15 March 2010

Irony Is A Dish Best Served Cold

Remember when it was treason to sell the UK-based manager of six US ports to a state-owned UAE company? You probably don't remember who ended up buying out the six US ports instead: AIG, which is obviously a much more trustworthy manager of our precious national assets.


erp said...

... and the reason we can't manage are own ports is -- the unions and the reason we don't have our own merchant marine is -- the unions.

Is there anything they can't do?

Harry Eagar said...

We didn't have our own merchant marine between about 1850 and 1919, and it wasn't because of unions then.

erp said...

Harry said: ... it wasn't because of unions then.

Whoa. Major breakthrough. So, you admit it's the union's fault we don't have a merchant marine now.

Harry Eagar said...

Nope, just pointing out that lack of unions does not produce a thriving merchant marine.

You do know why we had a strong merchant marine after 1919 and after 1945, right?

Because taxpayer-built ships were given away gratis to exploitative ship operators, who -- in the spirit of private enterprise -- quickly ran their gift down to nothing.

erp said...

Harry's back!

Susan's Husband said...

who -- in the spirit of not valuing what you don't pay for -- quickly ran their gift down to nothing.

There, fixed it for you! That's why free markets work and socialism doesn't.

Harry Eagar said...

Well, it's more complicated than that.

The American merchant marine was at a peak before the Civil War, then ran down to almost nothing in the late 19th c.

In the 20th c., American and British ships were safer than most other nations' ships, which costs more. The safety margin was the result of government intervention.

You can register your ship in Liberia, but it's just a piece of paper.

Harry Eagar said...

And, while I sorta got a little off track with shipping, the history of the Port of Liverpool is instructive.

One of the most profitable business ventures of all time and it was government-built and government-run.

(Y'all probably don't want to get me started on maritime trade. To me, it is most interesting of all businesses, and I especially like that it tends, often, to contradict all the bromides of the Chicago School.)

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"... and the reason we can't manage are own ports is -- the unions..."

Any company, American or foreign, which manages an American port will have to comply with exactly the same regulations, and deal with exactly the same unions and their reps.

So to think that American companies are somehow disadvantaged in American port management due to American unions is deeply mistaken.

"who -- in the spirit of not valuing what you don't pay for -- quickly ran their gift down to nothing. [...] That's why free markets work and socialism doesn't."

Yeah, except that plenty of "free market" firms don't value what they did pay for.

It's more about bad management, than about under which economic system the companies labor.

erp said...

... so American companies don't want to manage ports because ????

Anonymous said...

They do manage ports.

In fact, in the teapot-tempest to which David referred in his post, the ports were being managed by Americans.

It's just that the American company managing the ports in question got sold to a British company, which in turn was purchased by, essentially, the gov't of Dubai.

So at least in that case, managing miserable, efficiency-deprived American ports, and the union thugs which infest them, was so profitable that companies from all over the world were willing to pay a premium to an American co. to get a piece of the action.

erp said...

In days of yore, the ILWU went on strike routinely and closed down the docks. That hasn't happened in a very long time, so have the non-Americans managing the ports just given in to all the union's demands every time the union contract came up for renewal or in fact, have they managed to get and keep the upperhand?

Harry Eagar said...

If you want to know what happened, read 'The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger' by Marc Levinson.

I will bet that nobody posting here can so much as name the biggest ports in the world. Hint: New York and London aren't on the list any more.

erp said...

Harry, do you remember how containers were resisted by the unions? I don't know (or care) where the biggest ports are, but wherever they are, I'll bet the unions don't run them.

Harry Eagar said...

Yes, I remember. The unions have still organized American docks. An ILWU checker can make $130K/yr at Long Beach.

jim hamlen said...

OK - I'll bite.

Shanghai, Shenzhen, Greater LA, Rotterdam, Singapore, and Mumbai.

I thought the senior dockworkers made $200K.

Harry Eagar said...

jim, seniors may indeed make $200K, but the last time I checked (been a few years) ILWU checkers made $130K without overtime.

US ports are way behind places like Singapore in mechanization. A salesman from Liebherr told me that in Singapore one crane operator can unload 5 ships simultaneously.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that work rules have retarded US mechanization, although there are other problems as well. Our ports are too small.