Saturday, June 24, 2006

THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT THE PANAMA CANAL

I read this article called What Roosevelt Took. It was an economic analysis of the benefits to the Panamanians of the Panama Canal. As I am sure nonody will be surprised to learn, the canal did not really benefit the Panamanians at all. Nevertheless, there were some interesting tidbits in the article. For instance:

People no less famous than Alexander von Humboldt, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Alexandre Gustav Eiffel were interested in building a canal in Central America. It took Theodore Roosevelt to steal Panama and have the canal built.

When the Columbian government (which owned Panama at the time) rejected a U.S. offer regarding the building of a canal, the aforementioned Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as calling the Columbians “blackmailers,” “homicidal corruptionists,”
and “cut-throats,” ending with, “You could no more make an agreement with the Colombian rulers than you could nail currant jelly to a wall.” Currant jelly? Why currant jelly? Why not cherry, or grape, or strawberry? Are they easier to nail to a wall?

The Panama Canal cost $302 million to build in 1903-1914. That was calculated in the article to be $4.4 billion in 2004 dollars. The cost overruns on the canal were by about a factor of 2.1, which is to say that the Panama Canal cost just more than twice as much as estimated. The article put this in context by comparing it with other cost overruns, including, "the Erie Canal (1.5), Hoover Dam (1.1), or BART (1.6), although Panama Canal cost overruns did compare favorably to the Big Dig (5.2 and counting)." Thank God for the Big Dig, which will be the basis for all comparative cost overruns from now on.

Finally, it is not in the article, but M at work once mentioned to me that "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama" is a palindrome. And so it is.

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