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在持续动荡的世界,我们如何应对“供应链大混乱”

PETER S. GOODMAN

2024年6月4日

2021年10月,在洛杉矶港外抛锚等待入港的集装箱船。 Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Southern California appeared to be under siege from a blockade.

南加州看上去就像被封锁了。

More than 50 enormous vessels bobbed in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean, marooned off the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. As days stretched into weeks, they waited their turn to pull up to the docks and disgorge their cargo. Rubberneckers flocked to the water’s edge with binoculars, trying to count the ships that stretched to the inky horizon.

超过50艘巨轮在太平洋寒冷的海水中颠簸,被困在洛杉矶和加州长滩的两个港口附近。随着时间一天天过去,它们等待着轮到自己靠岸,卸下货物。看热闹的人拿着双筒望远镜蜂拥到水边,试图数清绵延至漆黑地平线的船到底有多少艘。

This was no act of war. This was what it looked like when the global economy came shuddering to a halt.

这不是战争。这是全球经济陷入停滞时的情形。

It was October 2021, and the planet had been seized by the worst pandemic in a century. International commerce was rife with bewildering dysfunction. Basic geography itself seemed reconfigured, as if the oceans had stretched wider, adding to the distance separating the factories of China from the superstores of the United States.

那是在2021年10月,地球上发生了百年来最严重的大流行。国际贸易中到处都是令人困惑的失常。最基本的地理格局仿佛经过了重组,海洋被拉长,中国工厂与美国超市之间的距离变远。

Given the scale of container ships — the largest were longer than four times the height of the Statue of Liberty — any single vessel held at anchor indicated that enormous volumes of orders were not reaching their intended destinations. The decks of the ships were stacked to the skies with containers loaded with the components of contemporary life — from clothing and electronics to drums full of chemicals used to concoct other products like paint and pharmaceuticals.

鉴于集装箱船的规模——最大的集装箱船长度是自由女神像高度的四倍多——任何一艘停泊等待的集装箱船都意味着大量订单没有到达预定目的地。甲板上堆满了集装箱,里面的东西从服装和电子产品,到装满化学品(用于制造油漆和药品等产品)的桶,它们构成了当代生活的方方面面。

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Among the ships held in the queue was the CSCL Spring, a Hong Kong-flagged vessel that was carrying a whopping 138 containers from Yihai Kerry International, a major Chinese agricultural conglomerate. Together, they held 7.3 million pounds of canola meal pellets — enough animal feed to sustain 20,000 cows for a week. Their delay was exacerbating shortages of feed afflicting livestock producers in the United States.

在排队等候的船只中,有一艘悬挂香港国旗的CSCL Spring号,载有来自中国大型农业集团益海嘉里国际公司的138个集装箱,其中总共装载了约3300吨的油菜籽颗粒——这是足够养活2万头奶牛一周的动物饲料。这一延误加剧了困扰美国畜牧业生产者的饲料短缺问题。

Five ships in this waylaid flotilla were collectively hauling 13 million pounds of Fiji bottled water. More than 17 million pounds of Heineken beer was held up. The Singaporean-flagged Wan Hai 625 was carrying almost three million pounds of polyethylene terephthalate resin, a key element for manufacturing synthetic fabrics and plastic bottles used to package soft drinks — another commodity in short supply. The same ship held 5.2 million pounds of solar panels and 1.6 million pounds of material for chain-link fencing.

在这些被困的船中,有五艘总共运送了约5900吨的斐济瓶装水。超过7700吨的喜力啤酒也被拖延。悬挂新加坡国旗的“万海625”号载有近1300吨聚对苯二甲酸乙二醇酯树脂,这是制造合成纤维和用于包装软饮料的塑料瓶的关键元素,也是一种短缺商品。这艘船还载有约2300吨的太阳能电池板和720吨的链条围栏材料。

By one estimate, the ships waiting off Southern California’s two largest ports were collectively loaded with more than $25 billion worth of goods. And this was a fraction of the wares stranded by a global breakdown that had reached staggering proportions. Nearly 13 percent of the world’s container shipping fleet was floating off ports from China to North America to Europe. Upward of $1 trillion worth of product was caught in the congestion.

据估计,在南加州两个最大港口外等候的船只总共装载了价值超过250亿美元的货物。这只是由于全球供应链崩溃而搁浅的商品的一小部分,而供应链崩溃的规模已经达到了惊人的地步。从中国到北美再到欧洲,全球近13%的集装箱船队在港口漂浮。价值超过1万亿美元的产品陷入拥堵。

All of this stuff was supposed to be somewhere else.

