The fall of the US Maritime industry


#1

From 4:40 mins onward.


#2

Guess he’s preaching to the choir. Shame for all those excellent points to be raised on such a niche program. Seems like it takes something dramatically “newsworthy” to happen before a complex issue can become a talking point. If a national candidate tried to explain an issue that people were not already familiar with, people wouldnt hear it. Can you see the nightly news guy trying to define “cabotage” to people? People don’t have time to hear things they don’t expect to hear. Unless terrorist pirates blow up an ammonium nitrate bulker in the port of Miami, who is going to care?


#3

[QUOTE=Emrobu;188522]Guess he’s preaching to the choir.[/QUOTE]

True

[QUOTE=Emrobu;188522]who is going to care?[/QUOTE]

Hopefully the middle aged individual who has never set foot on a ship and posts something like: “I woke up this morning and thought it might be fun to be a ship captain. Where should I send my resume?”


#4

[QUOTE=Lee Shore;188558]True

Hopefully the middle aged individual who has never set foot on a ship and posts something like: “I woke up this morning and thought it might be fun to be a ship captain. Where should I send my resume?”[/QUOTE]

Sadly the only thing that a middle aged individual will see on the water is Deadliest Catch.


#5

[QUOTE=cmakin;188559]Sadly the only thing that a middle aged individual will see on the water is Deadliest Catch.[/QUOTE]

I grew up up in coastal town with a strong maritime culture. In the same town now, most people have never been out on the bay in a boat, most kids cannot tie a bowline, most people in town see boats in the harbor, but have no maritime awareness.

America can has lost its maritime culture. Most of the boatbuilding has gone to the bayou chasing the cheapest price and the lowest quality.


#6

[QUOTE=tugsailor;188560]I grew up up in coastal town with a strong maritime culture. In the same town now, most people have never been out on the bay in a boat, most kids cannot tie a bowline, most people in town see boats in the harbor, but have no maritime awareness.

America can has lost its maritime culture. Most of the boat hiking has gone to the bayou chasing the cheapest price and the lowest quality.[/QUOTE]

The last time I ran charters was in San Francisco Bay. The adults sat on deck enjoying the fresh air and the sights but on most trips, their kids were down in the salon with the curtains drawn, their noses buried in their cell phones. Sad.


#7

[QUOTE=Lee Shore;188563]The last time I ran charters was in San Francisco Bay. The adults sat on deck enjoying the fresh air and the sights but on most trips, their kids were down in the salon with the curtains drawn, their noses buried in their cell phones. Sad.[/QUOTE]

ask the chief to go to the salon and offer the kids a tour of the machine space. If that doesn’t perk them up, then I have no suggestions. Maybe GSK will figure out how to put curiosity and wonder in a pill.


#8

Ahhh! Another “Death of the U.S. Merchant Marine” post! Perennial mainstay of Gcaptain! Like walking into the digital equivalent a South Philly bar, the old duffers, beers in hand, yelling at CNN on the TV, with the sound turned off. And just as useful. If you want a vibrant, numerous, and powerful U.S. merchant marine you’re going to have to raise your hand as a taxpayer and say “I want to be taxed, Baby! Bring it on!”. And convince your fellow citizens that they want it, too. I just don’t see that happening.

Here’s the thing: the animal we all knew and loved as the U.S. Merchant Marine, this fantastic rampaging beast that won World War 2, was planned by the government and paid for, in part, by taxpayers, for a specific purpose. The Roosevelt Administration, as part of the New Deal, and with an eye towards unavoidable involvement in WW2, decided to put billions of taxpayer dollars into creating everything we call a vibrant U.S. merchant marine. Ships, shipyards, academies. The taxpayers were, at first , glad to pay for it, because the plan put them to work in the midst of the Depression, and because they understood the needed to prepare for war. Society was taxed so that a subset of taxpayers (mariners, shipyard workers, and company owners) could profit from it—and coincidentally defend the U.S. of A. Later, with the wars over, the congressional mood towards the merchant marine changed.

As we shout at the digital TV at the virtual bar, we need to be asking ourselves this: Do we as a society want to tax ourselves again to support a reinvigorated USMM? Because nothing else will do it. I’ve heard the same duffers yell the same tirades, in galleys, wheelhouses , and ECRs, at real bars and at trade meetings, in print, on TV, and online, for 32 years and rarely does anyone pose the question in concrete terms: Are we willing to put our money where our mouths are? I'm all for it, but those guys yelling in the bar are suddenly quiet. i don't see many hands going up.

At the turn of the last century the U.S. had about 3,000 vessels of 100 tons or greater. 3,000 . OK, so a lot were small, coastal schooners and the like, analogous to tugboats today. But a lot were big deep-sea ships too. And yet, when WW1 broke out, the USA still found herself woefully short of ships to supply our forces in Europe. So the government began a program of shipbuilding and training seamen: paid for by taxes. When our involvement in the WW1 was over (which was quick) we dumped it. But the system worked great.

