and services around the world. It’s work that’s been going on for eons but has become remarkably easier in the last century because of things like the Suez Canal and, yes, even the formerly sideways Ever Given.

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