Utopian Socialism Brings About Toilet Paper Shortages Maybe In The Near Future, or A Short Ideological History of the Suez Canal

Yves here. Aside from the real and possibly growing consequences of the monster ship still stuck in the Suez Canal (you can verify here), it has also provided comic relief. And now education!

BTW I asked Lambert about the Evergreen/Ever Given business. The name of the line is Evergreen. Individual ship have names like Ever Given, Ever Willing [not!]….

By Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally published at EconoSpeak

Yeah, to heck with “socialism” in any of its forms, even old varieties that Marx and Engels denounced, neologizing the label “utopian socialism” for its advocates, even as they made clear their respect for the intentions at least of their intentions, even as they did not provide an analysis of the historical dynamic of capitalism and the broader issues arising from that. And we know that while some communes inspired by the utopian socialists survived such as the Israeli Kibbutzim, most failed, making the mockery of Marx and Engels look historically significant.

So it turns out that there was a split within those old utopian socialists between the more idealistic and commune-oriented Fourier and Owen (more complicated for him), and Henri de Saint-Simon, actually the earliest of them, with his main work coming out in 1803. While the others favored small ideal communities, Saint-Simon supported rational social engineering, basically the idea of central planning. His importance in this is verified by the final book of Friedrich Hayek, _The Errors of Socialism: The Fatal Conceit_, 1988.

The intellectually rationalistic view had long held sway in France from Thomas Aquinnas in the 1200s through Descartes in the 1600s on to modern mathematical economics, with Cournot institutionally the follower of Saint-Simon in Paris, with people like Walras later following.

In any case, Saint-Simon was based in the public works-civil engineering portion of the French bureaucracy that still exists and became seriously influential later, with indeed people like Courno part of that. The world-leading civil engineers of France in the 19th century were all basically followers of the “utopian sociialist” Saint Simon.

In 1856 one of his followers, Ferdinand de Lesseps, won a contract from the Ottoman Viceroy of Cairo to build a Suez Canal, with the Saint-Simonians and certain Sufi mystics of the time declaring that building the canal, along with building one in Panama, and and a US transcontinental railway. would bring about a unified world order of peace and tranquility.

As it was, the construction started in the early 1860s, under Viceroy Said (who at least got “Port Said” named for him), with cotton prices especially high due to the US Civil War with Egypt the leading cotton exporter in the world.  The canal was finished in 1869 under Viceroy Ismail, with great celebrations, including Verdi composing “Aida’ by 1871. But cotton prices had fallen with the end of the Civil War and the local government had unsustainable debts to British banks.  The French followers of Saint Simon may have built the canal, but by the 1880s it was the British who took control of Egypt for not being able to pay off the debts associated with its building.

In 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal for Egypt over the opposition of UK, France, and Israel, with the support of Eisenhower in the US and the Soviets.

Today we have this canal built on utopian socialist dreams of world unity and peace now shut down over a vessel too large to get through the canal, shutting down something like 10-12% of world trade, this event triggering a doubling of shipping rates on top of a previous doubling of such rates due to a pandemic-induced “chaos” of global shipping.

A central issue in all this is the externality issue involve with large ship.  There is an internal economies of scale issue involved that conflicts with the external diseconomies.  The internal matter is that direct benefits involve volume while direct costs involve the surface of ships, a quadratic relationship that favors size. But oil tankers ran into the externality decades ago with the Exxon Valdez failure, with its billions of dollars liabilities for Exxon -Mobil. But this did not carry over to vessels just carrying “containers,” 8 of which now stranded in that ideal idealized utopian socialist Suez Canal have live animals aboard.

As of now, it is unclear how long it will take to move the “Ever Given”ship (although all images of it I see say “Evergreen”). But I have read that among all other items now delayed for delivery in this situation, perhaps the most impacted and crucial is wood pulp for making toilet paper. So, yes folks, if this does not get resolved soon, we may have yet another global run for toilet paper like a year ago.

So there you have it: Utopian socialism in 1803 bringing about a possible toilet paper shortage in the not-too distant future.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Thanks for the history lesson, I love this type of article.

