Alexis Madrigal’s “Containers” Podcast: Bringing Global Trade into Personal Context

It’s difficult to overstate the impact that global trade has had on the economy, and by proxy, our daily lives. And here at Flexport, we want to promote thought leadership related to our industry – especially when it highlights some lesser-known aspects of its background and evolution.

Following that principle, we took the opportunity to support Fusion Media Group’s podcast titled “Containers,” an 8-part audio documentary hosted by Alexis Madrigal. Throughout the documentary, Alexis uses a collection of anecdotes to explore how global trade has transformed the economy and ourselves. In doing so, he provides an insightful, in-depth perspective regarding the role that global trade has had in shaping capitalism, ushering in the world of commerce as we know it today.

New episodes are released every week, and you can subscribe & stream on SoundCloud, iTunes, or via the embedded links below. Descriptions are provided below via iTunes.

Episode 0 – Introducing Containers – 2:53

  • Containers provides an illuminating, deep, and weird look at how capitalism works now. It’s about huge ships and global trade and the work people do to bring you the stuff you buy from all over the world.

Episode 1 – Welcome to Global Capitalism – 39:42

  • Alexis Madrigal brings you the gripping story of how a new way of shipping stuff across the ocean fed the Vietnam War, destroyed America’s great port cities, and created global trade as we know it.

Episode 2 – Meet the Sailors – 25:07

  • What is life like as a modern sailor, a tiny person on a huge ship in a vast ocean? Here’s a rare look into the lives of two Filipino sailors, fresh off a trip across the Pacific Ocean. These are regular people doing heroic work to support their families. And without them, the global economic order doesn’t work.

Episode 3 – The Ships, the Tugs, and the Port – 29:30

  • You know you’ve always wanted to ride in a tugboat as it pushes around a huge cargo ship, right? Well, that’s what we do in Episode 3. We go inside working life on the San Francisco Bay to see how brutal competition among shipping companies threatens the viability of the small businesses that ply the waters. Meet a tugboat dispatcher, a skipper, and the first female captain of an American freighter. It’s a case study in how globalization works and our first look at the challenges the port faces.

Episode 4 – The Hidden Side of Coffee – 33:59

  • The coffee world has changed since Starbucks rose to prominence. Not only has the sourcing of beans acquired wine-like precision, but now there are many small, local roasters. How’d all this happen? Episode 4 brings you into the infrastructure underpinning third-wave coffee: from a Kenyan coffee auction, to a major coffee importer, to a secret coffee warehouse in San Leandro with beans from every coffee-growing nation in the world. We’re guided by Aaron Van der Groen, the green coffeebuyer for San Francisco’s legendary Ritual Coffee Roasters.

Episode 5 – The America-First Ships – 26:40

  • American companies pioneered container shipping, but now the ocean freight business is dominated by foreign firms. Thanks to the Jones Act, a 1920 law, all cargo between American ports must be carried on American-made ships, so we do still have a fleet. But the ships are old and outdated. In episode five, we explore the tragic consequences of this “America-first” trade policy, beginning with the El Faro, which sank in October 2015.
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