America used to be a cargo shipping giant. What happened?

America's cargo fleet has dropped from 16% of the world's fleet to 0.2%

Hello all!

For this week’s MODES, I plugged into my undergraduate history degree and hit the (online) archives. I sought to answer one question: Where did America’s cargo fleet go?

When maritime historian Salvatore Mercogliano told me on the phone earlier this week about the practically-vanished American cargo fleet, it felt like a story worth further digging. I attempted to consolidate my days of research into this 1,300 story, which you can enjoy here and is hopefully a more pleasant read than anything I wrote in college.

The big ideas:

  • It’s very hard to make a profit in shipping, so many countries significantly subsidize their cargo operators.

  • The US used to provide such subsidies, but stopped in the 1980s.

  • This mirrors our lack of investment into our ports. Many port operators have to compete for state or local funding, rather than having access to federal port subsidies.

  • Many of our current ports can’t fit recently-built ships. The typical cargo ship delivered today has increased five-fold in size since 1990.

  • What’s more, the federal government is currently investigating overseas ship operators for not playing far at US ports. Some claim they don’t move American exports, as it’s quicker to just move empty containers.

Give it a read and send me your thoughts at

A lively LinkedIn debate

Last week’s MODES, called “Why we’re in a shipping crisis,” was by far my most-read yet. Wahoo!

Many of you had interesting comments on LinkedIn, my favorite social media platform. This one was particularly good.

MODES goes primetime

Okay, it was actually 10 a.m. on a Monday, but I got a chance to speak on the shipping crisis on Yahoo! Finance. You can watch it here:

See ya next week!

— Rachel