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The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Marc Levinson
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Kurzbeschreibung

7. Januar 2008
In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. "The Box" tells the dramatic story of the container's creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about. Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible.But the container didn't just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology. It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean's success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container's potential.Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world's workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.

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Winner of the 2007 Anderson Medal, Society for Nautical Research Winner of the 2007 Bronze Medal in Finance/Investment/Economics, Independent Publisher Book Awards Shortlisted for the 2006 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Honorable Mention for the 2006 John Lyman Book Award, Science and Technology category, North American Society for Ocean History One of Financial Times (FT.com) Best Business Books of 2013 (chosen by guest critic Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft) "One of the most significant, yet least noticed, economic developments of the last few decades [was] the transformation of international shipping... The idea of containerization was simple: to move trailer-size loads of goods seamlessly among trucks, trains and ships, without breaking bulk... Along the way, even the most foresighted people made mistakes and lost millions... [A] classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction."--Virginia Postrel, The New York Times "Marc Levinson's concern is business history on a grand scale. He tells a moral tale. There are villains ... and there is one larger than life hero: Malcom McLean... Levinson has produced a fascinating exposition of the romance of the steel container. I'll never look at a truck in the same way again."--Howard Davies, The Times (UK) "Like much of today's international cargo, Marc Levinson's The Box arrives 'just in time.'... It is a tribute to the box itself that far-off places matter so much to us now: It has eased trade, sped up delivery, lowered prices and widened the offering of goods everywhere. Not bad for something so simple and self-contained."--Tim W. Ferguson, The Wall Street Journal "[A] smart, engaging book... Mr. Levinson makes a persuasive case that the container has been woefully underappreciated... [T]he story he tells is that of a classic disruptive technology: the world worked in one fashion before the container came onto the scene, and in a completely different fashion after it took hold."--Joe Nocera, The New York Times "Mr Levinson... makes a strong case that it was McLean's thinking that led to modern-day containerisation. It altered the economics of shipping and with that the flow of world trade. Without the container, there would be no globalization."-- The Economist "A fascinating new book... [I]t shows vividly how resistance to technological change caused shipping movements to migrate away from the Hudson river to other East Coast ports."-- Management Today "Marc Levinson's The Box ... illustrates clearly how great risks are taken by entrepreneurs when entrenched interests and government regulators conspire against them. Even after these opponents are dispatched, technological and economic uncertainty plague the entrepreneur just as much as the vaunted 'first-mover advantage' blesses him, perhaps more. The story of the shipping container is the story of the opponents of innovation."--Chris Berg, Institute of Public Affairs Review "International trade ... owes its exponential growth to something utterly ordinary and overlooked, says author Marc Levinson: the metal shipping container... The Box makes a strong argument... Levinson ... spins yarns of the men who fought to retain the old On the Waterfront ways and of those who made the box ubiquitous."--Michael Arndt, BusinessWeek "[An] enlightening new history... [The shipping container] was the real-world equivalent of the Internet revolution."--Justin Fox, Fortune "Marc Levinson's The Box is ... broad-ranging and ... readable. It describes not just the amazing course of the container-ship phenomenon but the turmoil of human affairs in its wake."--Bob Simmons, The Seattle Times "Author and economist Marc Levinson recounts the little-known story of how the humble shipping container has revolutionized world commerce. He tells his tale using just the right blend of hard economic data and human interest... Mr. Levinson's elegant weave of transportation economics, innovation, and geography is economic history at its accessible best."--David K. Hurst, Strategy + Business "The Box is ... an engrossing read... The book is well-written, with detailed notes and an index. I found it absorbing and informative from the first page."--Graham Williams, Sydney Morning Herald "This well-researched and highly readable book about the ubiquitous containers that carry so much of the world's freight will no doubt surprise most readers with its description of the immensity of the impact this simple rectangular steel box has had on global and regional economics, employment, labor relations, and the environment... The Box makes for an excellent primer on innovation, risk taking, and strategic thinking. It's also a thoroughly good read."--Craig B. Grossgart, Taiwan Business Topics "The ubiquitous shipping container ... as Mark Levinson's multilayered study shows ... has transformed the global economy."-- The Australian "By artfully weaving together the nuts and bolts of what happened at which port with the grand sweep of economic history, Levinson has produced a marvelous read for anyone who cares about how the interconnected world economy came to be."--Neil Irwin, Washington Post "Here's another item we see every day that had a revolutionary effect. The shipping container didn't just rearrange the shipping industry, or make winners of some ports (Seattle and Tacoma among them). It changed the dynamics and economics of where goods are made and shipped to."--Bill Virgin, Seattle Post-Intelligencer "Excellent."--J Bradford DeLong, The Edge Financial Daily "An engrossing read... The book is well written, with detailed notes and an index. I found it absorbing and informative from the first page."-- Sydney Morning Herald "A fascinating history of the shipping container."--Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs "For sheer originality ... [this book] by Marc Levinson, is hard to beat. The Box explains how the modern era of globalization was made possible, not by politicians agreeing to cut trade tariffs and quotas, but by the humble shipping container."--David Smith, The Sunday Times (London) "Ingenious analysis of the phenomenon of containerism."--Stefan Stern, Financial Times "This is a smoothly written history of the ocean shipping container... Marc Levinson turns it into a fascinating economic history of the last 50 years that helps us to understand globalization and industrial growth in North America."--Harvey Schachter, Globe and Mail "This is an ingenious analysis of containerization--a process that, Levinson argues, in fact made globalization possible."-- Business Voice "Using a blend of hard economic data and financial projections, combined with human interest, Levinson manages to provide insights into a revolution that changed transport forever and transformed world trade."--Leon Gettler, The Age "There is much to like about Marc Levinson's recent book, The Box... Levinson uses rich detail, a combination of archival and anecdotal data to build his story, and is constantly moving across levels of observation... And the story of the box is a very good read."-- Administrative Science Quarterly "A lively and entertaining history of the shipping container... The Box does a fine job of demonstrating how exciting the container industry is, and how much economists stand to lose by ignoring it."--William Sjostrom, EH.Net "The Box is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in understanding the emergence of our contemporary 'globalized' world economy."--Pierre Desrochers, Independent Review "[T]he insights the book provides make it a worthwhile read for anyone interested in how international trade in goods has evolved over the last 50 years."--Meredith A. Crowley, World Trade Review "The Box reveals the subject to be interesting and powerful, shedding light on all kinds of issues, from the role of trade unions to the Vietnam War."-- NUMAST Telegraph

