Paying through the nose …

“The ship’s already sailed” … “We’re missing the boat again”. Those are quaint ways of saying that we Americans all too often are asleep at the switch … another handy metaphor. Of all our past boners, however, the costliest of all was relinquishing our shipbuilding dominance. More accurately, we relinquished our shipbuilding capability. We owned and operated the greatest shipyards in the world not too long ago. We owned and operated the greatest navy in the world a half-century ago, and along with that awesome fleet we owned and operated the greatest merchant fleet in the world. But that was then, and this is now.

We still own and operate the greatest navy in the world, in spite of the fact that there is little need for it. The only real purpose served by the construction of these powerful naval vessels is make-work for our few remaining shipyards, and even that reeks of politics. The down-side to this expensive strategy is that those massive warships are being paid for by us taxpayers. We don’t sell them as manufactured merchandise. Now that’s lousy economics, but the multi-billion dollar naval construction budget is peanuts compared to the real cost of our national stupidity.

When it was decided that foreign labor was so cheap, our shipyards were allowed to die slow, agonizing deaths. Right after World War II there wasn’t a single graving dock in Korea or China, and hardly anything remained of Japan’s shipbuilding capability. The EU didn’t even exist in those days. We were the big cheese … the only game in town. But what caused the demise of our shipyards? Was it union-busting? Was it a lack of foresight? Or was it just plain complacency?

Instead of maintaining our position as the world’s number one shipbuilder, we allowed foreign countries to build mega-sized facilities and take advantage of slave-labor wages. We even gave them the money to put us out of business. We’re so quick to impose sanctions and trade embargos, nowadays, but back then, when we had an obligation to protect our work force, we thoughtlessly gave away the farm. Well the chickens have come home to roost and the cost to the nation is more than just the annual navy shipbuilding budget.

Foreign shipbuilders and shipping lines are now setting their own profit margins and laying down the law to us. Giant container ships are now being built overseas, now that we’ve abdicated our position as the world’s Number One, and these foreign maritime authorities are now demanding that we accommodate them by spending billions of taxpayer dollars to dredge our ports and waterways … or else. What we thought would be a great way to lower the cost of manufactured goods for U.S. consumers has turned out to be the dumbest set of strategies our politicians, economists and logisticians have ever proposed. Instead of directing these billions and billions of dollars toward dredging and infrastructure modifications required by overseas entrepreneurs, why didn’t we allocate these billions to our shipbuilders? The only reason “foreign labor” gained consideration was because we allowed this aberration to develop. We should be building reasonably-sized container ships by the hundreds … ships that could access the many unused ports along our coastlines and in close proximity to our consumers … ships that would be sold as manufactured merchandise, by the way, and not paid for by U.S. taxpayers. To permit this farce to continue will be yet another boner.