Is the End of the Dockside Age Nigh?

by Thomas Knapp
Is the End of the Dockside Age Nigh?

For millennia, human populations have clustered near navigable waterways — oceans and rivers — for obvious reasons. They were important food sources, they constituted the main highways of commerce, and travel and communication over land were slow affairs.

Things are different now, due to everything from the locomotive and the automobile to the telegraph, telephone, radio and Internet. And yet I read somewhere awhile back that 90% of Americans (to pick a nationality) still live within 30 miles of a coast (including the Great Lakes) or major river.

I’m not trying to open up an argument on climate change here. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that things like Hurricane Sandy are just the way it is and always has been.

Still, it seems kind of silly to put so much major economic infrastructure right up against the capricious seaboard when most of the population that infrastructure supports (virtually the entire population not directly engaged in sailing or servicing ships and the things coming on and off those ships) doesn’t really need to live or work there.

Arnold Kling is pessimistic about the cost and time involved in fixing New York. The repair bills for Sandy are already being guesstimated in the $50 billion range.

At what point do the operators of (for example) the New York Stock Exchange say “you know, we could do this just as easily from Indianapolis and hardly ever have to wade to work?”

8 responses to “Is the End of the Dockside Age Nigh?

  1. The odd thing is that the population of the United States has moved more and more to the coasts in recent decades – leading to the “dead heart”, all those once prosperious manufacturing and farming towns.

    Of course Indiana may prove an exception (the interwar socialogical studies “Middletown” was really Munsie Indiana of course) as may some Southern States (landlocked but prosperious Tennessee springs to mind).

    Why is the Stock Exchange still in New York City?

    Well habit – “we have always been here” and the “place to be” factor. X enterprise being there because the others (A, B, C, enterprises) are – and they being there because X enterprise is there.

    However, New York State has the highest taxes (even worse than New Jersey – see the Tax Foundations) and the worse regulations for business outside California (which, of couse, is the most regulated State of all).

    So why the….. are big financial enterprises still in New York?

    The cynic in me says it is something to do with the New York Federal Reserve and all the credit money that comes out of it to the big banks – and from there to other enterprises.

    Still it is nice on the coast.

    Someone in Florida may say “my taxes would be a tiny bit lower in South Dakota – but most taxes are Federal, and I hate the terrible winters in South Dakota”.

    Fine till the big wave comes.

    But then that supervolcano near South Dakota is going to up one day.

  2. If you look at a map of the US, you will observe that the borders of the original colonies and early Territories tend to be all wiggly, whereas the newer States in the West have straight lines. This is because the earlier States had waterways (rivers or lakes) as their boundaries (since these were the main means of transportation), whereas later on, after the railroad was invented, this became irrelevant, and they used lines of latitude & longitude to define the States (I think most in the Midwest are 7 or 8 degrees wide).

  3. Congress was drawing straight line States long before railroads became important.

    Rationalist (rationalistic) politicians and administrators love their straight lines – very French Revolution.

  4. My own view… I’m a townie. I lived in London for two decades and, if my income ever rises sufficiently, I’d like to move back there. London is on a river, of course, the Thames (and I must admit to an immense romantic fondness for that river.)

    Cities offer an immense advantage in concentration of services; in London there was so much shopping, music, theatre, arts, restaurants etc. You just don’t get that level of service provision in a town like the one I am currently in (and was born in), Northampton, let alone somewhere like Kettering, where the inhabitants still refer to buses as “the giant houses on wheels that move by sorcery”.

    For a while I worked in the City (as a lowly engineer, and part of my interest in economics came from wanting to understand what was going on all around me as money whizzed back and forth electronically). The abject misery of the journey to and from work made me often think how apparently foolish it was for us all to be crammed on those trains and buses, when most of what the City financial businesses do could be done from anywhere, just as with New York. But the people who work in that sector make lots of money, and want a service-rich environment in which to spend it, and that desire isn’t going to be satisfied if they move to Northampton or Kettering where the nightlife consists of Spaggers Nitespot and a chip shop.

    I mean, I’m not far from the town centre and I’m outside the delivery range of all the major pizza chains, and there isn’t a decent kebab shop for miles. It’s like living in the bloody Dark Ages.

    Nice old (1207!) church though, I have to say.

    So if the businesses in London all disperse across the countryside, their employees have to disperse too, and lose all the benefits of living in a dense super-conurbation like London or New York, and I suspect many of them, especially the ones in the hookers and cocaine demographic, just don’t want to do that; but neither would many lesser workers. I remember standing on the roof of one of the City’s tallest buildings with another engineer, looking over the city laid out like a map before us, and him saying he just wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. He was from a small Scottish fishing village.

    So really those businesses, the financial sectors, they’d have to move en bloc to a “New London” or a “New New York”, taking all the rest of the city with them- the shops, music, arts, restaurants (and Pizza Hut and several thousand kebab shops)- and the costs and upheaval of that would be truly vast; so they all stay where they are, in a location that made sense a thousand or several hundred years ago.

  5. “your comment is awaiting moderation”??? I’ve never been moderate in my life!

  6. “Congress was drawing straight line States long before railroads became important.”…. Well, yes, but only to close the boundaries left unfinished by wiggly old Nature.
    Air conditioning also had a massive effect on population shift once it became possible to live in comfort in the hottest parts of the country. And on society in general when people no longer sat on the front porch fanning themselves in rocking chairs & watching the world go by, cocooning themselves instead in refrigerated isolation whilst complaining about the cost of their electric bills.

  7. Hugo – air conditioning (as you know) made Washington D.C. inhabitable all year round. So the inventor of air conditioning has a lot to answer for.

    Ian B.

    These “bus” things of which speak.

    I have seen one – its wheels moved, it traveled.

    Yet there were no horses – nor did men pull it.

    Clearly evil sorcery was at work – there is no other logical explination.