Labor and Energy Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 1st, 2013

Economics 101

If you want to Destroy an Industry and Kill Jobs all you have to do is Raise the Cost of Labor

What happened to American manufacturing?  The Industrial Revolution swept through the United States and made America an industrial superpower.  By the beginning of the 20th century the United States became the world’s number one economic power.  Immigrants poured into this country for those manufacturing jobs.  Even though some of these jobs may have come out of a Dickens novel.  Because being able to eat had it all over starving to death.  And in America, with a good factory job, you could put food on your family’s table.

Most of those manufacturing jobs are gone now.  Why?  What happened to the once booming textile industry?  The once booming steel industry?  The once booming automotive industry?  Unions happened to them.  That’s what.  These jobs were so horrible and unfit for humans that unions stepped in and organized them.  But the jobs never got better.  Based on the ever more generous union contracts they kept demanding.  Increasing the cost of labor more and more.  Which chased the textile industry out of the country.  And much of the steel and automotive industries as well.

Is there anything we can learn from this?  Yes.  If you want to destroy an industry, if you want to kill jobs, if you want to damage the economy, all you have to do is raise the cost of labor.  The largest cost to most businesses.  Which is why many businesses have been replacing people with machines.  Advanced machines.  Computer-controlled machines.  Robots.  Because they can work 24/7.  They’re never late.  Never hung over.  Never out sick.  They don’t take lunch.  And they will work as fast as possible without ever complaining.  This is why businesses like machines.  For they let them lower their costs.  Making them competitive.  So they can sell at prices lower than their competitors.  Allowing them to remain in business.

Uncompetitive American Manufacturers go to Emerging Economies where they can be Competitive

Labor is a big cost of business.  Especially in an advanced economy.  With a high standard of living.  Where people own houses and cars.  Where those houses have central heat, air conditioning, televisions, sound systems, kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, etc.  These things cost money.  Requiring paychecks that can afford these things.  As well as pay for clothes, groceries, gasoline, utilities, etc.  Common things in an advanced economies.  But not all that common in an emerging economy.  Where factory workers aren’t accustomed to those things yet.  And don’t demand paychecks that can pay for those things.  Yet.

Still, people in developing economies flock to the new factories.  For even though they are paid far less than their counterparts in advanced economies these factory jobs are often the highest paying jobs in their countries.  And those who have these jobs have a higher standard of living than those who don’t.  Even when the occasional factory burns to the ground or collapses killing everyone inside.  As sad as that is.  But if you want to eat and provide for your family these factories often offer the best opportunity.

So this is where American manufacturing jobs go to.  Where labor costs are lower.  Allowing business to stay competitive.  Because if they can’t be competitive no one will buy what they are selling.  And without any revenue they won’t be able to pay their suppliers.  Their employees.  Or their energy costs.  Another large cost of business.  Especially for manufacturers.

Unions and Regulatory Costs haven’t made Emerging Economies Uncompetitive Yet

A lot of houses today come with a 200-amp electric service.  Assuming a house uses about 100 amps on average that comes to 24,000 watts (100 amps X 240 volts).  Now consider a large manufacturing plant.  Like an automotive assembly plant.  That can have anywhere around 8 double-ended unit substations.  Which are pieces of electrical distribution equipment to feed all of the electrical loads inside the plant.  Each substation has two 13,800 volt 3-phase primary electrical services.  If you’re looking at one you will see the following from left to right.  A 600-amp, 15,000 volt switch, a transformer to step down the 13,800 voltage to 480 voltage, a 480-volt main switch, a bunch of 480-volt switches to feed the electrical loads in the plant, a ‘tie’ switch, another bunch of 480-volt switches, another 480-volt main switch another transformer and another 600-amp switch.

The key to a double-ended unit substation are the two 480-volt main switches and the tie switch.  Which normally distributes the connected electric load over the two primary services.  With both 480-volt main switches closed.  And the tie switch open.  If one service fails because a car knocks down a cable pole these switches will sense the loss of that service.  The 480-volt switch on the side of the failed service will open.  And the tie switch will close.  Feeding both sides of the unit substation on the one live primary service.  So each primary service carries half of the connected load.  Or one primary service carries the full connected load.  Assuming each unit substation uses 600 amps on average (2 services at 300 amps or 1 service at X 600 amps) that comes to approximately 13,194,070 watts (600 amps X 13,800 volts X √3 X .92 PF).  Where we multiply by the square-root of 3 because it is three phase.  And assume a 0.92 power factor.  If a plant has 8 unit substations that comes to 105,552,562 watts.  Which equals approximately 4,398 houses with a 200 amp service.  Now to further our crude mathematical approximations let’s take a typical electric bill for a house.  Say $175 on average per month.  If we multiply this by 4,398 that comes to a monthly electric bill for this manufacturer of about $769,654.  Or $9,235,849 per year.

