18 February 2011
The return of Concorde - as a spaceship?
Brian Micklethwait

On Wednesday of this week, both Michael Jennings and I attended a talk given by James C Bennett at the IEA, organised by the Economic Policy Centre, about private sector space development.  I was curious about where the money is either now being made in space, or is about to be made, and asked about that.  Military espionage, communications satellites, tourism, and (eventually - but how soon?) mining the solar system for physical stuff, right?

Nearly.  It will be some time before off-earth mining gets seriously going.  But the big immediate omission from that list turned out to be: transport!


Basically, low earth orbit is an economically rational way to do what Concorde did but failed to do rationally.  Getting money-no-object business execs, and high value cargo like urgent legal documents, from A to B in two hours rather than six or ten, basically.  I had assumed that the only people who would soon be “going into space” would be doing this purely for the fun of it.  Not so.  No need to land where you took off from.  Why not go somewhere?

Very fast.

21 January 2011
Açu Superport
Rob Fisher

The Açu Superport is a big port in Brazil. And it’s private. We’re not used to such things being private in the UK.

Located in São João da Barra, in the north of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the Açu Superport is a private mixed-use port terminal that will have 10 docking berths; four for iron ore, two for oil-handling, one for coal and three for steel products, slag, granite and pig iron. With a depth of 18.5 metres, reaching 21 meters in a second stage, the Superport will have a bridge 2.9 kilometers long and will allow the mooring of Capesize vessels with capacities up to 220,000 tonnes. The port has great potential for the Oil and Gas industry due to its proximity to the Campos Basin.

The project is currently under construction and is scheduled to begin operations in 2012.

It’s being built by Brazil’s richest man.

Eike Batista, a mining mogul and Brazil’s richest man, dreamed up the idea for the Acu Superport because he was fed up with the delays in getting iron ore from his mines onto ships bound for China.


“Brazil is a gigantic opportunity to arbitrage inefficiencies,” he said.

That mindset gives me a sense of how he got to be so rich. And he gets things done:

A logistics corridor of 45 km, consisting of transmission lines, water, gas and telecom pipelines, railroad and highway, will connect the Açu Superport to the city of Campos. his logistics corridor will be able to handle up to 100 thousand vehicles per day, equivalent to 36 hours of traffic leaving Rio across the Rio-Niterói Bridge.

The port is for trading with China. The BBC has an unsurprisingly negative attitude.

A recent study found that more than 80% of Brazil’s manufactured exports are being adversely affected by competition from China.

That is a real danger to the Brazilian economy because mining and commodities are not very labour intensive. The bulk of the Brazilian workforce is employed in manufacturing industries.

The problem is that, natural resources aside, Brazil has a similar competitive advantage to China - cheap unskilled labour.

It could be that Brazil is on its way up, and will leave its manufacturing behind like other rich countries.

28 October 2010
So what’s in those big yellow boxes?
Brian Micklethwait

One of my favourite means of transporting myself is to go for walks, in London, and in particular beside the River Thames in London.  It is surely a significant transport issue that walking alongside the Thames in London has got steadily easier as the decades have passed, as more bits of riverside path have been added to what was already there.  I would love to learn more about who exactly set this process in motion and how it has been kept going.  Clearly, nobody is allowed to build anything next to the river now without a piece of riverside walk being included, even if it will only join up with the rest of the riverside walk years later.  Is there an office where all this is “coordinated”?

As I walk along next to the river, I see things, especially things in (or should that be “on”) the river (and a lot of things go by river these days), that puzzle me.  Like this:


I’m talking, in particular, about these:


You see these all the time, being dragged up and down the river.  But what’s in them?

With the magic of computerised photos, I can take a close look at what looks like it could be a clue:


WRWA?  Indeed.  WRWA.  Western Riverside Waste Authority.  Inside all those yellow boxes is: shit, basically.

Cory Environmental Ltd, the Authority’s Waste Management Services Contractor, operate two waste transfer stations situated on the River Thames in South London; one in Wandsworth and the other in Battersea.

So now I know.

27 November 2008
The BBC Box
Rob Fisher

The BBC are tracking the journeys of a shipping container as it travels around the world.  You can look at a map and see the route taken so far.  The position is updated about once a day.  It seems to be something to do with a documentary about globalisation.  It left Southampton in early September and is now in the middle of the Pacific.  The name is inspired by the title of Marc Levinson’s book, The Box.  From the Amazon reviews it appears there is politics and controversy in the history of shipping containers; the book should be worth a read.

08 October 2008
Tariffs and Transport
Rob Fisher

On the one hand, we try to reduce the cost of transportation between England and America, or Canada and the United States, by developing faster and more efficient planes and ships, better roads and bridges, better locomotives and motor trucks.  On the other hand, we offset this investment in efficient transportation by a tariff that makes it commercially even more difficult to transport goods than it was before.  We make it a dollar cheaper to ship the sweaters, and then increase the tariff by two dollars to prevent the sweaters from being shipped.  By reducing the freight that can be profitably carried, we reduce the value of the investment in transport efficiency.

Henry Hazlitt in Economics in One Lesson.