The Box that Changed the World
by Virginia Postrel • Mar 23, 2006 at 12:15 am
My latest--and final--NYT column tells just a little bit of the fascinating story of how the shipping container transformed the world economy. Here's the opening, with the obligatory news peg:
My column barely mentions one important part of the story--the regulatory environment. At first, containerization grew through cracks in the rigid regulatory structure of the 1960s. But today's fully integrated systems became possible only after trucking and rail were deregulated in the 1970s and maritime rates were deregulated (to very little fanfare) in 1984. Assumptions about transportation regulation have changed so radically that reading about the bad old days seems like science fiction.
As Levinson said in our interview, "Nobody even remembers what the Interstate Commerce Commission used to do. But you've probably been in the old ICC building on Constitution Avenue in Washington. It had a choice spot in Washington. Important agency, important location, big building. This was a key federal agency. And it spent its time hearing arguments about whether this truck line ought to be able to carry cigarettes in the same trucks as it carried textiles or whether the rates that were being charged to carry pretzels were adequate. People have trouble remembering that today."
Levinson's book is terrific--smart, well-written, and thoroughly researched. I highly recommend it. You can read the first chapter and watch an interview with Levinson on the book's Princeton University Press webpage.
My column was supposed to end with the following note, but editors higher in the chain of command than my boss nixed it:
I'm delighted that Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution fame will take over my Times slot, beginning in four weeks.
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