Navigation Acts, Were “Insanely Inefficient, but Gratifyingly Lucrative to British Merchants and Manufacturers”

(p. 297) Many of Monticello’s quirks spring from the limitations of Jefferson’s workmen. He had to stick to a simple Doric style for the exterior columns because he could find no one with the skills to handle anything more complex. But the greatest problem of all, in terms of both expense and frustration, was a lack of home-grown materials. It is worth taking a minute to consider what the American colonists were up against in trying to build a civilization in a land without infrastructure.
(p. 298) Britain’s philosophy of empire was that America should provide it with raw materials at a fair price and take finished products in return. The system was enshrined in a series of laws known as the Navigation Acts, which stipulated that any product bound for the New World had either to originate in Britain or pass through it on the way there, even if it had been created in, say, the West Indies, and ended up making a pointless double crossing of the Atlantic. The arrangement was insanely inefficient, but gratifyingly lucrative to British merchants and manufacturers, who essentially had a fast-growing continent at their commercial mercy. By the eve of the revolution America effectively was Britain’s export market. It took 80 per cent of British linen exports, 76 per cent of exported nails, 60 per cent of wrought iron and nearly half of all the glass sold abroad. In bulk terms, America annually imported 30,000 pounds of silk, 11,000 pounds of salt and over 130,000 beaver hats, among much else. Many of these things – not least the beaver hats – were made from materials that originated in America in the first place and could easily have been manufactured in American factories – a point that did not escape the Americans.

Source:
Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

Deregulation Revived Railroads

RailroadMogulsCartoon2011-08-08.jpg

“ALL ABOARD: The Wasp magazine in 1881 lampooned railroad moguls as having regulators in the palms of their hands.” Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C8) Mr. Klein has written thoroughly researched and scrupulously objective biographies of the previously much maligned Jay Gould and E.H. Harriman, remaking their public images by presenting them in full. Now he has published the third and final volume of his magisterial history of the Union Pacific railroad, taking the company from 1969 to the present day.

Union Pacific–the only one of the transcontinentals to remain in business under its original name–is now a flourishing business. Thanks to a series of mergers, it is one of the largest railroads in the world, with more than 37,000 miles of track across most of the American West. Thanks to its investment in new technology, it is also among the most efficient.
In 1969, though, the future of American railroading was in doubt as the industry struggled against competition from airplanes, automobiles and trucks–all of which were in effect heavily subsidized through the government’s support for airports and the Interstate Highway System.
Another major factor in the decline of the railroads had been the stultifying hand of the Interstate Commerce Commission. The ICC had come into existence in the late 19th century to limit the often high-handed ways of the railroads as they wrestled with the difficult economics of an industry that has very high fixed costs. ( . . . .) But the ICC soon evolved into a cartel mechanism that discouraged innovation and wrapped the railroad industry in a cocoon of stultifying rules.
Mr. Klein notes that in 1975 he wrote a gloomy article about the sad state of an industry with a colorful past: “Unlike many other historical romances,” he wrote back then, “the ending did not promise to be a happy one.”
Fortunately, a deregulation movement that began under the Carter administration–yes, the Carter administration–limited the power of the ICC and then abolished it altogether. As Mr. Klein shows in the well-written “Union Pacific,” the reduction of government interference left capitalism to work its magic and produce–with the help of dedicated and skillful management–the modern, efficient and profitable railroad that is the Union Pacific.

For the full review, see:
JOHN STEELE GORDON. “Tracks Across America.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 11, 2011): C8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Book reviewed in the part of the review quoted above:
Klein, Maury. Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration: America’s Greatest Railroad from 1969 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011.

Coralville Police Close 4-Year-Old Abigail’s Lemonade Stand

(p. 2B) CORALVILLE — Police closed down a lemonade stand in Coralville, telling its 4-year-old operator and her dad that she didn’t have a permit.
. . .
Abigail’s dad, Dustin Krutsinger, said the ordinance and its enforcers are going too far if they force a 4-year-old to abandon her lemonade stand.

For the full story, see:
AP. “Coralville shuts down girl’s lemonade stand.” Omaha World-Herald [Iowa Edition] (Weds., August 3, 2011): 2B.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 2, 2011 and has the title “Girl’s lemonade stand shut down.”)

The next day, the Iowa Edition of the Omaha World-Herald ran an update:

(p. 2B) CORALVILLE — Four-year-old Abigail Krutsinger wasn’t the only lemonade stand operator who was closed down when RAGBRAI bicyclists poured into Coralville last week.