Synopsis

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. "The Box" tells the dramatic story of the container's creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about. Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible.But the container didn't just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology.

It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean's success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container's potential.Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world's workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.


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5.0 von 5 Sternen Information-packed history of container shipping 16. Mai 2006
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Happy fiftieth birthday to the shipping container, that unexciting, unglamorous cog in the wheels of commerce that just so happened to change the world. Most people might have ignored the import of the box during the past half-century, but economist Marc Levinson offers an insightful tale that will help you appreciate this oft-overlooked advancement. If it weren’t for the container, Levinson argues persuasively, for good or ill, there could be no Wal-Mart and U.S. manufacturing jobs couldn’t have migrated to China. This history lesson recounts the box inventor’s quest and offers some subtle perspective for businesspeople struggling to foretell the future. At times, Levinson bogs down in the details of 1950s labor relations, but his work mostly moves quickly through the highs and lows of the container’s story. We recommend this revealing tale to anyone in the global economy.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Ein Buch über Malcolm McLean 7. Mai 2011
Von Romanix
Format:Taschenbuch|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
Auf amazon.com hat das Buch eine 4.5 Sterne Bewertung. 26 Personen hatten 5 Sterne gegeben. Davon liess ich mich beim Kauf beeinflussen. Das Buch ist interessant, jedoch geht es vor allem um die Geschäfte und die Firmen des Malcolm McLean. Das Buch fokussiert (zu) stark auf die Anfänge des Container Shippings in den USA.
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249 von 256 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Boxing in goods unleashes globalization: The world is not flat 21. August 2006
Von Peter Lorenzi - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
In "On the waterfront," perhaps the saddest point of the film is where Fr. Barry eulogizes K. O. Duggan, killed off by the mob. But Marc Levinson has located a larger villain, the real force that killed off so many longshoremen's careers: the standardized shipping container. While a highly trained crane operator working today's docks earns $120,000 a year, their numbers are few and few of them are former longshoremen or sons of longshoremen. And cargo handling costs have dropped over 90%. Yet this is only the start. The shipping container reduced spoilage, theft, insurance costs, delays, and the entire cost of going global.