所有这些东西都应该在别的地方。

But the docks were overwhelmed by an influx of containers as Americans stuck in quarantine outfitted themselves for the apocalypse, filling their basements with exercise bikes, their bedrooms with office furniture and their kitchens with baking equipment. Most of these goods were manufactured in Asia. The trucking industry complained that it could not hire enough drivers to move this tsunami of product. Warehouses were stuffed to the rafters and short of workers. The railroads — hollowed out by years of corporate cost cutting — were buckling in the face of a surge of demand.

但是,大量集装箱涌入,使码头不堪重负,与此同时被隔离的美国人在为大灾难做准备,他们在地下室里摆上健身自行车,在卧室里摆上办公家具,在厨房里摆上烘焙设备。这些商品大多是在亚洲制造的。卡车运输业抱怨说,他们招不到足够多的司机来运送这些海啸般涌来的货物。仓库满满当当,却缺少工人。多年来由于企业削减成本而被掏空的铁路行业在需求激增的情况下陷入困境。

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For decades, the world had seemed compressed, the continents bridged by container ships, internet links and exuberant faith in globalization. Now, the earth again felt vast.

几十年来,世界似乎被压缩了,各大洲被集装箱船、互联网和对全球化的狂热信仰连接起来。现在,人们重新感受到大地的辽阔。

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In the center of the pileup off Long Beach lay the Maersk Emden, a Danish-flagged container ship that stretched 1,200 feet long and 158 feet wide. Freshly arrived from the Chinese port of Ningbo, it was carrying roughly 12,000 containers.

在长滩附近被困船只的中心是悬挂丹麦国旗的集装箱船马士基·埃姆登号,长约365米,宽约48米。这艘船刚从中国宁波港抵达,装载了大约1.2万个集装箱。

Hagan Walker had only one box on board the Maersk Emden — a 40-foot container logged in the shipping manifest as MSMU8771295. But it held the most important order in the brief history of his start-up.

哈根·沃克在马士基·埃姆登号上只有一个箱子——一个12米的集装箱,在运输舱单上记录为MSMU8771295。但在他的创业公司的短暂历史中,它占据了最重要的位置。

Mr. Walker’s company, Glo, was based in a small town in Mississippi. It made plastic novelty cubes that lit up when plunked in water. He had recently secured a breakthrough deal — a contract to make bath toys for Sesame Street, including a figurine version of the iconic Elmo. He had planned to debut them during the pivotal holiday season, now only two months away.

沃克的公司Glo总部设在密西西比州的一个小镇。该公司生产新奇的塑料方块,放入水中时会闪闪发光。他前不久获得了一份突破性的订单——为《芝麻街》制作洗澡玩具,其中包括标志性的艾蒙玩具。他原计划在关键的假日期间首次推出产品,当时距离假期只有两个月了。

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Like millions of companies, Mr. Walker’s operation depended on two crucial elements: factories in China to make its products and gigantic container ships to carry them to American shores. For decades, this had proved a cheap and reliable way to do business, the means by which major brands and niche players alike had kept the world’s largest economy stocked with everything from oven cleaner to aircraft parts.

和数以百万计的公司一样,沃克的经营依赖于两个关键因素:在中国生产的工厂,以及将产品运往美国海岸的巨型集装箱船。几十年来,事实证明,这是一种廉价而可靠的经营方式,大品牌和小企业都是通过这种方式,为世界最大的经济体提供从烤箱清洁剂到飞机零部件等各种产品。

But that equation was unraveling, and Mr. Walker found himself confronting the mother of all traffic jams off the coast of Southern California.

但是,这个等式在瓦解,沃克发现自己面临着南加州沿海最严重的交通堵塞。

As the calendar continued its relentless march toward the holiday season, his Elmo dolls were floating out on the water, castaways during the Great Supply Chain Disruption.

随着日历继续无情地向假日季迈进,他的艾蒙娃娃漂在水上,成为供应链大混乱中的弃儿。

By the time the Maersk Emden joined the floating queue off Long Beach bearing Mr. Walker’s shipment, people from Europe to Africa to North and South America had endured a terrifying scarcity of personal protective gear like face masks and medical gowns. This had forced frontline medical workers to attend to patients with Covid-19 absent adequate protection.

马士基·埃姆登号载着沃克的货物加入长滩附近的漂浮队列时,从欧洲到非洲再到北美和南美,人们还在忍受口罩和手术衣等个人防护装备的严重短缺。这迫使一线医务人员在缺乏足够保护的情况下照顾新冠患者。

Society had experienced the disappearance of toilet paper from store shelves amid panicked hoarding. Women’s sanitary products had become difficult to find, along with medicines like antibiotics and even aspirin. Meat display cases at supermarkets sat empty. For a time, Grape-Nuts, the popular breakfast cereal, all but vanished, along with the tapioca beads used to make boba tea.