When storm clouds began building over Europe a generation later, the Roosevelt Administration used the experience of WW1 as the template for a new program (Merchant Marine Act of 1936) with much greater scope. Not only would the U.S. build a lot more ships, the government would design many of them, and subsidize the shipyards, too. It would create an academy and training program to churn out officers and crew. It created an administration to coordinate all this (MARAD). Taxpayers would nurture this beast with differential subsidies and cargo preference rules. The New Deal birthed the animal we revere as the U.S. merchant marine, not market forces. It was conceived, built, manned, and nurtured to a specific plan for a specific job: give people jobs and win the war.

It worked magnificently. We buried our enemies in materiel. For every U.S. tank they destroyed on the battlefield two more were on the way, courtesy USMM. Then, when the war was over, and the U.S. was the last man standing over a bombed out and starving world, we used this magnificent animal to transport the food and goods to rebuild the world, goods built in U.S. factories because the European and Asian factories were largely rubble.

But Europe and Asia rebuilt in a generation. And we Americans went all around the word saying “Hey! Be like us! We’ve got it good! Be like us, and you’ll be rich like us!” People listened. Countries we used to despise became good capitalists in all but name, and began to do as we do, at about 1/6 of our labor costs. Oddly enough, our factories began to fold. The USMM began to dwindle, too, but the Korean War and the Vietnam War made sure the beast got fed. But when this period of ersatz-WW3 came to an end, taxpayers (us) were increasingly loath to feed the hungry, expensive animal called the USMM.

The root need for it—commercial transportation and mechanized war-- dwindled. Following the Vietnam War the U.S. wasn’t making and exporting as much stuff as it used to. The rest of the world was making and exporting their own stuff on their own ships, thank you very much. So our congressional representatives said, ““What use our merchant marine? We’ve got other things to pay for.”  In the late 1970’s we started having things called “Taxpayers Revolts” (shorthand for “I have mine now, buddy, screw you…”) Paying taxes to subsidize industries got a bad name. A subsidized merchant marine standing by ready to support Word War 4, on the backs of the taxpayers, was a no-go. That would be too 1940. That would be too socialist (patooie! <spit!> washing my mouth out with soap now). No, we wanted a robust, powerful “freemarket “merchant marine”, which we would create by platitudes, vigorous  flag waving, non-costly magical thinking and stacks of white papers. Creating a pig with wings would be more realistic (and tastier, too).

So, once again “Who’s willing to tax themselves to do i?! I’m in!! Hey, where are you guys going?” Screw it. Come on Embrobu, let’s grab our beers and slouch to a booth at the back of the bar, where it’s a lot quieter…


#9

Is grabbing your beer and slouching off the new mike-drop?

It isn’t as if Americans have stopped subsidizing the private sector. You just seem to choose areas that do not provide Americans with jobs, or provide Americans with the shittiest jobs.


#10

Our current government prefers to subsidize Walmart to sell Chinese goods.


#11

[QUOTE=Emrobu;188582]Is grabbing your beer and slouching off the new mike-drop?

It isn’t as if Americans have stopped subsidizing the private sector. You just seem to choose areas that do not provide Americans with jobs, or provide Americans with the shittiest jobs.[/QUOTE]

Well…looking at the fraction of the money that once went to subsidizing the merchant marine of World War 2, we can theorize that a portion of it now goes to paying for incredibly expensive toys like nuclear submarines, the whole ballistic missile and satellite programs, drones, B2 bombers, cyber-warfare, cluster bombs, etc. All weapons and systems magnitudes more expensive than the old toys of World War 2, and yet they require fewer people to build them. Those people, though, are often paid very well.
I’m always amused by the number of defense contractors that are capitailists quick to decry creeping socialism, and yet they are prime beneficiaries of government largess. Among other things they make are really expensive flags to wrap themselves in.


#12

So what I gather from that maritime history lesson is that until the World Wars there was no merchant marine in the Americas. There was no coastal and trans-Atlantic trade in tobacco, cotton, sugar and slaves. There were no whale boats crossing from Nantucket to the Pacific to Kamchatka on multi-year voyages. I mean, the New Deal wasn’t around to pay for it thus it didn’t exist, right?

The narrative argues that the American merchant marine is a product of the government, paid for by the tax payers. It’s not a leap to say the same about the aerospace manufacturers who built bombers, automobile industry who made tanks, even toy train makers who built marine compasses and sextants.

Except the argument is wrong. American manufactures Boeing, Ford, Lionel, ship builders and the merchant marine existed on their own before the wars when the United States was in the shadows of the world’s superpowers in Europe.

The idea that we require hefty taxation and a strong government hand to rebuild our merchant marine sounds frighteningly like a page from the Soviet economic model.


