Marc Levinson is an independent historian, economist, and author whose career has centered on making complex economic issues understandable to the general public.
He worked for many years as an economic journalist, including a turn as finance and economics editor of The Economist in London. He spent a decade as an economist for J.P. Morgan Chase, developing a unique industry economics function and then initiating the bank’s environmental research for stock and bond investors. He later served as senior fellow for international business at the Council on Foreign Relations and supervised a team of analysts advising Congress on industry and transportation issues at the Congressional Research Service. He has consulted with a number of companies and government agencies and has spoken to academic and business audiences around the world.
Marc has written for many leading publications and websites, from Time to Bloomberg.com to Harvard Business Review, Foreign Affairs, and the New York Times. He reviews books on business and history for the Wall Street Journal and also contributes to scholarly publications. His book The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, was shortlisted for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award and has been labeled one of the best business books of all time. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America won wide praise from across the political spectrum for exploring the tension between capitalism and competition in the U.S.economy and has drawn renewed attention as governments consider actions to limit the power of giant corporations. An Extraordinary Time, an unusual take on the miserable decade of the 1970s, showed how the sudden end of the postwar boom led voters in many countries to turn away from the activist government of the postwar years. Its discussion of governments’ inability to improve productivity and raise living standards has taken on new relevance as productivity has slumped following the COVID-19 pandemic. His latest book, Outside the Box, offers a lively history of globalization and presents some unorthodox ideas about its future.
Marc holds master’s degrees from Georgia State University and Princeton University and a doctorate in history from the City University of New York. He lives in Washington, DC.
The Old Globalization and the New Globalization.
Globalization isn’t dead, but it increasingly has to do more with trading ideas and services than with moving metal containers stuffed with manufactured goods. This talk will present a new way of thinking about how the world economy developed and where it’s headed.
The Box: an improbable innovation and its consequences.
As recently as the 1960s, trade in manufactured goods was an insignificant part of the world economy, largely because shipping was so expensive that many goods weren’t worth trading. The shipping container, a concept turned into reality by a trucker who knew nothing about shipping, made freight much cheaper and more reliable, contributing to a global trade boom that lowered prices, gave consumers new choices, and turned China into the world’s workshop, but destroyed jobs and decimated manufacturing centers around the world. Marc Levinson tells the remarkable story of how the container came to be and how it helped transform our lives.
Rethinking Supply Chains
Transport delays, rising costs, geopolitical tensions, and government interventions have led businesses around the world to reassess their production and distribution networks. The reshaping of supply chains is affecting consumers, industries, and national security around the world.
As consumers change the way they shop, hundreds of shopping malls have been closed or repurposed and dozens of retail chains have entered bankruptcy. But retail chaos is nothing new: retailers have always had to reinvent themselves in order to survive. Marc combines historical research and economic analysis to discuss how successful merchants have adapted to their customers’ changing tastes, and he’ll explain why, despite dire forecasts to the contrary, shoppers will patronize physical retail stores for decades to come.
Infrastructure in the 21st Century
Creaky railways, crumbling highways, overburdened ports, unreliable electrical systems: many countries have long underinvested in infrastructure. At the same time, though, some places arguably have too much infrastructure, burdening maintenance budgets while providing modest benefits. This talk will cut through the political posturing surrounding infrastructure to show why more isn’t always better, how private investment sometimes — but not always — leads to more sensible choices, and how the public (and the press) can judge whether money is being spent wisely.
Can There Be a Productivity Comeback?
The world’s economic growth is slowing down, especially in the wealthiest countries, with serious social consequences. The cause: despite smartphones, electric cars, and miraculous medicines, improvements in workers’ productivity have been increasingly hard to come by. As I laid out in my book An Extraordinary Time, economists know distressingly little about productivity, and politicians have no handy measures to improve it. This talk will look at the productivity slump in historical context and consider some ways out. Living standards are stagnating in many parts of the world, fueling social and political discontent. The cause: despite smartphones, electric cars, and miraculous medicines, improvements in workers’ productivity have been increasingly hard to come by, holding down economic growth and depressing incomes. Can anything be done? As I laid out in my book An Extraordinary Time, economists know distressingly little about productivity and economists have no surefire measures to improve it. This talk will look at the productivity slump in historical context and consider how we might reverse it.