随着人们的恐慌性囤货,卫生纸从商店货架上消失了。女性卫生用品、抗生素甚至阿司匹林等药物也很难找到。超市里的肉类陈列柜空空如也。有一段时间,广受欢迎的早餐麦片“葡萄柚果仁”和用来制作珍珠奶茶的木薯粉几乎都消失了。

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Factories in Asia that manufactured computer chips could not keep pace with a substantial increase in demand, an emergency in an age in which chips had become the brains for all manner of devices. Auto factories from Japan to the United States to Brazil halted production, citing a lack of chips. American car dealers typically held two to three times as many vehicles as they sold in a month. By the end of 2021, their inventory had plunged to a record low — less than half their volume of sales. And as new cars became scarce, the prices of used vehicles exploded.

在亚洲,生产电脑芯片的工厂跟不上需求的大幅增长,在芯片已成为各种设备大脑的时代,这成了紧急情况。从日本到美国再到巴西,汽车工厂都因为芯片短缺而停止生产。美国汽车经销商的汽车库存通常是他们一个月销售量的两到三倍。到2021年底,它们的库存已跌至创纪录的低点,不到销量的一半。随着新车越来越少,二手车的价格也开始飙升。

Medical device manufacturers embarked on a largely futile campaign to shame chip companies into prioritizing their orders over those from smartphone companies like Apple and Google. Major electronics companies began covertly buying old toys and video gaming consoles, breaking apart ancient PlayStations and Barbie accessories to harvest the chips within.

医疗器械厂家开始了一场基本上徒劳无功的宣传行动,希望让芯片公司知耻,转而优先处理它们的订单,而不是苹果、谷歌等智能手机公司的订单。各大电子企业开始秘密收购旧玩具和电玩主机,拆解古老的PlayStation和芭比娃娃配饰,以获取里面的芯片。

For consumers who never previously had reason to contemplate the intricacies of the global supply chain, all of this was cosmically disconcerting. The shortages of goods conveyed a gut-level affirmation that contemporary life itself had gone haywire, exposing a dark and unsettling truth: No one was in control.

对于以前从来不需要去考虑全球供应链复杂性的消费者来说,所有这一切都令人极为不安。商品的短缺从直觉上确认了一种想法,即当代生活本身已经失控,并且揭示出一个令人不安的黑暗真相:当时的局面已经不在任何人的掌控之下了。

In wealthy countries, society had been steeped in the idea that the internet had transcended the traditional constraints of time and space. You could go online at any hour, on any day, no matter the weather, click here, and then wait for the truck to arrive with your order.

在富裕国家,社会一直浸淫于这样一种观念中:互联网已经超越了传统的时空限制。你可以在任何时间、任何一天、任何天气下上网,点击一下,然后等待卡车运来你的货物。

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In a world full of grave uncertainty, here was a sure thing.

在一个充满巨大不确定性的世界里,这是一件确定无疑的事情。

The supply chain was not just the circulatory system for goods, but also the source of a sense of authority over human circumstance, and a rare unifying aspect of modern existence. In a time of flagging faith in government, skepticism about news media and suspicion of corporate motives, everyone could at least believe in the unseen forces that brought the UPS guy to the door. The links connecting farms, factories and distribution centers to households and businesses had seemed inviolate.

供应链不仅是商品的循环系统,它还能带来一种人类境况尽在掌握的感觉,是现代生活中一个少有的协调一致的侧面。在人们对政府失去信心、对新闻媒体持怀疑态度、对企业动机心存疑虑的时代,每个人至少都可以相信那些把快递员带到你家门口的隐形力量。将农场、工厂和配送中心与家庭和企业连接起来的联系似乎是不可侵犯的。

As the supply chain began fraying, urban reality from Minneapolis to Milan was dominated by the ceaseless wailing of ambulances hauling those stricken with Covid-19 to hospitals, where people were dying on gurneys stashed in corridors, the rooms overflowing, the supply of ventilators exhausted. From San Francisco to Stockholm, people were taking their last breaths alone in nursing homes, without saying goodbye to their children and grandchildren. Every day brought grim reports of a rising tide of death that eventually took the lives of nearly seven million people worldwide.

