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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Faced with Unpleasant Austerity Spain follows Greece’s Lead and Riots in the Streets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2012

Week in Review

The Eurozone is suffering the consequences of their social democracies.  Their cradle-to-the-grave welfare state.  And huge governments full of government jobs.  Paying nice salaries and benefits.  Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy because of their out of control spending.  And when they try to rein in that spending the people take to the streets in violent protest.  Making it very hard for the government to take back some of the free stuff they’ve been giving out to buy their votes.  And making it ever harder to avoid bankruptcy.  Now it’s Spain’s turn (see Spain Unions On Strike Over Austerity Plans by Robert Nisbet posted 3/30/2012 on Sky News).

Scores of Spanish workers have been arrested after protesting on a day of anger over a swingeing austerity drive and changes to labour laws…

In scenes reminiscent of anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece, tens of thousands held protest marches in Madrid and other cities…

There is widespread anger at moves by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government – which is not yet 100 days old – to slash Spain’s debt and boost the economy.

Spain’s biggest unions called the 24-hour strike over labour reforms which make it cheaper and easier for companies to lay people off and cut wages without consultation.

The government claims they are needed to tackle the 22.85% jobless rate, which is predicted to rise to almost 24.3% this year…

The government is under pressure to reduce its budget deficit, which last year ballooned to 8.51% of all the goods and services produced by Spain.

The European Union says this must be reduced to 5.3% this year and 3% in 2013 but economists warn that growth in Spain is so sluggish and debt so high, it will be a tough deadline to meet.

There is good reason for nervousness in the Eurozone. Unlike Greece and Portugal, Spain is deemed too big to bail and British banks are also heavily exposed to Spanish debt.

With unemployment running at 50% among young Spaniards and, as a member of the Eurozone, no monetary levers to pull, the government in Madrid says it has little choice but to wield the axe once again.

Peak unemployment in the U.S. during the Great Depression was about 25%.  So Spain is enduring Great Depression unemployment.  That’s bad.  What’s worse is that those who can be the most violent in their discontent, the young, suffer from 50% unemployment.  Filling them with discontent.  And a lot of free time on their hands.  Never a good combination.

If Spain has a high budget deficit it can only mean one of two things.  Either their government is spending too much.  Or their economy cannot generate sufficient tax revenue from their tax structure.  Either taxes aren’t high enough.  Or taxes are too high and they dampen economic activity thus reducing tax revenue.  With those high unemployment numbers, though, the smart money is on ‘they’re spending too much’.  Both the government.  And the employers.  Where the unions are holding the cost of labor (wages and benefits) so high that it’s too costly to hire more employees.  Whereas if the market set wages and benefits these costs would come down to reflect that large surplus of labor out there.  And the people who want jobs could get jobs.

The problem with these social democracies is that they are anti-business.  They favor the public sector over the private sector.  But you can’t keep beating up on the private sector.  Because they pay the taxes that fund the public sector.  A lot of that unemployment no doubt are government workers they let go to meet their Eurozone requirements.  And there are probably a lot more to follow.  If they reduce the cost of labor in the private sector the private sector will be able to absorb these people.  And as the private sector grows and becomes more productive more people will be paying taxes.  And they will be able to bring down those massive budget deficits. 

But if they don’t bring down labor costs or cut government spending, hello Greece.  Which they are currently experiencing in the streets of Spain.  Which, incidentally, is the path the U.S. is currently on.


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Economic Recovery Requires less Keynesian Spending and more Cutting the Cost of Employment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 26th, 2011

The Structural Defect in Keynesian Economics is that Sustained Inflation Creates Asset Bubbles that Must Burst

More bad news for the housing market.  And the American economy (see New-home sales fell in August for 4th month by Derek Kravitz posted 9/26/2011 on the Associated Press).

Sales of new homes fell to a six-month low in August. The fourth straight monthly decline during the peak buying season suggests the housing market is years away from a recovery…

New-homes sales are on pace for the worst year since the government began keeping records a half century ago…

Last year was also the fifth straight year that sales have fallen. It followed five straight years of record highs, when housing was booming.

The housing market is bad.  There’s no denying that.  And this affects everyone.  Not just homeowners.  Because where the housing market goes the economy follows.

While new homes represent less than one-fifth of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Jobs and taxes.  Both of which the government is having trouble generating these days.  That’s why they are desperately trying to stimulate the housing market with all that easy monetary policy.  Getting interest rates to their lowest in years.  If not of all time.  Because new houses equals jobs.  And tax revenue.  Especially when housing values increase over time.

Home prices have dropped more since the recession started, on a percentage basis, than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It took 19 years for prices to fully recover after the Depression.

But not so much when they don’t.

Worse than the Great Depression.  Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

One of the missions of the Federal Reserve was to prevent another Great Depression.  In particular, preventing a devastating deflationary spiral.  Such as we’re seeing in home prices now.  Looks like they’ve failed.  Or rather, Keynesian Economics has failed.

