Footing the Bill

We remember reading the lead-in of an article appearing in a reputable maritime journal just a little while ago. The writer began by stating that as TEU volumes increased costs would be reduced, or words to that effect. As consumers, we felt pretty good when we read that prophecy. As things are turning out, however, we don’t feel so pretty good.

But the writer of that article was being honest in his assessment of the effects of containerization. We just didn’t know how to read between his lines. We live in a dream world, you see. Americans have always lived in a dream world and Will Rogers used to poke fun at this childishness, last … well, last century.

When demeaning his audiences and their beliefs, or superstitions, in the course of a performance, this popular humorist/philosopher was quick to interject, almost apologetically, “I only know what I read in the newspapers.” Everyone loved it. They thought that remark was hilarious. But Will repeated those words time and time again, not because they were funny but because he knew his listeners failed to understand the meaning of the barb. What he was really telling them was that they were stupid. Well, we’re no smarter now than we were back in the ‘Roaring Twenties’.

Imagine the mileage he’d get out of our reaction to those who are demanding that U.S. consumers foot the bill for infrastructure upgrading. Increasing numbers of TEUs, after all, are lowering costs, aren’t they? Of course they are! Container ships are growing in size in order to get these increasing numbers to U.S. consumers and, as everyone knows, carriers are ordering more and more, and larger and larger vessels simply because the cost to the carriers for the transport of these containers is reduced when, etc., etc. (But we already covered that when we compared the delivery costs of pick-up truck transport to semi-trailer rig transport.)

Why is it, though, that the cost of goods to the consumer is steadily increasing? Even on the shelves at Wal-Mart. Guess who really pays for everything. Everything. Guess what makes it possible for overseas shipyards to build mega-ships. Guess what makes it possible for foreign ship owners to order and pay for more and more of these larger and larger mega-ships.

Now guess who’s being asked (forced?) to foot the bill to tear up our highways and replace them with wider highways. Guess who’s being asked (forced?) to foot the bill to tear down our bridges and replace them with higher bridges. Guess who’s being asked to pay for the dredging projects required (demanded?) by overseas ship owners. Guess who’s being asked to foot the bill to deal with pollution and its consequent health problems.

But that writer we mentioned above was being forthright. What we didn’t realize was that he wasn’t looking at things from our point of view. He was promoting the company line, as every embedded reporter is required to do, and he neglected to mention the fact that add-on costs to U.S. consumers subsidize economic growth. So of course costs go down when volumes increase. It has always been that way. Anyone who reads the newspapers would know that!