Levinson's well-researched treatment of a seemingly pedestrian subject works effectively to show that the world is not flat. The original dust cover of Friedman's best-selling book shows a tall-masted ship going over the edge of the 'flat' earth, confirming flat earth society members' discarded beliefs but distorting and mischaracterizing globalization. Levinson's rich, detailed, data-filled work shows the stark difference between Levinson's work with The Economist and Friedman's with The New York Times. Levinson uses a thorough, comprehensive economic and technological analysis, while Friedman flies around the world with a consistent "gee whiz" attitude of surprise. Levinson traces multitudes of disparate events and finds common links where Friedman finds common links and illustrates them with cursory events. Levinson is an economist; Friedman is a journalist. Friedman mixes metaphors and hyperbole; Levinson mixes in a wide range of colorful characters and challenges. Levinson is an editor; Friedman needs one. People who want to understand the recent history, impetus and infrastructure of globalization need to read "The box."

Fifty years ago, maverick southern trucker Malcolm McLean devised a method for a quantum leap forward in the handling of cargo in transit. At that time, the process of loading and offloading of ships had not changed much in hundreds of years. Loose cargo, irregular, unpredictable and back-breaking work, light-fingered workers, corrupt stevedores, poor management, and mob-controlled unions were the order of the day and most orders changed on a daily basis. The workers probably suffered the most, but the hidden impact on global trade was severe as well. Some small and expensive products -- whiskey, watches -- could not be shipped reliably and safely when subject to massive pilferage. While containers started as a domestic solution, their global use worked miracles in reducing the costs of getting products thousands of miles, and not just on what came to be huge, fast new ocean sailing ships. Railroads and truckers participated in this transformation. Markets opened up. Ports like Felixstowe (England) and Singapore emerged rapidly, displacing older, intransigent ports. Military shipping in containers from America's west coast for the Vietnam War made return trips with stop offs in Japan a cheap, added source of shipping revenue. Cheap-to-ship Japanese products flooded America. Ports sprung up where investors and governments were willing to build cranes, re-build docks and dredge canals. Corrupt, inefficient labor could be bypassed and eliminated, no matter how powerful the union or onerous the contracts. Free trade multiplied.

Sometimes global revolutionary change is not sexy. It's not even computer-driven. Maybe the computer chip spurred globalization, but it was the container ship that made it possible. The idea is to make trade fast, reliable and inexpensive, not just to make the world flat. Containers are like computer chips; they hold lots of stuff in a well-organized fashion. Without the containers, the global transportation network would be running much slower and more costly than it does today. Levinson catalogs a history of shadowy billionaires, entrepreneurs, and a few enlightened governments (the demise of London and New York City ports under much less enlightened leaders is especially painful) that produced a true global revolution. This book is a greater tale of globalization.

I only wish Levinson had included some photographs and more drawings. Some of the technical and industry-specific language can be dry and hard to visualize through verbal descriptions alone.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen The shipping container and W. W. Rostow's Stages theory 12. Februar 2007
Von E. Husman - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
The first thing that struck me about the impact of the shipping container was the public policy impact on it. Before the shipping container, shipping, trucking, and railroading were heavily regulated by the ICC. Rates were set not only according to weight and distance, but also according to contents. Thus, the cost of shipping 1000 pounds of tires would be different than, say, 1000 pounds of grain, and not just because of density differences. This apparently goes back to the complaints made by shippers in the late 19th century, and made sense to regulators in that era. Also, prior to the container, shippers were allowed to charge less than truckers because ships took longer. So if a ship already had a stated rate for, say, wheat, between two ports, truckers were not allowed to charge less (or something like that - Levinson didn't attempt to explain the intricacies of ICC regulation). Further, shipping between American ports was restricted to American flagged ships, and international shipping was heavily regulated and subsidized - to qualify for the subsidy, you had to use American built ships, and the subsidy supposedly helped make up for the more expensive American crew. One final government involvement in the era just prior to the shipping container's introduction: many of the ships currently in use in 1956 were WWII surplus ships, built on the cheap and available for next to nothing. It was relatively easy to get into the business, as very little capital was required, and ships could ply from port to port picking up freight as they went.

