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Having Your Cake and Eating It: Panama and Us

by Christopher Chantrill
February 11, 2014 at 12:00 am


PANAMA CITY Here in Panama City the world is coming to an end as work stops on the Canal de Panama expansion. There’s an argument over $1.6 billion to complete the job. According to Dan Molinski in the Wall Street Journal the problem is that the Panamanians awarded the expansion contract to a consortium that bought the job. According to the guy on the canal tour boat, the Spanish construction firm that got the bid always underbids, and usually gets away with it.

But not this time, according to the tour guide, because Panamanians have principles. If the consortium won’t do the job, Panama can get the insurance company to pay up and continue with the project on its own, if that’s what it takes.

Of course, the rest of the time the tour guide is innocently telling us how canal pilots have a way of humiliating ship captains, how canal tariffs are carefully set up not just by weight but by cargo value, how a ship can reserve a transit a year and a half in advance by paying a non-refundable premium price in advance, and how if you miss their reservation, you are out of luck. How ordinary ships unwilling to pay premium prices get to idle a day or two at each end of the canal before getting the call to enter the canal.

In other words, we are talking about the shocking situation that Matthew Josephson emoted about eighty years ago in The Robber Barons. The Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Goulds, you remember, looted the channels of commerce like the “barons of the crags” on the old trade routes across the Alps. What an outrage, wrote son-of-a-banker Josephson in the 1930s on his return from a youth with the ex-pat generation in 1920s Paris.

Today in Panama they are living The Return of the Robber Barons. You wanna cut two weeks off your voyage round the Horn? Then pay your $100,000 to get your Panamax ship (965 ft length x 106 ft width) through the canal in good time. Otherwise go wait your turn. Here’s a Panamax ship that paid its bill exiting the Miraflores lock with a healthy 2 feet clearance between the ship and the wall.

But Panama is shocked, outraged, in true Casablanca fashion, that the Spanish construction firm is playing the same game with them. How Could They try to game their construction contract the way that the Panamanians game the transit tariffs on the canal?

I’d say principles be damned: it would be a good idea for Panama to get the canal expansion finished and paid for before the Chinese get started on their proposed Nicaragua canal, and the Mexicans get moving on their NAFTA super-highway that is planned to connect Chicago with a Mexican port on the Pacific, because then the Panama Canal won’t be the only game in town.

Of course, I am not writing this merely to rag on the Panamanians. I am doing it to shine a light on our own barons of the crags, the Americans born on third base that think they scored a triple.

No, I am not talking about George W. Bush. I am talking about the liberals, the intelligent, the educated, the evolved ones: the ones that gave us Obamacare, by the Great Society out of the New Deal: the dreadful bloodline of big government programs that only makes things worse. They are the ones that tell us what to think and do, but not as they think and do.

There they sit, in their tenured sinecures at the university, pontificating about greed, while committing the great injustice of the age that fetters young people with unconscionable student debt. There they sit, in their rotting media plantations, drinking the dregs of the Big Media age, while comforting the comfortable in the Obama administration, and afflicting the afflicted that just lost their health insurance. Hey kid, you’re a free agent now!

How Could They claim to worship science that know nothing about science? How could they blather away about Keynesianism that know nothing about economics? How Could They lash cowed conservatives with the cowskin whips of racist accusation that base their whole politics on “identity?” How Could They claim the right to regulate business that never for a moment worked in the private sector? How Could They bury working people in a miasma of payroll taxes on the pretext that, someday, they will have a “right” to benefits? How Could They waste the national credit on buying votes instead of using it to protect and defend.

No less than the Panamanians, our ruling liberals practice exactly what they deplore in others. How Could They?

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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