Conan's Newsletter No. 21

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger; How to expand subjective time during the lockdown.

Hi Friends,

Happy weekend! This week I recommend The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. It is a great book about how containerships affect the world.

I knew this book by Bill Gates's book review. One interesting point of Bill Gates is that containerization provided a common standard for shipping. He is the right person to call that out --- Microsoft drove a similar movement in the software Industry. 

I also wrote a book review myself after finishing the first pass. The focus of my article was more on globalization and government regulations.

Another interesting thing I learned this week is that the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index has significantly increased in 2020. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has completely disrupted global trade, there are not enough containers in China port, which drove up the index.

The author of The Box Marc Levinson also did an interview about this topic recently: Why the Cost of Shipping Goods From China Is Suddenly Soaring. In this interview, Marc talks about where all this transport disruption is coming from, what it means for global trade, and whether it will lead to a big rethink of the shipping industry.

One new thing Marc mentioned in this interview but not in his book is the downside of containerization. Containerships have made the long-distance supply chain reliable and made it possible for American companies to leverage the supply chain in east Asia (One example is Nike that I mentioned in Newsletter No. 16). At the same time, containerships became super big and inflexible in the past few decades. Each containership is typically built for a specific route and could dock only in certain ports due to its big size. The containerized shipping industry has been optimized for a predictable demand. However, global trade demand is highly unpredictable in 2020, so the whole industry struggles to adapt to it.

Another impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is on people’s life. For many people (myself included), life has become mundane since they are constrained at home and it feels like nothing memorable has happened in the past 2020. How to expand subjective time during the lockdown (~30 mins) is a great article about expanding "subjective" time during the lockdown. Hope the framework in this article will be useful to you!