The Box That Changed the World
It is 40 feet long, 8.5 or 9.5 feet high, and eight feet wide. It carries up to 29 tons in its 2,000 cubic feet of recommended available space – goods worth roughly $500,000 (or more) when sold at retail. It, and what it carries, can be transported in a month anywhere in the world where there are suitable harbors, railways, locomotives, flatcars, truck tractors, diesel fuel, and roads.
It is the modern cargo container, and it is able to move non-fragile, non-perishable goods from any modern factory with a loading dock to any modern warehouse anywhere in the world for about 1% of retail value. Indeed, it can be transported for a marginal cost of perhaps $5,000 – less than the price of a first-class airplane ticket, as Marc Levinson, author of the excellent The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, puts it.
All of this has happened since 1960 or so. Back then, the costs of international trans-ocean shipment for most commodities could easily amount to between 10% and 20% of retail value. The cargo container has changed everything.
We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.
To continue reading, subscribe now.
Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.
Already have an account or want to create one? Log in