Enter the shipping container, 1956.

But wait: the container requires different infrastructure. The story of the shipping container is also the story of ports where governments chose to support the companies investing in the container. In New York City, the story is governed by the decisions of the Port of New York Authority (now the Port Authority of New York), which was looking to expand its bureaucratic territory. The piers on the New York side had all the business they could want and politicians to defend that turf. The only reason they remained viable was the fact that the ICC required railroads to charge the same for freight delivered on either side of the port, in effect a requirement to throw in the trans-Hudson part of the journey for free. That was not trivial, since it involved either removing freight from trains and loading it on barges, crossing, and then re-loading into warehouses to wait for a ship.

Much of the history revolves around boy genius Malcom (not Malcolm, he dropped the second l to differentiate from his father) McLean, who started in the trucking business. Shipping something from a factory via truck to a railroad and then (via truck again) to a port, loading it on a ship, and reversing the process at the far end cost plenty. It cost time in transit, storage, and management; it cost labor at each change of mode; it was extremely expensive because of pilferage and breakage because of the frequent handling and the subsequent insurance; and of course the shipping cost money. Malcom realized the problem and the potential money to be made from rationalizing the shipping process.

The first container ships required their own cranes because standard dock cranes were not capable of lifting the containers, much less taking advantage of their standardization and the potential savings in ship loading times. Thereafter, however, the cranes became part of the port infrastructure, along with rail sidings, truck terminals, deeper and wider ports, and computer controls. The industry, in other words, became more capital intensive, and some of that capital came from state and local governments. Those who made the commitment, such as the Port Authority in New Jersey and Port Elizabeth, became the winners, while those who didn't, such as New York City, did not.

The government did not only take sides in the wars between technologies and shipping companies. As it became clear that automation was going to cost not only cushy jobs, but real ones too, the various unions found themselves at odds not only with shippers, but with governments as well. The City of Los Angeles chose sides when longshoreman at first refused to unload Matson's shipping container ships; the city threatened to take over the port and make their jobs civil service, prevented by law from striking. The Federal government stepped in repeatedly on the side of shippers against the East Coast union strikes. Eventually, the Longshoreman's unions on both coasts struck deals with shippers, trading generous contributions to retirement and unemployment funds in return for acceptance of the technology and more productive work rules. I'm not sure which side I come down on in that dispute: yes, there were aspects of the trade that sound cushy, such as rules that allowed each of the two teams working a ship to take a half day off with pay, and the day laborer aspect meant that senior union members could work or take the day off as they desired. On the other hand, the corrupt day labor culture enabled organized crime and allowed rampant pilferage to persist, not to mention the fact that jobs were described as incredibly dangerous and literally back breaking. In the old paradigm, workers had to live in slums near the docks to make themselves available; today, the crane operators are guaranteed a regular 40-hour-per-week job, and can afford to live anywhere, but have to get permission to take off. In any event, government was neither impartial referee nor friend of labor in these struggles.

So this ends up being a very complex story in which government starts out standing against change in the status quo that had persisted since roughly the 1920s, and then steps in to tip the playing field toward the shipping container. Levinson argues that the shipping container may not have been the only factor, but it certainly was *a* factor in accelerating the globalization of the economy. Before the shipping container, it was extraordinarily expensive to ship anything overseas; today, it may be less expensive to ship goods overseas by rail and ship than across the state by truck. Remove time and distance as factors or advantages, and suddenly labor costs become the more important factor.