    The interesting thing about most canals is that they were usually loss leaders in one way or another, like most major infrastructure they rarely generate a return to the investment. They are either direct government investments (socialism!) or the result of irrational investment bubbles (which of course aren’t supposed to happen according to neoclassical economics).

    Just this week, the 18th-19th Century Royal Canal in Ireland was opened as a cycling and walking Greenway. The canal took decades to build and pretty much bankrupted everyone involved, like most of the canals and later the railways of the period. The fluid dynamic process described in the FT article here a few days ago that probably caused the Evergreen blockage is familiar to anyone who has ever steered a powered canal boat, especially if you go a little too fast (originally it was not a problem as they were towed by horses and the tendency of the bow to go shorewards was an advantage).

    Every time I go on a canal or old railway greenway I thank those investors who threw their money away in the investment bubble back then. I can’t help wondering what bubble economics now will leave leisure users in two centuries, certainly nothing as useful.

    1. Synoia

      Definition: Estimate:
      1: An optimistic view of reality.
      2: Telling the Boss what they want to hear

      Consequence of Overrunning the Estimate:
      1: Reward for the Faithful or Connected
      2: Punishment for the Innocent (Whip the slaves harder until Morale Improves)

    2. ObjectiveFunction

      Seconding the thanks for this concise and informative article.

      The French Industrial Revolution is unfortunately ignored in the Anglosphere, but it was very real and in many respects superior in implementation to its rivals. The general fecklessness of 19th century French government though, for better or worse, prevented France from resuming any serious contention with perfidious Albion for global mastery.

      But if I am not mistaken, the concept of large industrial-government R&D complexes is mainly a French (well, Franco-German) innovation of the mid 19e siecle which was then quickly imitated in Germany, the US and last, England, via the chemical-pharma sector.

      And of course the retail sector as we know it was a to-and-fro rapid evolution between Paris, London and then New York.

  2. Sound of the Suburbs

    We used to have Absolute Monarchs where most of the power and wealth were concentrated in one person.
    As things progressed, power and wealth gradually became more dispersed.
    At the other end of the spectrum we would find socialism, where power and wealth were equally distributed.
    Is this where progress would ultimately lead?

    We have to take into account what homo sapiens are like.
    The vast majority are primarily motivated by improving their own circumstances, and so socialism doesn’t really work that well as whatever you do you will get the same rewards.
    Add a dash of reality to the mix. and we find the majority do have a good idea what a good system would look like.
    There is some inequality, and so you will improve your lot by working harder and trying to get on.
    Those at the bottom of the scale would not struggle that much and live above the poverty line.

    This is a good video, which shows the ideal most would like, what they think it is and what it really is (prepare for a shock).

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      “We have to take into account what homo sapiens are like. The vast majority are primarily motivated by improving their own circumstances,”

      Ah yes, Mr. Homo Economicus. We know him well. But as hard as Madison Ave. tries, they don’t seem to be able to create him out of homo sapiens quite yet, since those flesh-and-blood creatures tend to be motivated by more than Mr. Economicus’s shallow materialism.

    2. DJ Forestree

      Sound of the Suburbs writes:
      “We have to take into account what Homo sapiens are like.”
      I think that during most of its existence, homo sapiens were animals invested in the collective good, in the improvement of the group. They were getting by without private ownership, without agriculture, without money, without borders, even without states or armies. I think it is a mistake to attribute the current situation of society to characteristics that are supposedly inherent to Homo sapiens (as if their primary motivation in life were simply a genetic outcome, something predetermined or biologically ingrained).

      He also writes: “The vast majority are primarily motivated by improving their own circumstances, and so socialism doesn’t really work that well as whatever you do you will get the same rewards.”
      The above is a mischaracterization of at least a bad simplification of one of the most basic theoretical principles of socialism, which could be stated as: “to ask from each person according to their capacity, to provide to each person according to their needs”. According to this principle, different people contribute differently to society and different people also get a different share of the wealth that is produced by said society. It is not that “whatever you do you will get the same rewards”. Not to mention that in most societies in which some version of Marxist (or supposedly inspired by Marx, Engels and Lenin) socialism was implemented, equality was always a goal, never the kind of reality according to which everyone was an absolute equal. The incomes or salaries and the standard of living of peasants, nurses, bus drivers, architects or university professors in Yugoslavia as in Poland, the GDR, the USSR, or Cuba, were never the same, nor was their access to certain privileges or perks, from housing to private cars to vacationing…There is so much talk of socialism in North America and the West, based in so little real knowledge or experience of how those societies were really organized.

