A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The cost of globalisation

Neil Pickford ponders great issues

One of the modern moral debates is over whether Globalisation is A Good Thing.  Many people are against it – so should I be?

It’s a fact of life that almost every consumer in this country currently contributes, through their democratic use of money, towards globalisation – i.e. by buying the cheapest we support a process whereby manufacturing floats around the world to wherever costs are lowest which, currently, is in China.

Size matters in globalisation: the more you make, the cheaper it is to produce each individual item, as Henry Ford demonstrated 100 years ago. Global managers look at producing items in quantities of millions, not thousands as they used to, and that means you’ve got to have a big market to sell them all – a market the size of the world.

To squeeze every last possible micro-penny profit out of each item the designs are simplified and standardised so that as many different markets as possible will find the product – and price – acceptable.  Millions of identical items are thus available for sale all around the world; the only difference being the language on the flat pack boxes they are transported in.

I had this demonstrated to me a few years ago when we discovered that USA-based relatives had an identical set of garden furniture to me – it even had the same wrongly-placed hole that made it an absolute pig to assemble properly. Thanks to globalisation consumers in Boston (Mass.), Beijing, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Bombay and Beverley were united in cursing as millions of fingers were injured during the struggle to assemble it.

This drive to reduce costs and maximise the number of units being constructed also leads to manufacturers combining their efforts, and this is particularly true in the world of motor cars which is, after all, where the process originally began. Again it was Ford in the forefront of the revolution (with General Motors close behind) as production of what we thought of as uniquely British cars such as the Capri, Cortina and Escort turned out to be shared with Germany and other countries.

I suffered from that co-production process as half the engine of my old Mark III Cortina used metric tools while the other half needed Imperial, which was a considerable pain when you were trying to replace a cylinder head gasket in the rain.

Which indirectly leads to my current beef with globalisation. Through the 1970s and 1980s I had an alternating succession of Ford and British Leyland cars and each manufacturer had their own view on the correct way to arrange the controls around the steering wheel – but at least they were consistent. Ford’s windscreen wiper controls were always on one side, Leyland’s the other and it took a few weeks for me to adjust before I stopped having to apologise for indicating right by putting my windscreen wipers on.

Well, I thought I’d got rid of that problem last year when my household eventually ended up with two cars from the same manufacturer (Citroen). I was confident I’d be able to control lights, wipers and indicators in both cars without any problems – but I was wrong. You see, to save money Citroen decided to share costs with Peugeot and Toyota to make the smaller of the two cars– and this partnership reckons the wiper stalk should operate from top to bottom (or the other way round – I can never remember).

Whatever it is, it’s different to the bigger one and so I continue to be confused.

So if you see me turning right while my windscreen wipers are thrashing away then don’t blame me.

Just take it as proof that globalisation is A Bad Thing.


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