Two final factors radically altered the trajectory of shipping. The first was Viet Nam. The Army suddenly found itself in a situation where it needed lots of supplies shipped in to a place with no infrastructure or railroads. McLean was the man on the spot, winning the contract by offering to build all of the necessary port infrastructure. The remarkable increase in efficiency forced the federal government into the pro-container camp, but also had an unexpected effect. With the Army picking up the ship's entire journey, westbound and eastbound, but only shipping freight west, this left Malcom with a *pure* profit opportunity: ships returning from Asia in the late 1960s with no cargo. A stop in Japan for loads of televisions and automobiles solved that "problem". Incidentally, by rationalizing shipping by making it predictable and fast, the container contributed to the development of the inventory-free manufacturing method of Just In Time.

The other final factor was the phasing out of the WWII surplus ships and the phasing in of dedicated container ships in the middle of the first oil embargo era. The shipping industry thus completed the transition from labor-intensive to capital-intensive. The enormous ships, some of which no longer fit in the Panama Canal, have to keep moving just to keep paying for their own financing. The cost of shipping plummeted, and the size of ships continues to expand. The Molucca Straits have overtaken the Panama Canal as the limiting factor on size.

Because of the plummet in shipping costs, the resulting increase in dependence on shipping, the pressures of the oil embargoes, and the changes in finance and capital requirements, the shipping industries were "deregulated" in the late 1970s. That deregulation was, of course, not complete. Levinson notes some exceptions, and I found that some of the rules were still in effect when I tried to ship something to Hawai'i a few years back.

Marc Levinson cites W. W. Rostow's "Stages of Development" argument early in the book regarding the importance of the railroad to American and English development, noting that the container is a modern equivalent in global development. Rostow in fact made two claims: one, that the railroad was essential, and two, that government investments were also crucial. Levinson's history of the shipping container would seem to support Rostow's claim. Many of the Asian Tiger economies - Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore - invested heavily in port infrastructure to bring the shipping container to their shores; they were literal cargo cults. To the extent that it worked, they have reaped the benefits.

But Levinson provides some counterexamples. England adapted to the shipping container very poorly, and to the extent that they did, it was because of a private port at Felixstowe; England has arguably done quite well for itself in the past 30 years despite missing both of the Rostovian requirements. Further, much of the investment in American ports was private, though government has also played a role. Finally, the Rostow argument only makes sense when you accept that people are unequivocally better off when they adopt capital intensity. Yes, the increase in measurable wealth is notable, but I am curious about the intangibles and the change in quality of life, pace, direct control of one's life that result from acceptance of the modern.

This book hits somewhere in between detailed Fogelian economic history and story-telling, so I gave it 4 rather than 5 stars. It is certainly more accessible than a dry investigation of the numbers, but does manage to highlight many aspects of the technical, cultural, social, economic, and political issues at the nexus of which was The Box.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Deserves a wider audience than it will get 24. November 2006
Von Harry Eagar - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
It's hard now to imagine a world without marine shipping containers, but the first one was loaded onto a ship, the Ideal-X, just 50 years ago. Precisely, on April 26, 1956, in Newark, N.J.

It turned the world upside down. It probably had as much to do with the success of Waikiki as the jet airliner, introduced in 1960.

The story has a hero, Malcom McLean, and it plays out, for him and for many others, as tragedy.

In "The Box," Marc Levinson makes business history read like a novel. Well, almost.

Like many simple, everyday things, the shipping container is more complicated than it looks. Just how do you design a steel box that can hold 20 tons but also has to be picked up without being touched by human hands and moved from ship to truck in less than a minute?

McLean, a North Carolina boy who founded a trucking empire in the days of heavy regulation in order to save $3, took the plunger's approach. In the Pacific, Matson Navigation Co. was also interested in converting from expensive breakbulk cargo handling, but it took the systems approach.

McLean beat Matson by two years, but Matson is still around (as the principal subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.), while McLean's SeaLand survives today only as a subsidiary (a very large one) of a Danish business that didn't exist until 1973.

McLean did not imagine he was going to restructure the world economy, but his idea did that, which is why this book deserves a wider audience than business histories usually get.

