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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon 5 November 2011
The Box How the Shipping container made the world Smaller and the world economy bigger Marc Levinson

Not immediately a topic that you would think would be that interesting but I have some connection with the container in that I remember first seeing them in about 1968 off the coast of Vietnam. I saw what appeared to be huge ships with names like Sea land New Jersey waiting off the Mekong River in Vietnam.
They were supplying the US army in their bid to beat the communists. I was on a small tanker that was able to go up the Mekong River and we were supplying them with naphtha for airplanes.
I never worked on a cargo ship but I used to see plenty of them, at that time ships were loaded and unloaded by hand. I further remember seeing them in Liverpool in 1969. Now of course forty years later the container is ubiquitous and I was interested to see how they arose.
Like most ideas it is remarkably simple but it took a long time to be accepted because it was so revolutionary. Also the shipping industry had vested interests mainly the labour that were well paid and had a monopoly on loading and unloading ships.
Now of course there do not appear to be trades like stevedores (whatever they were) or longshoremen as the Americans call them. Now everything goes in a box and remains in the box until it arrives at its destination.
When people talk about what has changed out world they cite things like the internet as it is easy to order things all over the world. I would suggest it is the container which allows goods to be manufactured in another country and easily transported to its destination. The other is the bar code so that once it is in the box it can be tracked so we know wherever it is.
The final invention or development is Just in time. The last chapter in the book brigs all the developments of the box together with the arrival of Just in time. Now because transportation and manufacture in other countries is so easy you now do not need a large inventory as you can arrange for the deliveries to be coordinated so that there is smooth flow of work without interruption. You can see it in supermarkets which have great wagons turning up regularly to supply the shops the same apply to manufacture so that parts can be delivered from all over the world and constructed onsite

The old docks have changed beyond recognition. I live not far from Harwich and have seen huge ships loaded up with containers. You can't believe that the ship does no topple over. The roads are full of container Lorries covering the country.
The economies of whole countries have been changed as now the manufacturers do not need to be near the consumers as was the case in the past. Transport costs are cheap and goods can criss cross the world which has entirely changed are cosumig habits. I can have any fruit I like in the supermarket as somewhere it in the world it is in season.
The book confirms it was the Vietnam War that changed the face of shipping as they had to build docks and supply the US forces as easily as possible so I was watching a revolution when I saw Sea Land New Jersey. I learnt about the pull supply system whereby the consumer requests and it is supplied rather than the push system whereby the inventory piles up until it is needed.
The US took over the supply by building their own ports such as Cam Ranh Bay which I visited. The Vietnamese system was full of corruption.
It took time to break down prejudices and build new sites such as Felixstowe which is now huge and London docks have now disappeared.
I was surprised how regulated US trade was as I thought their ability to compete was built on free trade but it wasn't. It was built on keeping other people out of their huge market. It is only in more recent years have things like shipping and transport regulation been changed.
This book is well researched in that it is 278 pages long. It has 82 pages of notes so you cannot fault the scholarship and also 11 pages of index what more could you possibly want to know about containers. It would satisfy the most train spotterish container nerd, but it is also a satisfying read for the non-specialist like me.
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