The Fragility Of Complex Systems

From Noēma

The Fragility Of Complex Systems

Distributed simplicity creates a diverse equilibrium that is more stable and sustainable.

The hyper-global specialization of supply chains combined with just-in-time logistics has created disequilibrium in the world economy. When a disruption occurs, production and distribution across a vast but shallow system stalls. Critical nodes of connectivity in otherwise efficient networks become chokeholds. As chaos theory physicist Ilya Prigogine pointed out, in complex systems far from equilibrium, even small inputs can have disproportionately large effects. The black swans of disorder are always waiting in the wings. Stability is never a given.

That is the lesson of the Ever Given freighter that was stuck in the Suez Canal for days, blocking perhaps 13% of global maritime trade that passes through the narrow channel dredged out of the Egyptian sands. More than 300 hundred heavily laden ships were backed up at either end of the canal, some rerouted thousands of miles around the southern tip of Africa to reach their destination. On the other side of the world, at the ports of Long Beach and San Pedro near Los Angeles, trade is also backed up and commerce stalling because of longshoremen who are off the job with COVID-related illness. More than 20 ships remain anchored offshore waiting to be unloaded. In the other direction, trucks hauling containers waiting to load their cargo for export abroad belch exhaust as they idle in miles-long traffic jams.