[ExI] the "humble Conex" box (was Re: Sharpiegate)

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Fri Jul 31 22:03:06 UTC 2020

robot at ultimax.com wrote:

henson at gmail.com> replied to John Clark:


>> Ultimately, you can blame this on the Harvard model of how to run a
>> business, a SCOTUS decision, and the humble shipping container.

> Put those items in reverse order and you'll have their correct
importance, Keith.

I won't argue about the relative importance.  A case can be made that
those boxes were more disruptive than smartphones.

> In the first edition of "Where To?" in 1950 Robert A Heinlein wrote
something like "there is some device, new but seemingly humble, that
will change the world.  We just don't know which."  At the time he
thought it was the transistor but by the time of the second edition in
in 1965, he dismissed that as a trivial forecast but said the mystery device
was still out there, unidentified.  RAH revisited his predictions one
more time, in /Expanded Universe/ (1980).  RAH was almost on time in
1950.  I think the "device" was the "humble shipping container" as Keith
puts it.  For starters, the Conex box created modern China.

I was certainly a big factor.  It also wiped out the garment business in the US.

> Remember the proverb that was attributed to Trotsky? "You may not be
interested in War, but War is interested in you."  He was channeling
Nietzsche, who said, "if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss
will gaze back into you."  Well, container shipping is like that.  Sure
you can more easily export your goods to the world, but that sword cuts
both ways--the entire world can reach into your front door.

By reducing shipping losses, it put all the low wage workers in the
world in direct competition with each other.

> My late father Robt. Kennedy Jr. was third ass't engineer on the N.S.
Savannah maiden voyage and ~5 yrs after. Regrettably, the most advanced
break-bulk cargo ship in the world at the time she was designed, 1956,
she was obsolete before she slipped down the ways to the water in 1960
or so.  For Malcolm McLean invented the shipping container and built the
first containership, the S.S. Ideal X in 1956. Ironic, that.

> When the president of the longshoreman's union saw the S.S. Ideal X on
her first sea trial with a load of boxes and was asked at dockside for
his feelings about the event by a reporter, he replied "I'd like to sink
that son of a b*tch".  Honest answer at any rate.  So much shrinkage
went "poof" altering forever the most corrupt violent mafia-infested
labor union in America.  (Which was McLean's real motive for inventing


> Later on, my old man left the Savannah and went to work for McLean
himself, driving what was then the first true and biggest containership
in the world, the S.S. Elizabethport.

Talk about being there when history is made . . . .



On Wed, 29 Jul 2020 10:28:33 -0700, Keith Henson
<hkeithhenson at gmail.com> replied to John Clark:
> The only effective votes for Trump were in the states that went for
> him.  I doubt there are many on this list (if any) who live in such
> places.
> Over 30 years ago, I asked (but could not answer then) the question of
> why economic downturns were associated with upsurges of far-right
> neo-Nazi activity.  The places where people voted for him were largely
> places where the economic activity has been hollowed out, jobs shipped
> out of the country.
> Ultimately, you can blame this on the Harvard model of how to run a
> business, a SCOTUS decision, and the humble shipping container.
.                                  ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Best wishes,


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