So here is another way to destroy an industry, kill jobs and damage the economy.  By increasing the cost of electric power.  Which is already a very large cost of business.  And ‘going green’ will make it even more costly.  As the Obama administration wants to do.  With their war on coal.  The cheapest source of electric power we have.  By increasing regulations on coal-fired power plants.  Even implementing some kind of a carbon tax.  To punish these carbon emitters.  And to subsidize far more costly green energies.  Such as solar.  And wind.  Going from the least costly to the most costly electric power will greatly increase a business’ electric utility costs.  Easily adding 15%.  30%.  40%.  Or more.  A 40% increase in our example would increase the electric utility cost by $3,694,340 each year.  If a plant has 1,200 workers that’s like adding another $3,000 per worker.  And we’ve seen what higher labor costs have done to companies like General Motors.  Chrysler.  And the textile industry.  By the time you add up all of these new regulatory costs (Obamacare, green energy, etc.) businesses will be so uncompetitive that they will have to follow the textile industry.  Out of the country.  To a country that will let them be competitive.  Such as an emerging economy.  Where unions and regulatory costs haven’t made them uncompetitive.  Yet.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #20: “It is never a consumer that complains about ‘predatory’ pricing.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 29th, 2010

LOW PRICES.  GOD help me, I do hate them so.  I hate them with every fiber of my body.

Who says this?  Do you?  I don’t.  Of all the times I’ve spent shopping, I have never heard anyone bitch about low prices.  I’ve heard people bitch about high prices.  But never about low prices.  When gas approached $3/gallon, people bitched about that being too high and drove 10 miles to find ‘cheap’ gas to save a few pennies per gallon.  Let it approach $4/gallon and they’ll want Congress to take action.  To attack Big Oil.  To seize their oil and their profits and give us cheap gasoline in return.  But when gas was cheap, no one ever bitched about it being ‘too’ cheap.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  People bitch about high prices.  Not low prices.

So who bitches about low prices?  Competitors.  There’s a saying that competition makes everything better.  And it does.  It lowers prices.  And raises quality.  And who is looking for lower prices and higher quality?  Consumers.  Who isn’t?  Competitors.  Especially competitors with political connections.

WHEN THE BIG 3 were putting out crap in the 1970s, they did so because they could.  I mean, who else were you going to buy a car from?  So what if your car breaks down and the fenders and quarter panels rust away?  That just means you gotta buy another car sooner rather than later.  A pretty sweet deal.  Especially when there are only three places to go to buy a car.  And each of the Big 3 is selling the same crap.

Then the Japanese had to go and ruin a good thing.  They started selling cars in America.  These cars were smaller than your typical American car.  But there were other differences.  They didn’t rust like the American cars.  They didn’t break down as much.  And the imports were cheaper than the American cars.  Lower price and higher quality.  More bang for the buck.  Exactly what consumers were demanding.

So what was the response of the Big 3?  Did they rise to the level of their new competitors and deliver what the consumer wanted?  No.  They ran to government for help.  For protection.  And they got it.  Voluntary Export Restraints (VER).  The government negotiated with the Japanese to ‘voluntarily’ limit the number of cars they exported to the United States.  Or else.  So they did.  To avoid worse protectionist policies.  Problem solved.  Competition was limited.  And the Big 3 were very profitable in the short run.  Everyone lived happily ever after.  Until the Japanese refused to play nice.

The problem was what the Big 3 did with those profits.  Or, rather, what they didn’t do with them.  They didn’t reinvest them to raise themselves up to the level of the Japanese.  Protected, they saw no incentive to change.  Not when you have Big Government on your side.  And how did that work for them?  Not good. 