The container killed off New York and London as important shipping ports. New York City now handles only a little more cargo each year than Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, which did not exist in 1990. Most of Britain's international trade now moves through Felixstowe.

Since most of the cost of moving a container comes while it's passing through a port, shipping costs are not materially affected no matter how long the at-sea leg is made. Hence, globalization.

The cheap labor of China was always there, it just wasn't accessible before McLean.

Although "The Box" barely refers to Hawaii, it is an obvious conclusion that a resort like Waikiki, which imports nearly everything except aloha, could not have offered cheap vacations to middle class American families if ocean transportation costs had remained as high as they were in the '50s.

Besides different business approaches on the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, the two oceans featured vastly different reactions by unions to the problem of adopting dock labor to containers.

In the Atlantic, the International Longshoreman's Association was antagonistic. The approach was suicidal, for its members and for their communities.

In the Pacific, commie bogeyman Harry Bridges forced conciliation on his reluctant membership, saving the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union and opening the gates to a boom in Southern California.

Bridges, long dead, remains a name that American rightwingers use to scare the children into good behavior. If Republicans understood economics, they'd have built a statue to him in every port (except San Francisco, which did not benefit from containers because of its awkward railroad connections) in western America and Canada.

Levinson, a one-time journalist, knows how to write a book that can be read with pleasure. And profit.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen A fascinating and compelling hypothesis 10. November 2010
Von T. Graczewski - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
Like most inhabitants of earth, I never gave much thought to intermodal shipping. It wasn't until I served as an economic development officer in southern Afghanistan and began looking into ways we could more efficiently export the high value fruits and nuts grown locally to the lucrative markets of the Middle East that I discovered "the box": the ubiquitous forty-foot container we've all seen on tractor trailer chassis, cargo ships and holding yards. On Kandahar Airfield, where I was stationed for a year, these containers were everywhere; literally thousands of them, double stacked in lines a half mile long, most serving as temporary warehouses while waiting for a way out of Afghanistan.

As director of strategy and corporate development for a leading Silicon Valley software company, I also happen to be interested in disruptive technologies and business concepts, innovations that totally remake or create industries, the type of stuff that Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen often writes about. Thus, Marc Levinson's "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger," was the perfect book for me and, as it turned out, one of the most enjoyable, enlightening reads I've had all year.

In short, Levinson argues that containerization, which was introduced by the transportation pioneer Malcolm McLean in the early 1950s, did more than lower the cost of shipping. It fundamentally changed the world economy. And it did so in several ways.

First, it redefined the meaning of a port city. In the era of break bulk shipping, all-purpose cargo ships that are manually (and slowly and expensively) loaded and unloaded by longshoremen, it made sense to have manufacturing close to the docks to save on transportation costs. Once the container began to dominate shipping, the only purpose of a port was to load and unload containers as rapidly as possible using labor saving cranes. Associated industries like light manufacturing, insurance, freight forwarding and other services, once co-located with the docks, were no longer relevant to the waterfront. Such a change spelled the end of shipping as a major operation in numerous traditional port cities, from Baltimore and San Francisco to Liverpool and London. In the busiest port in the US, New York City, the massive new container facility operation across the harbor at Newark and Elizabeth wiped out the long established docks of Brooklyn and Manhattan with a suddenness that shocked politicians, labor bosses and shippers, alike.

'The primary reason for this change is that the container turned shipping into a capital intensive industry that thrived on economies of scale, making the once sleepy shipping industry look a lot like the hyper competitive US railroads of the 1850s. In the break bulk era, dockside labor accounted for the major part of operational costs and the expense of overland transportation made numerous port city venues necessary. The economics of the container ship, requiring regular debt payments to finance their construction and only earning revenue while underway, dictated that fewer ports were visited and more cargo was loaded at each. Suddenly, small port cities like Mobile and Tampa were simply passed by, devastating the local longshoremen unions and others reliant on the shipping industry. Meanwhile, upstart ports like Oakland, Singapore and Felixstowe in the UK emerged as major container shipping terminals.