  3. flora

    So there you have it: Utopian socialism in 1803 bringing about a possible toilet paper shortage in the not-too distant future.

    A small quibble: surely it’s the demands for increased ‘ economic efficiency’ at all costs leading to larger ship sizes that caused the failure in the canal.

    The internal matter is that direct benefits involve volume while direct costs involve the surface of ships, a quadratic relationship that favors size.

    Maybe the utopianism leading to too large a ship jamming in the canal is not 19th c social utopianism, but the newer, Hayekian sort of utopianism. / ;)

    1. PlutoniumKun

      There is, of course, nothing wrong with making ships more efficient (big ships use significantly less fuel per tonne carried than small ships).

      I don’t know enough about the industry to be sure, but I suspect one driver behind supersized ships is that it is a way of enforcing control over ports. The shipping industry developed massive vessels that are bigger than most ports can handle, so the companies can say ‘either upgrade your port for our ship, or we move our business somewhere else’. The port then has to upgrade, often needing public subsidy to do so.

      Its also, incidentally, a way for some countries to maintain control over shipbuilding – the Evergreen vessels are built by Imabari shipyards in Japan. They have a scattering of small shipyard all over the inland sea (the narrow channel between the three main islands of Japan), and shift sections by water between them (you can actually look down on the shipyards from the amazing bridges of the Shimanami Kaido cycle route that crosses from Imabari to Onamichi). The company, with typical Japanese far sightedness, built one of the biggest dry docks in the world to manufacture and maintain them. Its by going super big that the Japanese can compete with cheaper yards in China and elsewhere.

      I’ll go off on another random tangent here about Irish 18th and 19th Century engineering. Dublin was the main port for Ireland for a thousand years because the Vikings liked it, but it was actually a terrible choice- the bay is shallow and very tidal, and immediately ran into problems when ships got larger than from the 16th Century onwards. Sometimes they had to offload on the islands in the bay when they couldn’t go up the river. The Port kept moving into the bay to facilitate them, but not always with great success. In the 18th Century they build amazingly long quays to try to create a natural scour to deepen the channel, with some success (and accidentally creating a 5x2km island while doing so – Bull Island). But it was never satisfactory, and there was a regular loss of life during storms with ships moored off the bay, waiting for the tide.

      In the 19th Century they tried twice to solve the problem by building what were at the times enormously expensive new harbours – what was called Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) and Howth outside the city. Both were subsidised by the government at the time and both were massive commercial failures. As they were building them, the main Port simply kept working at dredging and new quays, and the shipping industry decided it was better to stick with the direct route, and still does.

      Or put another way, the shipping industry was playing politics, getting someone else to subsidise good port facilities, and were not bothered if it meant two gigantically wasteful harbour schemes went ahead. It the sort of strategy the discount airline industry does very well at too.

      The lesson is that transport is almost always subsidised in order to profit private business. If there was a genuine free market in shopping and airlines we’d see far less long distance travel and supply chains. This is the dirty little secret of both the airline and shipping industry, they’ve been doing this centuries before anyone heard of Elon Musk.

      1. fresno dan

        March 27, 2021 at 7:55 am
        Fascinating! How do you know so much stuff!?
        One of these days, I would like to rent a canal boat on the ?Erie? canal – I believe you can do that now a days….

        1. PlutoniumKun

          How do I know so much? Pub quizzes and a very low attention span. Plus spending a lot of my career sharing desks with engineers who love to talk about their passions, or in modern speak ‘mansplain’.

          I’m told canal boat cruises are lovely, I’ve only had some short trips on a friends canal boat in England. They are really lovely, but space is very tight in them.

          I was at the boats launching party. It sunk. The old English canal boats are essentially iron buckets with an engine and timber fittings. The boat fitter had forgotten to tighten the sealing nut on the propellor. Fortunately for my friends, who had put every penny they had into the boat, the boatyards insurance covered all the damage.

