December 5, 2021

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Trade Troubles: Learning About the Global Supply Chain and Why It’s Broken

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Featured Article: “‘It’s Not Sustainable’: What America’s Port Crisis Looks Like Up Close
Featured Podcast: “The Great Supply Chain Disruption” (32 minutes)

Throughout the pandemic, businesses of all sizes have faced delays, product shortages and rising costs linked to disruptions in the global supply chain. Consumers have been confronted with an experience rare in modern times: no stock available, and no idea when it will come in.

In this lesson, you will analyze the causes and effects of what the Times correspondent Peter Goodman calls the Great Supply Chain Disruption. Then, in the Going Further section, you will have the opportunity to learn more about Just in Time manufacturing, or delve deeper into understanding the fundamentals of trade and globalization.

Part 1: What countries make the products we buy?

Look at the labels on your clothing, sneakers, electronics or anything else you own. Choose five items and find out where they’re made. List the countries on the board, or share in small groups. What trends do you notice across the class or in your groups? What countries are making the things that you buy?

Part 2. What do you already know — or think you know — about problems with the global supply chain?

Have you experienced empty store shelves, out-of-stock products or delayed shipments during the pandemic? Do you know anyone whose work has been affected by supply-chain issues? Turn and talk to a partner if you are in a classroom setting and discuss the question above: What do you already know — or think you know — about problems with the global supply chain?

When you’re done, take a look at the brief explainer that @nytkids created on Instagram about how the supply chain works and where it is currently in crisis. How much of what you and your partner discussed is reflected here?

For this activity, you have a choice of reading the featured article, listening to the featured podcast (here’s the transcript), or doing both. Before you start, look over the four prompts below so you are prepared to annotate or take notes. After you read or listen, answer the following questions.

1. The Problem: Both the article and the podcast refer to a problem facing the world today: the Great Supply Chain Disruption. In your own words, describe what that problem is. Then come up with your own term to name the problem, without using any one those four words “great,” “supply chain” or “disruption.”

2. The Causes: Throughout the article and the podcast, the reporter Peter Goodman explains many causes of the Great Supply Chain Disruption. What are they? Make as long a list as you can.

3. The Effects: The article and podcast both elaborate on the effects of the Great Supply Chain Disruption — from the port, to businesses, to the consumer. What are these many effects? Make as long a list as you can.

4. The Solutions: Neither the article nor the podcast spend much time on comprehensive solutions to the Great Supply Chain Disruption, but they do allude to some measures that might help. What are those measures? Which ones do you think might be most beneficial to alleviate the problem?

Option 1. Evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of Just in Time manufacturing.

In the article “How the World Ran Out of Everything,” Peter S. Goodman and Niraj Chokshi explain the role that Just in Time manufacturing plays in the current supply-chain crisis.

After reading the article, explain in your own words what Just in Time manufacturing is.

Next, consider the benefits of Just in Time manufacturing for companies. Why has the approach been adopted by the automobile industry and beyond?

Then ask yourself, how did the strategy help to cause and exacerbate the current global supply-chain disruption?

Finally, based on what you learned about Just in Time manufacturing, what suggestions would you make to companies that are trying to adapt their practices for the future?

Option 2. Learn more about trade and globalization.

The Council on Foreign Relations has created a series of learning modules to help make complex international relations and foreign policy issues accessible to learners. Two of these modules are on trade and globalization.

For example, the trade module begins with a seven-minute video explaining what trade is and how it works in today’s global economy. The globalization module begins with a four-minute video about the benefits and challenges of our increasingly interconnected world.

Use these self-paced modules to learn more about the fundamentals of increasing trade and globalization in our modern world and take the multiple choice self-assessment at the end of each module to check for understanding. Then look through any day’s edition of The New York Times and find as many articles as you can that relate to the varied concepts covered in the modules, from trade deficits and foreign investment to international pharmaceutical manufacturing and human trafficking.


Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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