Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Launching A Different Kind of Bailout.

Clemson Class World War I
Shipbuilding program 1930's

Farragut class on review

Benson class

Benson-Gleaves Destroyers

By now everyone who is cognisant of current events knows that President Bush moved to loan tax dollars to GM and Chrysler in an effort to prop them up long enough to get a recovery plan implemented. Blog friend Dan at had to say about the plan in Bush Bails out the UAW.

Dan begins:

I don’t doubt that the UAW bailout is good party politics; it forces then-President Obama (a Democrat) to decide between continuing yet another unpopular Bush policy or throwing yet more loyal supporters under the bus. It’s just bad for America.

And today, he has this to say in this post Bush bails out unions: Will Obama invest in the future?

Even though our current President chose bailing out unions and electric vehicles, startups, solar power, and building electric vehicles that would revolutionize logistics in the army, we get the same GM+UAW team that has hurt us so much.
Hopefully President-Elect Obama will be brave enough to stand up to
ignorant and misguided environmentalists, and continue to support both ethanol, biodiesel, and other alternatives to gasoline.

I am sceptical of the ability of GM and Chrysler to have the guts or the UAW to have the decency to make the cuts to be able to make the product competitive. While pondering this end run around the will of the people as to how their tax dollars are spent I read something from Galrahn at Information Dissemination. His suggestion at first could be understood as a call by a naval centric website for more money to be devoted to shipbuilding. Don't Bail Out Automakers, Invest in Shipbuilding.

Gahrahn begins:

Canada is discussing an interesting idea for an economic stimulus package, they are directing money directly into shipbuilding programs as part of the package. I'm personally not a big fan of government stimulus packages, they don't work very well normally because bureaucracy gets in the way of building effective packages. The New Deal was a good example. As an often politicized project to stimulate the economy during a depression, depending upon your politics one can find arguments suggesting it was critical to the country overcoming the economic challenges of the time, or it was a failure because it prolonged the depression. Such massive government investment projects are never as simple as the political rhetoric allowed, a more detailed review notes some of it worked, some of it didn't.

What didn't work was investment in the service sector. If you look at spending as a tree, the services sector becomes a stick, output with no tangible product that builds larger networks of economic growth. The New Deal investments in manufacturing on the other hand tell a different story, that tree branches out in a number of ways as a manufacturing facility networks with suppliers, subcontractors, and science to produce products. In many way the manufacturing investments of the new deal led to high production rates and more efficiency, was successful in building economic stimulus across several sectors, and ultimately put the US in position to be highly competitive industrially just as WWII arrived. The New Deal sealed the deal for the United States before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

He closes with this:

I'd rather invest $35 billion into shipbuilding over the next 4-8 years of the Obama administration fixing that industry to be globally competitive than spending the same amount just to keep the automobile manufacturers in Michigan on life support for another year. The Coast Guard has extremely old ships is stretched thin right now, and could use the investment towards homeland security. The Navy has not retooled since the cold war, and is shrinking at an extraordinary rate.

In a time of global climate change on a planet covered 70% with water, in a time where the world will soon be competing for fresh water, in a time when the worlds population is growing at a huge rate but most people live in the littorals, and as world trade by sea has become the lifeblood of the global economic system it seems to me that investment in the nations maritime sector has never been more important to our long term national interest. The shipbuilding sector could also be the solution to the automobile industry problems as it relates to the workforce soon to face major cuts, after all the nation needs more than just frigates, and the need for ships like new ice breakers is just the tip of the iceberg, pun intended.

This got my history juices flowing and I decided to take a look at some of the New Deal shipbuilding that Galrahn referred too.

The follow link takes a look at Shipbuilding in San Francisco during and before World War II.

In the decade prior to 1940, America's shipyards launched only 23 ships. In the five years after 1940, American shipyards launched 4,600 ships. San Francisco Bay Area shipbuilders produced almost 45 percent of all the cargo shipping tonnage and 20 percent of warship tonnage built in the entire country during World War II. The war lasted 1,365 days. In that span of time Bay Area shipyards built 1,400 vessels--a ship a day, on average.

One pioneer Bay Area shipyard was Mare Island Naval Yard. It began with a single floating dry dock in 1854 and progressed rapidly as the only Navy yard for the Pacific Squadron and, in fact, the only repair facility on the entire Pacific Coast. In 1859, Mare Island launched its first ship, the paddlewheel wooden steamer USS Saginaw. In the years following, Mare Island Naval Yard built a score of vessels including tugs, colliers, barges, gunboats and, in 1883, the cruiser USS Mohican.

Compared to the big shipyards on the East Coast at Philadelphia and New York, San Francisco Bay's shipbuilding industry was minuscule in the early years of the 20th century. How was it possible that from this modest beginning, San Francisco Bay would emerge in World War II as an industrial giant? How was it possible to build so many ships in so little time? First and most vital was a nationwide commitment to win the war. All available resources were dedicated to that end. Industrial leaders and politicians had the good sense to recognize that only through cooperation could total victory be achieved. As a result, World War II shipbuilding was perhaps the greatest combined effort of government and private industry in the Nation's history.
The Bay Area was fortunate in one respect; two major local shipyards, Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation and Moore Dry Dock Company, had gained valuable experience in large-scale rapid production during World War I, and had on hand core management and labor groups when needed for World War II. Lessons learned during the first wartime shipbuilding program (1917-1922) had demonstrated to management what to do and what not to do. These two yards had long histories in steel shipbuilding and had managed to survive the depression years of the 1930s, a period when American shipbuilding all but ceased. In addition to these yards,
Mare Island Naval Shipyard and Hunters Point Dry Docks provided well-established repair and shipbuilding facilities when the need arose. Navy contracts in the 1930s kept Mare Island capable of producing modern warships.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the administration of Woodrow Wilson. He developed a life long love affair with the Navy that allowed him to incorporate shipbuilding into his New Deal projects and prepare the Navy for the growing threats from Germany and Japan in the 1930's.

Just one area where this program was most apparent was in building new classes of destroyers to replace the large classes built during World War I. These early ships were known as "Four Stacker's" made up of the following classes, Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson.

Roosevelt began a new program to encourage the building a new class of destroyers. Ten classes and three sub-classes were designed and built in civilian and navy yards during the 1930's. A list of those ships reveal how each class was an attempt to improve on the last. Farragut, Porter, Mahan, Somers, Gridley, Bagley,, Benham, Sims, Benson, Gleaves (including Livermore and Bristol). New designs and weapons designed to preform the duel roles of surface and air defence. By December 7, 1941 most of the ships in these classes were either on patrol or would join the fleet in 1942.

To echo Galrahn's suggestion that we invest in shipbuilding programs is a wise one. The lessons about ship design and new propulsion systems is virgin territory that given the cost of fuel and environmental concerns can stimulate our nation and provide much needed jobs. The shipbuilding does not have to be all defense oriented, in fact shipbuilding techniques pioneered by American shipyards were copied and improved upon by shipyards in emerging nations like Japan, Korea and Taiwan after World War II.
From the keyboard of Galrahn at Information Dissemination, comes this further comment about shipbuilding.


Anonymous said...

Bro, you know how to tug at a tin-can-sailors heart. Great article and fantastic photos. The Destroyers of WWII were used in many types of configurations and missions.

HISTORYGUY99 said...

Hi Bro,

Thanks for the comment. I knew you would appreciate this post.