          English canals are for me one of the great engineering structures of the world, they are so elegant and simple. There is one canal stretch in the West Midlands where it goes through a tunnel so low you can lie on your back and literally walk the boat through.

          I would guess that the boats on the Erie would be a far larger size than those on the mostly 18th Century canals of Europe. If you ever visit Ireland, hiring a small cruiser and exploring the canals and waterways of the midlands is a lovely way to spend a week or so. I’m told the Midi Canal in France is particularly lovely too. The engineering of the Canal du Midi in the 17th century was astonishing, far more impressive in many ways that the Suez, which is really just a big ditch.

          1. GeoCrackr

            No, that is not what “mansplaining” is any more than criticizing Israel is “antisemitism”.

          2. The Rev Kev

            March 27, 2021 at 1:27 pm’

            Since you are interested in engineering, have you ever heard the story of St. Katharine’s By The Tower in London? I suspect that part of the reason for building the docks there was to get rid of this district altogether. And as a side benefit, £10,00 to 14,00 a year went from being spent on the poor to being spent on the titled who were ‘financially embarrassed’-


      2. David

        It’s also true that there was a time not so long ago (sigh) when governments understood the strategic importance of trade routes and transport hubs, and built ports and harbours in strategic locations. The British famously kicked the Dutch out of the Cape Colony in order to take over the port of Simon’s Town and to use it as a naval base in the Napoleonic Wars. (It’s still a naval base even today.) These days, our elites are so thoroughly financialised that I sometimes think they believe that traded goods arrive by Internet: hence, in part, the Brexit fiasco.

        On the other hand, advance planning doesn’t always produce the right answer. The best case-study I know is postwar British civil aviation policy. This was based on the assumption that there would be an Empire for the foreseeable future, and that most flights would be medium-haul, to “hot and high” airfields. Thus the VC10, for example, which was a good aircraft but too small to compete with the 707. It was assumed that long-distance aviation would be dominated by US manufacturers, but that Britain would continue to need aircraft to service its further-flung imperial routes. Thus the choice of Heathrow as London’s new airport: if you’ve flown into it you may well have come in over the West and seen some massive reservoirs. It was assumed that most long-distance flights would be by flying boat using the reservoirs. The airport itself was built around this expected use (which didn’t materialise) and was actually in the wrong place, and built the wrong way.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think one of the less well noted features that made the British Empire so successful was a very keen sense of geography – to identify the crucial ports and rivers and make sure you control them, while everyone else was running around trying to amass lots of land. Identifying the potential of Hong Kong and Singapore when they were just swamps with a few rocky outcrops was genius. A lot comes down to just being able to make better maps than anyone else. A good map can replace a lot of guns and cannon.

          I didn’t know that about Heathrows history. It really is such a terrible airport. I spent a summer working as a barman in T1, getting regularly abused by northerners coming in on internal flights over the price of a pint (oddly, they never criticised the quality, despite it being almost undrinkable at times). I lived in packed shared house in Hounslow West right on the landing flightpath. The entire house used to shake at 9.05 am and pm every day as Concorde came in from New York. I became the ultimate plane spotter, I could identify most aircraft just by the way my bed (upper bunk) shuddered.

          I didn’t know that about the water reservoirs around Heathrow, I always just assumed it was old gravel works. We often forget that seaplanes were meant to be the future. Briefly in the 1930’s, the little village of Foynes in Ireland was a major hub as it was where they refuelled before crossing the Atlantic. There is a Boeing 314 Clipper in the Museum there (the tailplane sticks out the back), its astonishingly big.

          Foynes of course was displaced by Shannon as a refuelling stop. The 747 nearly killed Shannon off, but its still going thanks to the industry in the new town built next to it using a then novel mix of direct investment and tax scheme. A little known fact is that a Chinese delegation in the 1970’s came to study Shannon and the associated area and used it as the model for turning the little village of Guangzhou into a competitor/parasite on Hong Kong. It has now swallowed up HK up entirely.

          1. emorejahongkong

            Shenzhen is

            the little village [turned] into a competitor/parasite on Hong Kong.

            In contrast, Guangzhou was an important city before Hong Kong (even including Kowloon IIRC) contained more than a few villages.