The problem is the dependence on Keynesian Economics.  Which uses monetary policy to maintain economic growth.  By having permanent but ‘sustainable’ inflation.  But the structural defect in this model is that sustained inflation creates asset bubbles.  As people bid up the prices of these assets.  Like houses prior to the subprime mortgage crisis.  And when these bubbles burst these asset prices have to fall back to market levels.  Like house prices are doing right now.  And apparently will do for another 19 years.  Give or take.

It is the High Cost of Labor that is Hurting the Advanced Economies

Manufacturing has been better than the housing market.  But it’s not looking too promising right now (see U.S. manufacturing slowdown: 4 cities at most risk posted 9/26/2011 on CNN Money).

U.S. manufacturing has been one of the rare bright spots in an otherwise annoyingly slow economic recovery…

But expectations of slower growth could threaten the rebound and cities that have gained from it. The ongoing European debt crisis and efforts to curb worries over inflation in China have analysts predicting lower demand for everything from American-made electronics to machinery.

U.S. manufacturing grew 6% during the economic recovery after declining 13% following the financial crisis in 2007. IHS Global Insight economist Tom Runiewicz says the industry has grown 4.5% so far this year. While that’s still robust growth, he expects manufacturing growth to slow to 2.9% next year.

The American consumer may not have been buying but consumers in other countries were.  A good example of American exports is the delivery of the first Boeing 787 to ANA.  And Boeing’s 747-8, too.   Though the largest U.S. exporter, Boeing won’t be able to fix the economy alone.  Especially when they’re competing against Airbus.

It is the high cost of labor that is hurting the advanced economies.  The Europeans subsidize some of their industries to make up for this economic disadvantage.  Boeing charges Airbus with getting subsidies that lets them compete unfairly.  And Airbus, of course, accuses Boeing of the same.   To help gain a competitive edge over Airbus, Boeing wanted to expand production in South Carolina.  A right to work state.  Which the Obama administration has opposed.  In support of their union donors.

The lesson of the Boeing-Airbus rivalry is this.  They’d be able to sell more planes if they could cut their labor costs.

Listening to the Private Sector turned around the German Economy and is why they can Bail Out the Euro

Germany’s high cost of labor was crippling her economy.  BMW and Mercedes-Benz built plants in America to escape their high cost of labor.  But things are different in Germany these days.  In fact, the country is so rich that the hopes of saving the Euro common currency falls on the German economy.  The only European economy rich enough to save the Euro.  So how did they make this turnaround?  Through reforms (see Getting People Back to Work by Matt Mitchell posted 9/26/2011 on Mercatus Center at George Mason University).

Germany’s unemployment rate is only 6.2 percent today. This is pretty remarkable given the severity of the recent recession, the slow growth of Germany’s trade partners (including the U.S.) and the unfolding fiscal crisis in the Eurozone.

NPR’s Caitlin Kenney attributes Germany’s relative success to a number of reforms adopted a decade ago. Kenney reports:

To figure out how Germany got where it is today, you need to go back 10 years. In 2002, Germany looked a lot like the United States does now, they had no economic growth and their unemployment rate was 8.7 percent and climbing. The country needed help, so the top man in Germany at the time, Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, made in an emergency call to a trusted friend.

So who did he turn to?  A government bureaucrat?  Or someone from the private sector?

The friend was Peter Hartz, a former HR director whom Schroder knew from his VW days. Schroder put Hartz in charge of a commission, the mission of which was to find a way to make Germany’s labor market more flexible. The Hartz commission made it easier to hire someone for a low-paying, temporary job, a so-called “mini job”:

A mini-job isn’t that great of a deal for workers. In these jobs, they can work as many hours as the employer wants them to, but the maximum they can earn is 400 Euros per month. On the plus side, they get to keep it all. They don’t pay any taxes on the money. And they do still get some government assistance.

He went to the private sector.  To get advice of how to create jobs in the private sector.  And he listened to what they said.  The cost of labor and regulatory costs were crippling job creation.

Generous unemployment insurance and regulations that add to the cost of employment tend to make for a static, unhealthy labor market. Though designed to make life better for workers, these policies may do them more harm than good.

Listening to the private sector turned around the German economy.  Made it the dynamo it is today.  And it is why that the German economy is the only economy that can bail out the Euro.

Economic Recovery Requires New Jobs

The economy still looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  Whereas the Germans are doing so well that they may single-handedly bailout the Eurozone from their sovereign debt crisis.  And a lot of Americans are saying that should be us.  Not the bailing out the Eurozone part.  But having the ability to do that.

And that could have been us.  And should have been.  Like it used to be.  When America led the world in creating jobs.  So what happened?  The same thing that had happened in Germany.  The cost of employment grew.  And as it grew new job creation declined.

Economic recovery requires new jobs.  The Germans understood that.  And they did something about it.  So should we.  And the sooner we do the sooner we will see that economic recovery.


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