Bookshelf: The Box

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Simple ideas make for big changes.

I just finished reading “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger”.

The simple idea is to seemlessly move freight from truck to rail to ship without having to unload and reload individual items at each step in the shipment process. Thus the standardized shipping container. Some of the results:

  • Most existing ports didn’t invest in the new technology in time and were supplanted by new ports. The classic example is the docks in Manhattan and Brooklyn that have been replaced by the huge container port near Elizabeth NJ.
  • Massive rounds of capital investment by shipping lines, often incorrectly timed and sometimes devastating.
  • Reduction of dockside labor forces by as much as 75% (a few far-sighted unions negotiated compensation for the lost jobs, most did not).
  • Congestion in port cities!
  • Vast expansion in international trade as shipping costs dropped sometimes by a factor of 10.
  • Reorganization of production and marketplaces to take advantage of shipping complete container-loads of goods.
  • Creation of the just-in-time manufacturing culture, which is estimated to have removed $1 Trillion of inventory world-wide

I can’t help but wonder what simple idea is around the corner that might be just as transformational to our transportation systems?

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