      3. flora

        Thanks for this history. The shipping industry playing politics to get someone else to subsidize building better ports, in order to profit private business, sounds very like the game played in the US with privately owned baseball and football teams. The team owners request local govts build new stadiums at public cost by using the threat to move to a “more accommodating city” (one that will build it a new stadium) if the home city doesn’t float a bond issue to build a new stadium.
        I never realized the same thing happened in the transportation industry. Really interesting.

      4. James Simpson

        nothing wrong with making ships more efficient

        Really? I’m sure you know all about the Jevons paradox, then, and how it is demonstrated here. Technophiles claim that increasing energy efficiency will help solve the coming climate disasters. Plainly, it won’t. Likewise with making ships more efficient, which has led to vastly increasing volumes of world trade while externalising every possible cost to the future, to the global south, to the poor, to the natural world – to any category apart from capital.

    2. Synoia

      So 1/3 or 2/3 of the world’s trade is subject to a Single Point of Failure, as a prudent group of people would have dug a parallel channel sometime in the previous 100 years.

      Digging up sand is not difficult, and the cost could have been spread over 10 or 20 years.

      I wonder why Israel has not dug a Canal from Aqaba to the Mediterranean. Wile difficult it would provide a good border, (walking on water has a poor success rate), and generated income, and the cost could be covered by US donations and grants.

      Failure to plan is a plan to fail.

    3. Susan the other

      That quadratic equation quote got me too. I’m really annoyed that this overbuilt and overstuffed freighter ran aground and it gets blamed on utopian socialism, no matter how snarky. I would agree that the delusion of volume and profit is what really ran aground here. Big time. But it really makes me wonder how to geometricize economics in a rational way. Like for instance, in what geometric shape does surface equal volume? A circle; a globe? All this Evergreen debacle is an example of is our inability to equate productivity with balance. Whether socialist or capitalist. It’s all the same. The scary thing is that hyperbolic productivity is just seen as some efficiency of scale. It’s that mindset that has externalized all the hyperbolic real costs and destroyed the environment and created a garbage dump out of society.

        1. Susan the other

          Thank you. I hope Kate Raworth gets some traction. Wiki says Branco Milanovic commented that for Doughnut Theory to work people” must not really care about wealth.” But in the real world all the wealth has already been sacrificed by trashing the planet… so I’d say people will realize what has happened and why and reclaim what is actually valuable.

  4. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Once again my nemesis rears his head via his final work!

    As a historical note, it might be interesting to study de Lesseps’ catastrophic failure in building the Panama Canal, using the same methods he used in the Suez, as well as the Panama Canal [Financial] Scandal that followed the project’s collapse.

    The debacle allowed allowed the US a foothold in the project, with an awareness of, and solutions to, all the problems that plagued de Lesseps, particularly yellow fever.

    1. Jokerstein

      David McCullough’s “The Bridge Between the Seas” is outstanding on the construction of the canal.

      1. Tankster

        A man, a plan a canal, Panama…longest palindrome I memorized. The Cross-Florida Barge Canal was a brilliant idea to cut across Florida from the Gulf to the Atlantic. Unfortunately, it would have allowed seawater to destroy the Floridan Aquifer and salt intrusion into the water south of it. Sounded good in theory, though. I guess not enough people were around to get so rich that it couldn’t have been stopped, i.e., too big to jail….

  5. David

    I wonder if the author has read John Gray’s “Black Mass” with its swingeing criticisms of Utopians of all persuasions? Saint-Simon gets a good kicking if I recall, but so do market neoliberals.
    More pertinently perhaps, it’s interesting how much the idea of Communication (“bringing people together”) has been associated with utopian projects at all levels. That’s what the Canal did, but of course so did the telegraph, the steamship, the radio, TV, the aircraft, the Channel Tunnel, Rhodes scholars, the Erasmus scheme, and of course our friend the Internet, which was going to abolish borders and enable human beings to connect directly with each other. It’s striking, indeed, how long people have believed that the problems of the world could be settled by communicating better, ever since Leibniz came up with the idea for a universal mathematical language, which would enable human beings to communicate faultlessly, and so avoid conflict and war. In a sense, the whole of the European project was based on that: abolish borders and barriers to trade and see the whole continent slowly dissolve into one amorphous, characterless space where everybody is the same and so there is nothing to fight about. The fiction that wars occur because of enmity between ordinary people, ridiculous as it may be, is very deeply rooted, and has been behind virtually all the “utopian” projects of modern times.

