As I mentioned yesterday, one thing that struck me as I made my meandering way across the continental US (or at least half of it) was the fact that outside of The Great Urban Centers, there is a lot of emptiness. What also struck me is the fact that outside of The Great Urban Centers is where a great many things that supply them are located.
On my drive I passed orchards of fruit and nut trees (Are nut trees also orchards? I have no idea), fields of now picked over grain and cotton as well as some of vegetables still growing, cattle yards and acres of cattle on fields, refuse pits where the detritus (both organic and non-organic, although that is not precisely the meaning of the word) goes to rot, resource generators of forests and water reservoirs, and giant power stations in the middle of nowhere lighting up the night.
The market for these is, of course, not where any of them are located but are The Great Urban Centers and lesser towns. In fact, one could go one step further and state that The Great Urban Centers are not just the market for such things, they are completely dependent on them.
Yes yes, I know. It has more or less always been so: as urban centers increase, so the agriculture and resources that support them get pushed to the periphery and then beyond sight (Even where I grew up, I still have memories of small farms almost within the city limit which have now become subdivisions). And as these urban centers grow, they become less and less really able to "support" themselves, becoming incredibly reliant on the materials of civilization that are "out there beyond the horizon".
It is a weakness, of course, a very large one.
The Great Urban Centers become incredibly reliant on a supply chain system that 1) Moves the materials from their originating location to a processing location (Be it oranges to packing plants or electricity to distribution stations); 2) Moves the now processed materials to further processing locations; 3) Moves the "finished products" to the distribution centers; and 4) Moves the "finished products" from the distribution centers to the final point of sale or delivery (your store, door-side delivery, or faucet or plug). And for all of this intake of resources and materials and energy, the great urban centers only return two things: waste (which is moved away), and currency which in theory makes it "worth" running the system.
Dependency and the (largely speaking) inability to provide for actual population and operation). This is not a great combination.
Surely, you say, it has always been this way. And it has: the Athenian Empire relied on grain shipments from the Black Sea to feed its population; the Roman Empire did the same with grain from Egypt to feed the population of The Eternal City. And undoubtedly there was someone just like me at that time, maundering around in his toga, muttering about how the great latifundia of Egypt and Syria and even Italia were putting the Roman civilization at risk.
Cassandras and Doom Sayers. We are in every era.
The difficulty, of course, is that once one becomes reliant on a thing, one's policies become dedicated to preserving that reliance.
Athenian policy was dictated by a need to keep the seas open, its coffers filled to support her navy, and above all, to keep the grain flowing. And Rome's true "collapse" did not come until the great and complex commercial economy which she had brought into being (largely managed her complete domination of the Mediterranean basin and the countries around it) fell apart, and the grain (and taxes) no longer flowed. Within my own life time it has been energy in the form of petroleum; it will likely become computer chips if things continue as they are.
So dependency, the inability to function long term, and now policy determined not necessarily by what is best but by what is going to sustain the flow of goods.
As we are experiencing at the moment and almost everywhere, such things have consequences. The experience of delays caused by waiting for things not yet available or the inability to get those things to us impact everything around us in large ways or small. And this is still with energy to move the goods available and the resources largely in country. Imagine if the ability to move items was even further reduced (in case no-one is clear, everything - everything - goes on a truck at some point. And trucks burn fuel), or if the simple items and energy became unavailable.
The Great Urban Centers, unable to provide for themselves and dependent on the outside for so many things, would simply grind to a halt.
Perhaps the former me, clad in a toga and having overlooked the slow decay of Rome, would simply shake my head and lament that we have learned nothing in all this time.