At least three stands run by children were closed down because they hadn’t obtained permits and health inspections.

For the full story, see:
AP. “Coralville defends closing kids’ stands.” Omaha World-Herald [Iowa Edition] (Thurs., August 4, 2011): 2B.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 3, 2011, and has the title “More lemonade stands shuttered.”)

“Mystified by an American Disdain for Its Own Business Culture”

HollandAndDavisProducersSomethingVentured2011-05-17.jpg “Paul Holland and Molly Davis, producers of a new documentary, “Something Ventured,” that gives an admiring look at innovators and investors from the past.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) The film, “Something Ventured,” is a frankly admiring look at those who went out on a limb to back upstarts like Atari, Cisco Systems, Genentech and Apple.
. . .
But the film’s beating heart is captured by Tom Perkins, whose Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers company backed the gene-splicing technology of Genentech, among other things. “It’s great if you can make money and change the world for the better at the same time,” said Mr. Perkins, . . .
Other stars of “Something Ventured” include Nolan Bushnell of Atari; Sandy Lerner of Cisco; Jimmy Treybig of Tandem Computers; and a string of venture capitalists, among them Don Valentine, Dick Kramlich, and Arthur Rock.
Many who appear joined dozens of other business people to finance the picture’s roughly $700,000 cost with contributions of a few thousand dollars each, Mr. Holland said.
In becoming involved, several participants said they wanted to rekindle an entrepreneurial spirit that had either waned or changed since the rough-and-tumble years when, by the film’s telling, Atari was started with $250 but needed capital to push Pong, and Mr. Bushnell passed up a chance to own a third of Apple, started by his employee Steve Jobs, for $50,000.
. . .
Mr. Valentine, . . . , said entrepreneurship had not ended — his company was a force behind Google — but it is less often coming from those born in the United States.
“You don’t understand what you have here” is a constant refrain, he said, from Southeast Asian and Indian innovators who are sometimes mystified by an American disdain for its own business culture.

For the full story, see:
MICHAEL CIEPLY . “A Film About Capitalism, and (Surprise) It’s a Love Story.” The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., March 8, 2011): 8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 7, 2011.)

John Crandon Proved Scurvy Caused by Lack of Vitamin C

(p. 167) . . . , in 1939 a Harvard Medical School surgeon named John Crandon decided to settle matters once and for all by the age-old method of withholding Vitamin C from his diet for as long as it took to make himself really ill. It took a surprisingly long time. For the first eighteen weeks, his only symptom was extreme fatigue. (Remarkably, he continued to operate on patients throughout this period.) But in the nineteenth week he took an abrupt turn for the worse – so much so that he would almost certainly have died had he not been under close medical supervision. He was injected with 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C and was restored to life (p. 168) almost at once. Interestingly, he had never acquired the one set of symptoms that everyone associates with scurvy: the falling out of teeth and bleeding of gums.

Source:
Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

“Unless the Federal Government Takes It All Away”

BoeingSouthCarolinaPlant2011-08-08.jpg “Wayne Gravot, right, and Jeff Sparwasser at the new plant in North Charleston, S.C.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Boeing’s gigantic new $750 million airplane factory here is the pride of South Carolina, the biggest single investment ever made in a state that is far more associated with old-line textile mills than state-of-the-art manufacturing. In just a few weeks, 1,000 workers will begin assembling the first of what they hope will be hundreds of 787 Dreamliners.

That is, unless the federal government takes it all away.
In a case that has enraged South Carolinians and become a cause célèbre among Republican lawmakers and presidential hopefuls, the National Labor Relations Board has accused Boeing of illegally setting up shop in South Carolina because of past strikes by the unionized workers at its main manufacturing base in the Seattle area. The board is asking a judge to order Boeing to move the Dreamliner production — and the associated jobs — to Washington State.

For the full story, see:
STEVEN GREENHOUSE. “Boeing Labor Dispute Is Making New Factory a Political Football.” The New York Times (Fri., July 1, 2011): A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 30, 2011.)

Study Finds No Link Between Cellphones and Cancer

(p. A3) A European study involving nearly 1,000 participants has found no link between cellular-phone use and brain tumors in children and adolescents, a group that may be particularly sensitive to phone emissions.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, was prompted by concerns that the brains of younger users may be more vulnerable to adverse health effects–such as cancer–from cellphones.

For the full story, see:
GAUTAM NAIK. “Study Sees No Cellphone-Cancer Ties.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2011): A3.