    1. Harold

      This has its beginnings with Fenelon in a the turn of the 18th c., in reaction against all the 16th c wars. Fenelon presaged the entire enlightenment project. A Catholic bishop highly critical of Louis XIV, he saw trade as the solution to the problem violence and war. He even recommended a European Union. Thomas Jefferson owned multiple copies of his work and his fable “Telemachus” was assigned to schoolboys well into the 19th C.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t always agree with him, but John Gray is always a bracingly refreshing read. I really love how much he annoys so many disparate people, liberals, Marxists and Conservatives alike. I haven’t read Black Mass, I’ll put it on my list.

      To be fair to the EU project, as I understood it the logic was not of making everyone a friend, but of intertwining the economic links so tightly between the main countries that war would be almost a logistical impossibility. You would literally be bombing your own supply lines. The whole thing about everyone moving about and mixing came later when the neoliberals got a firmer grip on the levers of influence in Brussels.

      1. David

        Yes, that’s right, and of course Schuman’s famous speech talked about making war not only unthinkable but practically impossible. But from the beginning (from the ECSC) there was an attempt to create a supranational Europe, essentially because it was felt that ordinary voters could not be trusted to do the right thing, and ignore the blandishments of nationalists. I think the idea was to create a Europe so undifferentiated and homogeneous, and so remote from history and tradition that there was nothing to fight about, and ultimately free movement was part of that. Whether it was present from the beginning or came later depends a bit on who you are talking about and when you start: it was already deeply ingrained at the time of Maastricht, for example.

        1. Synoia

          “essentially because it was felt that ordinary voters could not be trusted to do the right thing”

          As I recall, the ECSC also had something to do with WW 1 and WW 2, and a desire to never do either again. One of my friends at boarding school, Roger Newton, (Now deceased) made a hobby of following the ECSC’s progress.

      2. JTMcPhee

        US corps make money helping the German war effort. US spook activity had US-sponsored UNITA terrorists attacking US corporate mining and other installations in Angola, and variations on the theme in the tribal warfare in Notagainistan and Iraq and Syria and lots of other places. Heller mocked the reality via his creation of Milo Minderbinder, the ultimate supranationalist, who contracted with the Germans to use American planes and munitions to bomb and strafe the American Air Force base from which the American B-25s and their American crews took off, for “cost pus 10 percent,” because it was “good for the Syndicate” in which “everyone had a share.” https://newspunch.com/american-companies-nazi-germany/

        No magic in the Game at all — just “interests,” wholly pecuniary and immune to loyalty…

  6. Larry Y

    Canals are built by empires, and helped build empires.

    The Erie Canal made NYC. And its successor is still operational.

    Then there’s the Grand Canal of China, over a thousand years old, connecting the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, rising and falling with the various dynasties and capitals, and still in use today.

  7. Harold

    Emperor Louis Napoleon was a follower of Saint Simon, or at least highly influenced by, I understand.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Call me evil, but I just bookmarked that site. I love following things like this!

      And, yes, I have stocked up on toilet paper.

      1. Aaron

        Oh, you aren’t alone, brother. In the last two days I have read up more about container shipping than in my entire life. I now know that Suezmax is bigger than Panamax. I have watched youtube transit videos of Panama Canal and Suez canal (those are fun!). Marinetraffic.com is really interesting. I love zooming up and down the map, watching the ship icons like rows of ants. Do you know that 14 ships were stuck in the canal for eight years, after Egypt blocked it during the 1967 Six-day war? Just go to youtube and search Yellow Fleet.
        Of course, stuff like “Shipwreck”, “Up the creek without a paddle” keeps flashing in mind. It’s a nightmare, yet oddly riveting.

      2. fresno dan

        Arizona Slim
        March 27, 2021 at 9:57 am
        Actually, I am trying to draw down my toilet paper reserves from the last fiasco. I figure I am good to go…for the next century. Unless of course the next pandemic is of dysentery.