#13

DeckApe,
I think you lost interest around paragraph 3. Here is paragraph 4 from the OP:
“At the turn of the last century the U.S. had about [B]3,000 vessels of 100 tons or greater. 3,000 . OK, so a lot were small, coastal schooners and the like, analogous to tugboats today. But a lot were big deep-sea ships too. And yet, when WW1 broke out, the USA still found herself woefully short of ships to supply our forces [/B]in Europe. So the government began a program of shipbuilding and training seamen: paid for by taxes. When our involvement in the WW1 was over (which was quick) we dumped it. But the system worked great…”

Didn’t say we didn’t have a merchant marine. Pointed out that even by 1917 people were thinking it wasn’t big enough, so it was enlarged by government spending. Then, WW1 over, we stopped paying for it. Market forces took over. By 1926, 8 years after WW1 was over, we only had 3,116 vessels of 100 tons+, and that was after the shipbuilding boom. Not much growth for the Roaring '20’s. Depression didn’t help. Hence the MMA of 1936.

We’ve always had a merchant marine. Always will. My point is, if you want the huge behemoth of a USMM that came out of WW2, taxpayers have to pay for it.


#14

I was editing my post while you wrote your reply. See above.


#15

[QUOTE=DeckApe;188597] American manufactures Boeing, Ford, Lionel, ship builders and the merchant marine existed on their own before the wars when the United States was in the shadows of the world’s superpowers in Europe. The idea that we require hefty taxation and a strong government hand to rebuild our merchant marine sounds frighteningly like a page from the Soviet economic model.[/QUOTE]
You’re right about U.S. shipping companies existing before the world wars. There was never an argument there. There are U.S, shipping companies now (existing to a great degree by direct government intervention called the Jones Act), so I guess we are OK and must be happy with our merchant marine. If we are perfectly happy with market forces regulating the number of large deep-sea ships under the U.S. flag so be it. 200 now, 100 a generation from now, 20 shortly thereafter. Let the invisible hand of Commerce decide. Fine by me, I can go either way. My only problem is listening to people who think that the same invisible hand is going to bolster the USMM all by itself. It won’t. You get what you pay for. We apparently have better things to pay for.


#16

[QUOTE=DeckApe;188597]…The idea that we require hefty taxation and a strong government hand to rebuild our merchant marine sounds frighteningly like a page from the Soviet economic model.[/QUOTE]

Another excellent point on your part. You have given a concise reason why the U.S. Congress, circa 1974-1980, decided to stop paying for a large USMM.


#17

A tip of the cap for the fine prose. Much of it quite perceptive. But----[QUOTE=freighterman;188579]
…Paying taxes to subsidize industries got a bad name…[/QUOTE]

A bad name, I don’t know. But just because it might be in disrepute doesn’t mean it went away. Au contraire, It’s more prevalent than ever. Arguably beau coup more of it is going on now than there ever was in the war and post war eras.

The USMM has just been long disinvited to this taxpayer-funded block party. Think Iowa corn, FL sugarcane, and other perennial favor seekers that remain at the trough. And the new kids…electric car companies founded by billionaires; wind and solar; for that matter the entire godforsaken “green” energy sector is completely on the teat, to name a just a few.

Subsidizationis more alive and well than ever. It’s just a slave to fashion.

Our industry’s day came and went, never to return.


#18

Subsidies are always a bad thing, unless you’re the guy getting them…


#19

[QUOTE=freighterman;188603]Another excellent point on your part. You have given a concise reason why the U.S. Congress, circa 1974-1980, decided to stop paying for a large USMM.[/QUOTE]

A government can protect its native industry and nurture its skilled workforce without being its financial backer. Raising kids by giving them money and gifts isn’t what you’d call parenting and isn’t going to help them become happy, independent grown ups. Like-wise, government’s best roll isn’t building ships and burning money. What I’d like to see (and maybe you’re with me) is Americans building their own ships, crewing their own ship, and delivering their own goods to market. This defense argument is a little bit dated. We don’t storm a lot of beaches anymore. If there was the will to protect American industry and foster American trade skills, then the main obstacle would be resources. You guys used all your ilmenite to win WWII. You won the cold war by spending more money investing in yourselves than the USSR could do. If you were compeating with China for ores, the world would begin to change in very interesting ways. Prices for everything would rise, Americans would be harder to lead around by the nose (they would feel more empowered as individuals, the working class would have a new renaissance), resource extraction countries would develop wealth, China would become weaker (and probably more aggressive). I’m not advocating a return to the cold war, but if we’re doing this whole nation-state thing, let’s do it. Countries don’t work if they’re too corrupt to look out for their own best interests. When the US suffers, it causes lots of the rest of us to suffer.


#20

[QUOTE=Emrobu;188606]… What I’d like to see (and maybe you’re with me) is Americans building their own ships, crewing their own ship, and delivering their own goods to market. …If you were competing with China for ores, the world would begin to change in very interesting ways. Prices for everything would rise, Americans would be harder to lead around by the nose (they would feel more empowered as individuals, the working class would have a new renaissance), resource extraction countries would develop wealth…[/QUOTE]

I’m trying to understand exactly what you mean Emrobu (I mean that in a nice way). Can you be more detailed when you say “If you were competing with China for ores…”? Competing for ores is like competing for oil in most ways. It’s a market. it goes up, it goes down. How that helps a merchant marine reach a steady-state of ships–I don’t see it. Or am I missing a point?