Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Supply Chain.

The Solarpunk Art Contest I am helping to fund is closing its submissions on November 1st – one week from now. We are waiting for your art with a vision of a better future! You can find the submission procedure and all the details in this post.

The problems of today are in the seams of things

Have you heard about the supply chain problems? Hundreds of ships are waiting off the coast of California, which means those ships cannot be transporting goods from Asia, which means clogs, long wait times, and interruptions all around.

Since our economy is a Just-In-Time system, relying on the freight getting on time where it needs to be, the series of “hiccups” (Ship stuck in Suez Canal, Covid, Remote Work) overloaded the system. The problems are cascading, to the point where people are advised to get their Christmas shopping done in October because things will only get worse.

And, of course, nobody is to blame. Everyone is just doing their job, shrugging sadly and saying that there is nothing they can do. The stalemate of bureaucratic responsibilities causes the gridlock of shipping routes, but the solution is simple: Take charge. Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen rented a boat to inspect the situation in person:

It seems that everyone now agrees that the bottleneck is yard space at the container terminals. The terminals are simply overflowing with containers, which means they no longer have space to take in new containers either from ships or land. It’s a true traffic jam.

Right now if you have a chassis with no empty container on it, you can go pick up containers at any port terminal. However, if you have an empty container on that chassis, they’re not allowing you to return it except on highly restricted basis.

If you can’t get the empty off the chassis, you don’t have a chassis to go pick up the next container. And if nobody goes to pick up the next container, the port remains jammed.

The situation is getting worse because there are more ships coming, and more trucks rendered useless because they cannot unload the empty container:

This is a negative feedback loop that is rapidly cycling out of control that if it continues unabated will destroy the global economy

Ryan continues to recommend a list of interventions, but what struck me the most is that empty containers can only be stored two stories high because of zoning regulations. These are meant to protect the skyline of Long Beach, California. Ryan recommends temporarily allowing up to 6, tripling the capacity. The really impressive part is that Long Beach Mayor took Ryan’s advice!

I’m sure many experts and smart people were working on the problem. But no smart person can beat somebody willing to get their hands dirty and work across responsibilities to get the job done.

Sherlock Holmes is really Dr. House.

Sherlock Holmes is an inspiring character. Over the last ten years alone, we’ve seen three mainstream depictions (BBC Sherlock, Elementary, Sherlock Holmes with RDJ), with two Avengers playing their parts.

Sherlock was based not only on the previous characters by Edgar Allan Poe but also on the brilliant physician Joseph Bell, who trained Arthur Conan Doyle in his medical practice in Edinburgh.

Joseph was a pioneer in connecting the dots between his patients’ living conditions and their afflictions. He could deduce where they work and live by their clothes and quickly infer what could be troubling them.

Think of him as a nicer version of Dr. House. The similarities range from subtle to obvious, but it seems that Dr. House is closer to the “original” than Sherlock. Go figure.

Arthur Conan Doyle got his hands dirty, and his detective resonates so much as a result. Even though the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin (Edgar Allan Poe’s character) was the first hero of the genre, Sherlock became the archetype because he’s based on experience, not imagination.

Later in his years, Arthur Conan Doyle started dabbling in spiritualism – trying to communicate with the dead was a popular pastime in the early 1900s. His growing belief in the supernatural began clashing with his character’s skepticism, and he slowly started losing enthusiasm for Sherlock.

A case against degrowth

The degrowth argument goes something like this:

“Infinite growth is unsustainable and we need to stop it if we want to save the environment and the human race”

It is most popular in great cities of the western world. In Poland, it is sometimes met with confusion, but in the developing countries, it’s just plain ridiculous. Noah Smith makes a great case against degrowth in his article:

Growth doesn’t just mean using more and more stuff; instead, it can mean finding more efficient ways to use the stuff we have.

Enforcing global degrowth would require freezing world income at about $17,000/year. That means that most people in the world would never even come close to current rich-world living standards

There’s some genuine appeal to the idea of an end to “consumerism,” but the pandemic offered a taste of how a sudden drop in rich-world consumption would actually affect the developing world. Covid-19 dramatically curtailed Western imports and tourism for a time. The consequences in poor countries were devastating. Hunger rose, and child mortality followed.