We are currently reading another interesting book dealing with the global economy and cheap oil that combined to revolutionize the world's transportation business and altered the history of our economic development. The book is called The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson. This book is essentially a history of the evolution of the mundane shipping container (just a large metal box) that brings us exotic foods and inexpensive consumer products from around the world. Much like the books, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and Salt: A World History, both by Mark Kurlansky that document the world-altering impact of simple things like a fish and grains of a chemical product, the shipping container is a remarkably simple device that also changed the course of the world's economy. If oil is no longer available, or cheap, will developed economies be capable of getting cheap foodstuffs and industrial and consumer products that have contributed so much to their economic development and high living standards? The answer from Messrs. Rubin and Steiner is: No!
The two authors have the same theme -- how Americans will have to give up traveling, abandon eating foods that come from great distances away and find new ways to work. These books, listed on the non-fiction book lists, amaze me because they truly are fictional works. Admittedly they are based on reasonable premises, but they are largely speculation about how the world of the future will unfold.
These books remind us of the various writings that emerged in the mid 1970s after the explosion in global oil prices following the OPEC embargo of countries supporting Israel in the Arab-Israeli war. At that time we had cars that average less than 10 miles per gallon, homes with little or no insulation and a life-style that ignored the cost of energy. In the past 30 years we have made huge strides in improving our energy efficiency, although there is certainly room for much greater improvement. The primary benefit from reading these books is to see how the authors perceive our society and economy will evolve. There are certainly lessons to be learned and steps individuals can take even now to reduce their dependency on energy, and its impact on family budgets. We caution readers that they should never underestimate the ingenuity and inventiveness of the human mind. That makes us more optimistic that either of the two authors about the future, but we respect their efforts at trying to alert us to possibly the most radical upcoming change to our lives.
G. Allen Brooks works as the Managing Director at PPHB LP. Reprinted with permission of PPHB.
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