A small note on globalisation

So the septics have fired off a hypersonic scramjet.

Arcing through the hazy air above California, this is the incredible sight of a scramjet as it flies at six times the speed of sound.

The experimental aircraft set a record for hypersonic flight, blazing through the air for more than three minutes at Mach 6, or more than 4,500 mph.

The X-51A Waverider scramjet was released from a B-52 bomber last week before its engine took it to Mach 6 and it flew autonomously for 200 seconds.

Scramjets work by using oxygen rushing in through the engine at supersonic speeds to ignite hydrogen fuel.

Excellent stuff although this little movie isn\’t all that exciting.

But to give you a little story about globalisation. And no, not the one about how jet liners using such engines will get you from London to Sydney in 2 hours. Nor about how this will make space planes possible (still not fast enough to reach orbit, see?).

A few years back, at an earlier stage of experimentation on such engines, out went a call from the relevant manufacturer for someone who could make hafnium carbide powder. This was needed to coat the insides of the engine (it melts at 3,890 oC, for those who don\’t know, a very high number indeed).

No one in the US was willing or capable of producing this material at the mesh size (is, size of the bits of powder) required. So the production was done just outside Moscow, at a plant formerly owned by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The intermediary being some random Englishman in Portugal. The manufacturer of the engines didn\’t know this: they didn\’t need to. They just needed the HfC. The US intermediary has never met either the Englishman or the Russian produicers: only email and phones were used (plus Fed Ex for transport of course).

The material was produced and delivered as required….and by using the globe\’s extant manufacturing resources, the material was delivered at the lowest possible cost: hugely lower than it would have been if they had been limited to needing to build the production capacity in the US.

This, in the end, is really what globalisation is. The international division and specialisation of labour playing out. It might be HfC from Moscow to California, it might be pineapples from Costa Rica to London or the listing of a Russian aluminium company in Hong Kong. Which is one of the reasons I\’ve never really understood those who rail against globalisation.

If you accept the basics of the division of labour (\”hey, you grow the apples, I\’ll make the cider and we\’ll get pissed together\”) then why shouldn\’t this apply to weird compounds, comestibles or services? Now that FedEx and UPS connect the globe more thoroughly than Dorset and Somerset were before the Slow and Dirty came into existence, what possible objection can there be to such international division?

8 thoughts on “A small note on globalisation”

  1. Sorry for picking at a relatively trivial bit of the original quote but:

    Scramjets work by using oxygen rushing in through the engine at supersonic speeds to ignite hydrogen fuel.

    Except that the whole point of this particular scramjet is that it doesn’t use hydrogen – it starts with a solid rocket booster then uses ethylene mixed in with JP-7 and finally just JP-7.

  2. “… hugely lower than it would have been if they had been limited to needing to build the production capacity in the US.”

    Tsk- the Englishman in the middle should have increased his margin so that the final price was just “significantly lower” than US production prices would have been….

  3. So no one is going to get even slightly rich selling hafnium carbide then? At best it’s good for a couple of sandwiches every 10 years or so.

    Guess this globalisation thingy is a bit crap if that’s the case.

  4. Globalization Tim is not people buying and selling beyond the nations they are operating in, that’s old fashioned import / export business, goes back to when those boats they found buried in mud near Hull (the Ferriby boats) were plying a trade route along the west coast of Europe circa 2000 BC.

    Globalization is one culture, one government, one tax system and one standardised lifestyle.

    And it does not work very well, not even on a small scale like unifying England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales

  5. “Globalization is one culture, one government, one tax system and one standardised lifestyle.

    And it does not work very well, not even on a small scale like unifying England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales”

    Huh?

    No its not, I’ve been told that reading some Tyler Cowen on culture is pretty good for inoculating you against the “globalisation” is gonna stop yorkshiremen talking about “T'” mines and so on.

    Likewise, global governance is very different to global government, and it would be federal or a confederacy in any case.

    Chill.

    Tim adds: What mines? Thjought Maggie put a stop to all that?

    That’s why I voted for her anyway…..you mean she didn’t get the job done?

  6. That all depends on how much weight you give to the thoughts of Tyler Cowen, which in my case isn’t much.

  7. I like Tyler, as with most bloggers though he’s interesting more often than he’s right.

    But the point remains that globalisation isn’t as dreadful for culture as the alarmists make out.

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