So look, the Japanese said, the Americans like our cars.  If the American manufacturers won’t give them what they want, we will.  While honoring the VER.  We won’t export more cars.  We’ll just build bigger and better cars to export.  And they did.  The Big 3 were no longer up against inexpensive, higher quality subcompacts on the fringe of their market share.  Now their mid-size and large-size cars had competition.  And this wasn’t on the fringe of their market share.  This was their bread and butter.  What to do?  Build better cars and give Americans more bang for their buck?  Or run to government again?  What do you think?

The Big 3 assaulted the Japanese under the guise of ‘fair trade’.  The cry went out that unless the Japanese opened up their markets to American imports (in particular auto parts), we should restrict Japanese imports.  To protect American jobs.  To protect the American worker.  To protect the children.  This was code for please make the Japanese cars more unattractive to purchasers so they will settle for the more costly and lower quality cars we’re making.  (Let’s not forget the reason Americans were buying the Japanese cars in the first place).

The Japanese response?  They took it up a notch.  They entered the luxury markets.  They launched Acura, Lexus and Infiniti.  They competed against Cadillac and Lincoln.  And well.  The quality was so good they even affected the European luxury imports.  More attacks followed.  Americans were losing their jobs.  Soon there would be no more American manufacturing left in the country.  So the Japanese built plants in America.  And Americans were now building the Japanese cars.  The Japanese actually created American jobs.

SON OF A BITCH!  So much for the loss of American jobs.  The Japanese threw a wrench in that argument.  So now the argument became about the loss of ‘high paying’ American jobs.  For the Japanese plants were non-union.  Didn’t matter that their workers were making better pay and benefits than many in their region.  No.  What mattered was that they were building a better product.  And they didn’t want THESE jobs in America.  But if they couldn’t get rid of these new workers, they should at least unionize them so their cars cost more.  To make them a little less appealing to the American consumer.  So far they have been unsuccessful in this endeavor.  The workers are happy as they are.

Well, these cars just weren’t going away.  So the Americans surrendered car manufacturing to the Japanese.  They couldn’t beat them.  (Of course, it’s hard to do that when you don’t even try).  They, instead, focused on the higher profit truck and SUV markets.  Then the Japanese entered those markets.  And at every level they competed with the Americans, the Japanese gave more bang for the buck.  And the consumers responded.  With their hard-earned wages.  It just wasn’t fair.  The Japanese kept giving the American consumer a better product.  No matter what political action the Big 3 took or demanded.

And there’s the problem.  They sought their answers from government.  Instead of making a better car.  They wanted to stop the Japanese from giving the American consumer what they wanted so they could force Americans to pay more for less.  All the while the economy was forcing the majority of consumers to get by on less (the majority of consumers do not have the wage and benefit package the ‘select’ few had in the Big 3). 

Fast forward to 2008 and we see the ultimate consequence of their actions.  Bankruptcy.  GM and Chrysler had to grovel for a federal bailout and in the process become Washington’s bitch.  Ford survived on her own.  As did the Japanese.  You can bitch all you want about costs, but if you have the revenue you can pay your costs.  And the Americans just couldn’t sell enough cars to maintain the revenue they needed for their cost structure.  By refusing to address the core problem (they weren’t making cars Americans wanted to buy), they only made their competition stronger and more entrenched in the U.S. market.

IT’S ALL POLITICS.  Political cronyism.  And crony capitalism.  It all comes down to political spoils and patronage.  That’s what happens when politics enter capitalism.  Big Business partners with Big Government and they enter into relationships.  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back.  But when government protects a business for political expediency, the industry suffers in the long run.  As the U.S. automobile industry has.  Ditto for the U.S. textile industry.  And the U.S. steel industry.

So what goes wrong?  When you protect an industry you insulate it from market forces.  You can build crap.  The problem is, consumers don’t buy crap.  So, for awhile, politics intervene and makes the crap more favorable.  Whether it’s predatory pricing, monopolistic pricing or collusion, business can’t win.  Big Government is there.  If your prices are too low, government will intervene.  If prices are too high, government will intervene.  If prices are too similar, government will intervene.  To make things ‘fair’.  And by fair they mean to reward those who play the game and to punish those who don’t.  And the spoils go to those large voting blocs they need.  And in return for their votes, they can count on patronage.  Government jobs.  Political positions.  Favorable legislation and regulation.  If you got the vote out, you were rewarded quite nicely. 

And consumers be damned. .

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