Second, it changed the geography of global manufacturing. The efficiencies of container shipping reduced transportation costs so dramatically that they no longer figured significantly influenced end user prices, whereas in the break bulk days the cost of transoceanic shipping acted as a double digit tariff on imported goods. Suddenly, it made economic sense to relocate manufacturing facilities in distant, low labor cost countries and simply ship the goods halfway around the world in container ships.

Third, the economic revolution of the container was slow in coming. The real revolution didn't happen until the shippers (i.e. the makers of TVs, refrigerators, etc.) centralized operations and began to take advantage of container efficiencies, which also really weren't available until deregulation opened up opportunities for big shippers to save with long term contracts and steep bulk shipping discounts. Process innovations like Toyota's "just in time" supply chain, which gained popularity in the early 1980s, saw large corporations invest unprecedented time and energy to improve their logistics operations. Levinson writes that by the time the container dominated transoceanic shipping -- over 80% of all goods traveling by container -- the vast majority of cargo were not finished consumer goods but rather "intermediate goods," parts and supplies used for final manufacturing.

Several additional themes emerge from "The Box." One is that organized labor and government regulation, no matter how well meaning, are often the most powerful inhibiters to business innovation, which comes with an enormous price tag that is ultimately passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for inferior goods. Next, few people present at the creation ever "get" (and profit from) the full affect of sweeping change that new technologies and processes like intermodal shipping. Unions failed to appreciate its potential impact and suffered dearly because of it. It took governments decades to figure out that they shouldn't be in the port management business and leave the extensive capital outlays to private investors. And most private sector investors were wrong about the speed at which the container would alter the economics of international shipping. RJ Reynolds foray into the business through the acquisition of McLean's Sea Land ended in disappointment for everyone, their shareholders foremost among them. And even McLean himself, the godfather of the container and a man lionized by Levinson, got the container very wrong on several occasions, including the 1980s bankruptcy of his acquired US Lines, which sought to establish a round-the-world container transportation route. Most intriguingly, those that did profit from the revolution, such as Hong Kong-based Evergreen and Denmark-based Maersk Lines, were no early movers or bleeding edge innovators. Indeed, they didn't get into the container shipping business until the 1970s.

As fascinating and compelling as the argument presented in "The Box" may be, it is only a hypothesis. Levinson has almost NO quantitative evidence to defend his claims. There are very few graphs and data tables in this book, although one gets the distinct impression it was not for lack of trying on Levinson's part. "The technical problems involved in measuring shipping rates during the 1960s and 1970s are so great that reliable measures of the container's price impact are unlikely to be developed," he glumly concludes.

I loved this book. You may, too, if you find the basic themes interesting -- innovation, globalization, and market disruption.
12 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen Interesting subject, poorly written 13. Februar 2011
Von Michael Nahas - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
The shipping container has stealthily remade the world. It deserves a good history. This one is just okay.

I like the layout - chapters are single subject (unions, the first container ship, the boom, the bust, etc.) and the chapters are ordered by the time that each's subject peaked. But the subjects do overlap in time and I spent a lot of my time paging back to see what happened when. There should be a timeline _somewhere_ in this book.

The book needs other visual aids. There are multiple paragraphs that try to show the importance of the subject by listing dates and numbers. E.g., the first container ship crossed the Pacific on ____, by 19?? there were 10 ships, and by 19?? the number had grown to 30. These should be _graphs_ not paragraphs. I should _see_ the change.

I felt the writing should have be more personal. I would have liked to have a better feel about McLean. The telling of his tragedy didn't affect me at all. Only a few other names are mentioned; mostly the author talks about corporations and ports and unions, not the people who comprise them and certainly not their personalities.

Lastly, as an engineer, I would have like to hear more about the technical aspects of the container itself and the ships, cranes, and system that dealt with it. Other than a few paragraphs about a device to lock stacked containers together (again without a visual!), there was almost nothing technical. Not even for the gigantic boats that are being built.

While I think this book has major flaws, it does do its job. It presents multiple aspects of the container's rise and dominance. The writing is clear. It strives to present as much hard data as it can, given the lost records of bankrupt companies and partial records of those that still exist. Economists will like it, but I wouldn't recommend it to a wider audience.
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