JCL Blog

Book Review: The Box by Marc Levinson

Sure a book about the shipping container is a little obscure, but this really is a good story and I recommend it for anyone interested in economics or longing for a tale about creative destruction.

The life of Malcom McLean, a larger than life character from North Carolina who started with a single $120 truck and ended up building ships too big to go through the Panama Canal, is enough to fill at least one book.  

Any writer as dedicated to meticulous research as Levinson is exposed to the tug of war between tedium and readability.  Thankfully a great deal of the content can be found in the dozens of pages of notes and references at the end of the book, making the thing readable by both casual observers of economics and true students of the craft.

Here are my take aways:

  1. Dewitt Clinton changed everything by digging the Erie Canal and lowering the cost of moving a ton of goods from the heartland to New York from $100 to $6.  That meets the 10X improvement often set as the bar for real innovation, and the change brought about by containerization was 10X that.
  2. The laws of economics, specifically prices seeking equilibrium, might be slowed by labor unions and government regulation, but cannot be stopped.  Eventually the market will set the price.
  3. When it comes to building infrastructure, the market participants will likely get off to a slow start, then build like crazy to catch up, and invariably overshoot the mark.  From railroads to fiber optic cable, we have seen this over capacity from overly enthusiastic investment many other times.

Here are some other reviews:

Princeton University Press

Business Week

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.