U.S. debt producers fuel ‘Flat Earth’ economy

Prof C Explains
4 min readMay 28, 2006

by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

The port of Oakland is one of the largest in the United States. More than 750 million metric tons of goods enter this country through Oakland each year. So much is arriving that another dock was recently added so cargo could be unloaded more rapidly.

The most essential pieces of equipment to be installed at the new dock are the massive cranes that do the work of unloading the container ships. One might assume local steelworkers or a company like Link or Caterpillar would build the new cranes. But the cranes for Oakland’s new dock are constructed entirely in China and shipped fully assembled on a specially made ship.

For all practical purposes, most goods are no longer made in the United States. But I thought an American could at least get the job of making and installing the cranes at our nation’s ports.

I guess this is all just part of living on a “Flat Earth,” as journalist Thomas Friedman famously reported in his book about the wonders of globalization. It makes me wonder what we can expect next in the Flat Earth marketplace. Perhaps we can just have our stores prefabricated in China and shipped over as well.

Just imagine. Developers throughout the United States will rush to the mailbox to get their monthly BIGbox catalogs. Best Buys, Circuit Cities, Sofa Marts and Wal-Marts all available for easy purchase and quick delivery. Small, medium or large. Available in plain cinder block or fancy red brick. Simply choose the store you want, and it will be assembled, stocked and delivered to the Small Town, USA, of your choice. All you have to do is open the doors.

Who knows what might be possible on this new Flat Earth?

It makes me wonder what role we will play in this great global economy if we are not producing goods, oil or other products? Well, it took me a bit — I am still getting used to living on flat land — but I think I figured it out. Our role is to produce debt. And we do a hell of a good job of it.

Debt is one of our main exports. China ships us goods, and we ship them Treasury bonds. In the “round” world, we used to call this a trade deficit. Regardless of what it might be called in the Flat World, you will be proud to know we have the biggest trade deficit in the world, more than $700 billion a year. Yes, we are leading the world in debt production.

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Prof C Explains

J Scott Christianson: UM Teaching Prof, Technologist & Entrepreneur. Connect with me here: https://www.christiansonjs.com/