随着供应链开始断裂,从明尼阿波利斯到米兰,城市里到处都是救护车无休止的悲鸣,把新冠肺炎的感染者送到医院,人们躺在走廊的病床上奄奄一息,病房里人满为患,呼吸机供不应求。从旧金山到斯德哥尔摩,人们在养老院独自咽下最后一口气,没有向他们的子孙告别。每天都有噩耗传来,死亡人数不断攀升,最终夺走了全球近700万人的生命。

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Over recent decades, multinational companies from North America to Europe to Japan had placed their fate in a ruthless sort of efficiency. They had steadily entrusted production to factories around the globe, and especially to plants in China, chasing lower costs and fatter profits.

近几十年来,从北美到欧洲再到日本,跨国公司都把自己的命运置于一种无情的效率上。为了追求更低的成本和更高的利润,它们逐渐将生产委托给世界各地的工厂,尤其是中国的工厂。

And they had behaved as if this strategy was devoid of risk, as if China’s industrial parks might as well have been extensions of Ohio and Bavaria. They either did not know or did not care that the shipping industry was basically a cartel, operating largely beyond the oversight of any government watchdog.

它们表现得好像这个战略不存在任何风险,好像中国的工业园区是俄亥俄州和巴伐利亚州的延伸。他们要么不知道,要么不在乎航运业基本上是一个卡特尔,基本不受任何政府监管机构的监督。

Once their products reached American shores, companies relied on transportation networks that depended on millions of workers who submitted to dangerous and lonely jobs, even as their pay and working conditions were downgraded. In constructing a supply chain governed by the relentless pursuit of efficiency, trucking and railroad businesses treated their workers as if their own time was both limitless and without value, deserving of no compensation for hours stuck waiting for the next load.

一旦它们的产品抵达美国海岸,公司就依赖于运输网络,而运输网络又依赖于数以百万计的工人,这些工人从事着危险而孤独的工作,尽管他们的工资和工作条件被人为压低。在构建供应链的过程中,卡车运输公司和铁路公司不遗余力地追求效率,他们对待工人的方式仿佛工人的时间是无限的,没有价值,在只能等待下一班货的时间里,他们不应该得到任何补偿。

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洛杉矶港附近的联合太平洋铁路德洛丽丝车场。 Alex Welsh for The New York Times
00supply chain dip4 2 pkqt jumbo
洛杉矶港的一名卡车司机。 Mark Abramson for The New York Times

From the railroads to trucking firms to warehouses, major companies in the supply chain had long treated their workers as costs to be contained rather than human beings with families, medical challenges and other demands. Employers assumed that they did not have to worry about running out of laborers, even as they engaged in wanton exploitation. At the same time, decades of zealous reverence for deregulation as the solution to nearly every problem served to cede economic fate to a handful of companies that dominated key industries.

从铁路到卡车运输公司再到仓库,供应链上的大公司长期以来一直将工人视为需要控制的成本,而不是有家庭、身体疾患和其他需求的人。雇主们认为,即便肆意剥削,他们也不必担心劳动力会枯竭。与此同时,数十年来,人们热衷于将去监管化作为解决几乎所有问题的办法,导致把经济命运拱手让给了少数几家主导关键行业的企业。

In Washington, both major political parties had long placed faith in the fantastical notion that gigantic companies left to seize commanding holds over their markets would yield greater efficiency

在华盛顿,两个主要政党一直不切实际地认为,任由大型公司去掌握对市场的控制权,将产生更高的效率。

The pandemic laid bare the consequences of relying on faraway factories and container ships to keep humanity supplied with goods.

这场疫情暴露了依赖远方的工厂和集装箱船来维持人类货物供应的后果。

It exposed as reckless the world’s heavy dependence on a single country — China — for critical products like protective gear and medicine, especially as Washington and Beijing were locked in a trade war.

它暴露出世界在防护装备和药品等关键产品上严重依赖中国的做法是草率的,特别是在华盛顿和北京陷入贸易战的情况下。

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It revealed the risks of leaning on transportation systems staffed by people whose wages and working conditions had been decimated by cost cutting.

它揭示出依赖交通系统的风险,这些系统的工作人员的工资和工作条件因成本削减而大幅下降。

Unregulated behemoths left to dominate markets in the name of efficiency turned out to yield results that were efficient only on Wall Street.

不受监管的巨头以效率之名主宰市场,结果却只在华尔街产生了有效的结果。

And then broad chaos in the global supply chain helped deliver another economic affliction: inflation.

随后,全球供应链的大范围混乱助长了另一种经济之痛:通货膨胀。

By early 2022, in the name of snuffing out price increases, central banks around the world would begin lifting interest rates. This would foist higher borrowing costs on homeowners and credit card holders. It would threaten ordinary workers with joblessness while depressing stock prices. Though economists debated the causes of inflation, part of the blame clearly fell on the reality that astonishing quantities of goods were stuck floating off ports.

