The first is a book about the rise of the shipping container. Really informative and clearly describes the design process behind a technique we've always taken for granted. It's a historical account mainly, starting from the idea all the way to modern day shipping.
The second, which I read through the first few chapters of, describes the origins of the steam engine, but it was a bit bland for my tastes.
Both are interesting books to be frank so I'd recommend at least checking them out.
I think this story has been on HN before, but I can't find it.
Shipping rules used to be crazy
There's a GREAT book on the subject:
"The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger"
It is hard to imagine a company like Amazon being successful without the humble shipping container...before its time, a ship could spend as much time loading and unloading as it would to cross the entire Atlantic.
I also think the value of the shipping container is a great analogy for any kind of logistics...such as he importance of structured data when building any kind of web app...non devs have. A hard time grasping how something as simple as a spreadsheet is so vital to collecting and organizing info for an interactive app.
In a nutshell, it was messy. It's not easy in the physical/infrastructure world to create a standard and then impose it world-wide. (ie, competing standards, etc.)
Then the container literally created and destroyed neighborhoods & cities, but as the article notes revolutionized world trade. I can HIGHLY recommend the book.
But if a few don't do it, they slaughter the rest.
Note that toys are a particularly bad example after http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_Product_Safety_Improve...
WRT to 1978, that was while Deng Xiaoping was still engineering his rehabilitation and before "socialism with Chinese characteristics" got going (I think; the timing on the latter was not clear after a few minutes with Wikipedia).
One of the reasons it hadn't happened before is well described in this essential book, "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger" http://www.amazon.com/Box-Shipping-Container-Smaller-Economy...
Now the bottom line is that it would take major government intervention, e.g. tariffs and probably industrial policy, which is a "cure" that's almost certainly worse than the disease (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_choice_theory). It is argued by many that this and not slavery was the primary cause of the US Civil War.
It would probably be better to work at chipping away at many of the things that made manufacturing labor so expensive in the US (in terms of real value or products US manufacturing is doing OK and still exceeds the PRC although the latter might change soon). Some things are stark raving mad like the previously mentioned law that's trashing toys. Some things would appear to be luxuries we can ill afford, either now or in the long run.
E.g. just how strongly do you believe in the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_no-threshold_model for all toxins? It's been the law of the land since 1958: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaney_clause and this is why today's root beer in the US sucks. If this book doesn't gain any traction upon reading it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Skeptical_Environmentalist you'd perhaps better find another cause.
Don't expect change any time soon, e.g. see the above link to public choice theory and note that "a recession is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose yours". The country at large didn't care that much when manufacturing labor was squeezed into construction and now it's only so concerned that those men are not out of work due to the real estate bubble popping (especially notice the unemployment rates broken down by gender).
What I'm sort of musing about is why Japan wasn't chosen. If this were the '80s it would be much more likely, but compared to then Japan is now less politically and socially stable, it's been mired in what is now it's second Lost Decade, the government's "active role in fostering business growth" is gone or incompetent at doing that per se and between the economics and demographics I don't know of anyone who I respect who thinks it has a future.
And I suspect the economic center of gravity of east Asia has moved away from Japan and likely in Singapore's direction. Singapore has of course been hit by the Great Recession, but not (as of yet) catastrophically so, so they're suitably hungry.
If the guess that both of us have made that the Singapore government had a hand in this is correct, it's obviously easier to deal with a small city state than a much larger nation.
There were some articles last year (or maybe it was 2008) about textile manufacturing in the US, and how the Chinese were subsidizing them to the point where even if the US workers worked for free, the US plants could not compete on price.
To understand how much manufacturing changed, I recommend reading The Box. The shipping container totally changed everything by reducing shipping costs by about 98%. A lot of cities that used to be manufacturing centers (such as NYC and Detroit) withered, and a lot of cities that used to be shipping centers (such as NYC and London) also shriveled up because they could not support container traffic.
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