Malcom McLean, containerization and entrepreneurship

Originally published in The Review of Austrian Economics

Does the entrepreneurial market process reflect an equilibrating or disequilibrating tendency in the allocation of resources? We address this question by utilizing the case of Malcom McLean, who pioneered and introduced container shipping to international trade. We argue that Schumpeterian and Kirznerian entrepreneurship are distinct, yet complementary activities that drive the market process towards an equilibrating tendency. By realizing containerization as a lower cost method of shipping goods internationally, we argue that McLean acted simultaneously as a Schumpeterian and Kirznerian entrepreneur, illustrating that these two notions of entrepreneurship are different segments of the same equilibrating market process. Containerization had a disruptive effect on previous methods of ocean shipping, but its adoption was introduced through an act of arbitrage, namely by redeploying existing resources, such as cranes, ships, ports, and storage facilities from lower-valued uses to perceived higher-valued uses. In the process, McLean was able to realize previously unnoticed profit opportunities by correcting previously existing inefficiencies in intermodal transport.


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