到2022年初,全球央行以抑制物价上涨为名开始加息。这将给房主和信用卡持有者带来更高的借贷成本。这将使普通工人面临失业的威胁,同时压低了股价。尽管经济学家们对通货膨胀的原因争论不休,但部分责任显然要归咎于一个现实,即数量惊人的货物漂浮在海上,等待进港。

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By early 2023, the worst disruptions of the pandemic years had subsided. The floating traffic jams had all but disappeared, shipping rates had plunged and product shortages had eased. Yet the same foundational perils remained, awaiting an inevitable future disturbance.

到2023年初,疫情最严重的破坏已经过去。海运不畅的状况几乎消失,运费骤降,产品短缺的情况有所缓解。然而,同样的根本性危险依然存在,等待着未来不可避免的动荡。

The global economy has entered a new era of enduring volatility. As climate change alters the natural realm, the global supply chain will be subject to new rules and a constant reassessment of risks. Russia’s assault on Ukraine has enhanced the prospect of the world’s splintering into rival camps, complicating the geography of international trade. China and the United States appear locked in a cold war whose consequences are playing out around the globe, reshaping alliances, trade pacts and fundamental understandings about the nature of international engagement.

全球经济已进入持续动荡的新时代。在自然界被气候变化所改变的同时,全球供应链也将受制于新的规则和对风险的不断重新评估。俄罗斯对乌克兰的攻击增加了世界分裂成对立阵营的可能性,使国际贸易的地理格局复杂化。中国和美国似乎陷入了一场冷战,其后果正在全球范围内显现,重塑了联盟、贸易协定以及关于国际交往性质的基本理解。

00supply chain dip5 1 bqfh master10502020年疫情最严重时,上海一家工厂的电梯装配线。

To meet the challenge of the next disturbance, which we can be certain is coming, we need to grapple with how we got here. We need to understand how the supply chain became so complex, extended and centered on a single country. And we must reconfigure the supply chain to safeguard society through greater resilience.

我们可以肯定地说,又一场动荡正在到来,为了做好准备,我们需要厘清自己是如何走到这一步的。我们需要了解供应链是如何变得如此复杂、如何延伸并全都集中到一个国家。我们必须重新配置供应链,通过增强韧性来保护社会。

The globalization to which we have become accustomed was propelled by an especially intoxicating form of efficiency, a concept known as Just in Time, or lean manufacturing.

我们已经习以为常的全球化是由一种特别令人陶醉的效率形式推动的,这种概念被称为准时制(Just in Time)或精益制造。

But the shortages of the pandemic have prompted some companies to recalibrate, building up inventories as they pivot from Just in Time to Just in Case.

但疫情的短缺促使一些公司重新调整,在从“及时”转向“以防万一”的过程中增加库存。

As the United States and China treat each other like rival powers, multinational companies have shifted some factory production to other countries like Vietnam. American businesses are setting up factories in Mexico and Central America to retain low-cost manufacturing without having to contend with the vagaries of the Pacific Ocean. And some companies are embracing so-called reshoring, bringing factory production back to the United States.

由于美国和中国将彼此视为竞争对手,跨国企业已将一些工厂生产转移到越南等其他国家。美国企业正在墨西哥和中美洲建厂,以保持低成本的制造业,而不必与变幻莫测的太平洋作斗争。一些公司正在进行所谓的“回流”,将工厂生产带回美国。

At the end of the harrowing journey of the past four years lies one singular truth: Humanity has come to depend on a disorganized and rickety global supply chain for access to the products of our age, from lifesaving drugs and computer chips to toys and games. The system relies on myriad forms of labor exploitation, which has made it perpetually vulnerable to breakdown. And it has been constructed as a means of rewarding the investor class, often at the expense of reliability.

过去四年的艰辛历程告诉了我们一个真相:从拯救生命的药物和电脑芯片到玩具和电动游戏,人类依赖着一条混乱脆弱的全球供应链,以获取我们这个时代的产品。这个系统依赖于各种形式的劳动盘剥,这使得它永远面临着崩溃的可能性。它的建立是为了回报投资者群体,但往往以牺牲可靠性为代价。

The Great Supply Chain Disruption is not some curious piece of recent history. It is a preview of the dysfunction that surely lies ahead if we fail to get the machine in order.

“供应链大混乱”并非新近发生的一则奇事。如果机器不能正常运作的话,它是对我们将来势必还会遇到的失常景象的预演。

00supply chain kicker ljft master1050洛杉矶港集装箱堆场外的一名妇女和她的孙子。


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