Editor's Note: Jon D. Markman writes a weekly column for CNBC on MSN Money that is republished here on
Globalization is responsible for a lot of great things: Higher incomes for fast-growing middle classes in Asia, cheaper consumer electronics in the U.S., markets for energy in the Middle East, a shorter workweek in Europe and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in Kuwait.
But what is responsible for globalization? Is it an improvement in entrepreneurs' ability to finance emerging markets' factories? The liberalization of command-driven economies in formerly despotic countries? A stroke of luck?
I would suggest that a lot of the credit can be given to the standardized shipping container -- those 40-foot-long boxes you see on the decks of oceangoing ships, on rail-car flatbeds and on truck trailers. Without agreement among the world's manufacturing and freight-forwarding giants on the size and shape of a common box, getting iPods and chairs and auto parts from Shanghai to Seattle and Scotland would be crazy-expensive, not to mention a huge hassle.
Lines in the Shipping Lanes
Shipping those containers seems like an easy task, but the ability to do so is actually something in great demand and low supply these days. To give you an idea of how constricted the supply of all those containers has been this year, consider that the Baltic Exchange's dry-freight index -- a composite of prices for shipping all sorts of "dry" things, such as commodities and containers -- hit a record high of 6,250 this week. It's up a whopping 40% this year alone.