        1. wilroncanada

          fresno dan
          Just north of you, across the border, at the mouth of the Fraser River, is a toilet tissue maker. The brand is Purex. We Canadian socialists didn’t run out, except very temporarily, because of panicking locals watching too much US television. Too much US television causes the runs.

          1. fresno dan

            March 27, 2021 at 2:04 pm
            LOL – I mean, I write that, but I am not actually laughing out loud usually when I write that but (must resist writing butt…) this time, I am really laughing out loud! Its funny cause its true…

  8. t

    Helps to think about canals as bridges, and all the military strategies based on their destruction.

  9. Susan the other

    Well, just for snark. Oil. Speaking of circles, let’s go full circle on oil and toilet paper. We pump vast amounts of oil and to make it “economical” we pump way more than we actually need so we try to find ways to utilize it to make it productive and we decide to fire up the ship building industry and build some monstrous freighters, big enough to carry 1/3 of the world’s trade goods. And then we have to make that monster productive enough to compete with other carriers so we make sure all the toilet paper factories get enough scrap wood to manufacture astronomical volumes of toilet paper to make sure the freighters are stuffed with goods all paying full freight – by volume no doubt. And this continues for decade after decade not just for toilet paper but tin pots of all ilk, foodstuffs, poisons, and all sorts of plastic crap, etc. And then we look up one day after we have all realized the devastation we’ve done and there is that stupid monstrous freighter stuck in the Suez Canal. Sideways. How poetic. And we all start stockpiling toilet paper. What a clever solution. But that’s not a circle, that’s a spiral.

  10. SOMK

    If the canal were a properly utopian project then surely it wouldn’t exist in the first place?

  11. skippy

    I posted many years ago on shipping and whales, something about orthodox economics inability to factor anything in that is not reducible to accounting or how incentives drive rule breaking.


    An extract from the book – Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate First Edition

    I would also recommend – Merchants of Grain: The Power and Profits of the Five Giant Companies at the Center of the World’s Food Supply

    Reminiscent of an old NC post on Island gigantism, but yeah, competitive markets … hooo boy … orthodox economics … rim shot …

  12. Mickey Hickey

    The shipping industry does not drive dock size or harbour depth. The shipping industry would have happily and profitably continued with 8 to 12 thousand ton ships as in the 1950s’. What drove dock and harbour specs was at first the steel industry which required large quantities of iron ore, coal as well as bauxite for aluminium. In England around 1960 the manufacturing industries were struggling. The gov’ts of the day were laser focused on reducing the cost of inputs to manufacturing. It went as far as importing iron ore from Murmansk, USSR and exporting rolled steel as payment back to the USSR. The traditional sources of Iron Ore were Sept Iles Canada, Vitoria Brazil (Belo Horizonte), with Bauxite coming mostly from Conakry, Guinea and Kuantan Malaysia. British Iron and Steel which dominated the industry pointed out to the powers that be that in order to keep the hundreds of thousands manufacturing jobs in places like Redcar, Glasgow, Barrie/Swansea it would be necessary to triple the size of ore carriers. The national gov’t and regional authorities did what was necessary. Since British Iron and Steel dominated the industry
    it also dictated to ship charter companies the sizes it would charter. Japan and others also upped their game.

  13. Filiform Radical

    This article is just deeply unimpressive. It gestures at some interesting history, but doesn’t really provide more than a few details. In terms of arguments for its central thesis, that the situation in the Suez right now is to be blamed on utopian socialism, it has basically nothing – it would need to argue that 1) the Ever Given getting stuck is a result of a problem in the canal’s planning or design and 2) this problem arose specifically from Lesseps’ utopian socialist sympathies, and it doesn’t really attempt to do either, probably because it can’t. Even point 1) seems laughable at its face – should Lesseps have been designing the canal with an eye to use by a model of container ship which wouldn’t exist for another century and a half and which dwarfs anything on the seas at the time?

    The author not even bothering to do enough basic research to figure out that “Evergreen” is the name of the shipping company, not the ship, is the cherry on top.

  14. drumlin woodchuckles

    The Suez Canal is/was a good thing. If it is a physical legacy of Utopian Socialism, then that is a good Utopian Socialist achievement or outcome.

    We really can’t blame de Lesseps for not anticipating the Ultra-Super Hyper-Mega Container Ships of today.

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