The Signal July 9, 2024

2024 Elections: Keep Calm and Carry On 

As global politics swing between extremes, supply chain leaders must remain steadfast in their commitment to balance. We share three solid bets to help leaders navigate the turmoil, regardless of how newly elected leaders choose to govern.

Kevin O'Marah Avatar
Kevin O'Marah
Strategy

2024 is the biggest single year of elections in world history. Strategically vital nations, including Taiwan, Mexico, India, France, the UK, and the US, are all electing new leadership this year.  

What does this mean for supply chain leaders? 

Map showing countries with major elections in 2024.
Source: NPR reporting; population data from UN and Eurostat

Balance Is Best 

The political dynamic feels chaotic and dangerous, with hard-right vs hard-left instincts goading candidates to promise extreme things. Citizens are consciously voting for trade wars, race-based demographic policies, socialist job protections, rollbacks of climate change measures, and dozens of other life-or-death issues. No matter where you sit on the spectrum of opinion, politics seem frantically out of balance. 

Not so in supply chain management, where balance is gospel. The perpetual challenge of ensuring supply, protecting margins, and preserving a license to operate has trained supply chain leaders to approach decarbonization, regionalized supply chains, and the impact of AI on work with a systems mindset, not sloganeering.  

Supply chain stays focused on the horizon while politics lurches back and forth. The UK, for instance, just elected Keir Starmer in a landslide win for Labour after 14 years of hectic leadership by the Conservatives. One could celebrate this outcome as proof that the historical duel between socialist and capitalist models tends to revert to the mean. But it took a long time and a misguided vote for Brexit to finally pull the rudder back to the middle. 

Supply chain must do better. 

Stay the Course Through Turmoil 

For supply chain leaders, such a glacially slow return from the brink would be unacceptable. The tug of war between cost and service level is a daily balancing act weighing the competing needs of customers, colleagues, and investors. The pressure is intense, but the experience of dealing with it, especially since Covid, has hardened supply chain leaders to distractions of fashion, fear, and frenzy. 

Policies that matter to supply chain are increasingly unpredictable. The US election is still ahead and looks more likely to be decided by Joe Biden’s deteriorating capacity than substantive issues. Trump 2.0 might be a policy jack-in-the-box, but is it any more unnerving than an American president with visible cognitive decline?  

Meanwhile, Modi’s India is a champion of economic development but is also coming down hard on Muslims and challenging China’s global leadership. Plus, even the traditionally sober EU is suddenly tilting right with the rise of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Consensus on how to handle the shared global problems of climate and migration is nowhere to be seen. 

From a supply chain strategy perspective, however, there are some unambiguous trends. Tuning out the noise may help clarify where to focus.  

Three Bets that Make Sense No Matter Who Wins Which Elections 

How all these newly elected leaders will govern remains to be seen, but regardless, at least three areas look like solid bets for supply chain leaders going into 2025: 

  • Decarbonization – “Sustainability” is a trigger word in politics, but carbon intensity in manufacturing and logistics is an established performance metric already built into most supply chain organizations’ plans. Extreme weather and faster rising sea levels are a constant reminder that this problem is not a matter of opinion, but a fact of life. Sustainability reporting may be losing credibility, but ongoing work to drive down Scope 3 carbon is not going to stop. 
  • Regionalization Trade warfare is real and looks ready to worsen. Fortunately, most global supply chains started diversifying away from China years ago. The process is complicated because ecosystems of upper tier suppliers and talent need to be developed, but the investment is worth it to be closer to end markets and less exposed to long, risky transportation lanes. 
  • AI-Powered Work Design – Job creation, labor activism, and migration are all tied into AI and the future of work. Regulation on AI remains hazy at best, but the transformative potential for labor productivity is compelling. All supply chain leaders should stay focused on how AI fits into their end-to-end operations and try to take advantage of fast-shifting labor markets. 

Elections now are effectively show business, and outrageousness usually wins. Supply chain leaders should respond by sticking to what they do best, which is balancing priorities for steady results.