Henry Ford built a Strong Middle Class with Nonunion Labor

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 9th, 2014

Week in Review

President Obama’s new message is the horror of income inequality.  As his friends on Wall Street and in Hollywood make so much more money than the ‘folks’ do.  Of course, if it weren’t for his abysmal economic policies the ‘folks’ would be able to get a better-paying job.  Since he’s been president his policies have destroyed some 11,301,000 jobs (see The BLS Employment Situation Summary for December 2013 posted 1/13/2014 on PITHOCRATES).  The Affordable Care Act, new taxation, costly regulatory policies and his support for union labor all help to kill jobs.  Forcing a lot of people to work a couple of low-paying part-time jobs to pay the bills.  While his friends on Wall Street and in Hollywood have never been richer.

The economy wouldn’t as bad as it is if President Obama didn’t attack business so much.  And, instead, embraced it.  Like Henry Ford (see The Internet Is the Greatest Legal Facilitator of Inequality in Human History by Bill Davidow posted 1/28/2014 on The Atlantic).

In the past, the most efficient businesses created lots of middle class jobs. In 1914, Henry Ford shocked the industrial world by doubling the pay of assembly line workers to $5 a day. Ford wasn’t merely being generous. He helped to create the middle class, by reasoning that a higher paid workforce would be able them to buy more cars and thus would grow his business.

Yes, Henry Ford did want to pay people enough so they could afford to buy his cars.  But this did something else.  It attracted the best workers to his company.  Because of the incentive of the higher pay.  And if they were lucky enough to have gotten hired in they busted their butts so they could keep those high-paying jobs.  It was a meritocracy.  If a worker wasn’t performing they got rid of that worker.  And offered that job to another person willing to bust their butt to keep that job.

Of course, the unions changed all of that.  The Keynesians will point to Ford to justify their consumption policies (putting more money into consumers’ pockets as the be-all and end-all of their economic policies).  And NOT on how attracting the best workers with the best pay helped make Ford the most efficient.  Allowing Ford to produce cars at prices working people could afford.  Once the unions came in they decreased efficiencies.  Slowed down those assembly lines.  And raised the cost of cars.  So only unionized working people could afford them.  While most other working people had to settle on used cars.  Unless they had a relative that worked for one of the automotive companies that could give them a car at an automotive worker’s discounted price.

Surprisingly, the much-vilified Walmart probably does more to help middle class families raise their median income than the more productive Amazon. Walmart hires about one employee for every $200,000 in sales, which translates to roughly three times more jobs per dollar of sales than Amazon.

Why do some vilify Wal-Mart?  Because like Henry Ford was in the beginning they are nonunion.  Helping them not only to hire the best workers but to provide goods at a lower price so those not in a union can afford to buy them.  So Wal-Mart helps middle class families in two ways.  They help to raise the median family income.  And they allow that median family income go further.  Perhaps the greatest weapon in the arsenal to fight income inequality.  As they help those not in privileged jobs (such as a UAW job or a government job) to live as well as someone in those privileged jobs.

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In the Great Electricity-Generating Race it’s Coal by a Nose over Natural Gas with Solar Power Still in the Barn

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Natural gas is running to catch up and pass coal in the great electricity-generating race.  While solar power is struggling to win a participation ribbon (see The Huge Shift in Our Energy System That’s Happening Right Now in 1 Chart by Alexis Madrigal posted 7/13/2012 on The Atlantic).

As long as Americans have made electricity, they’ve gotten more of it from coal than from any fuel. While petroleum and natural gas have played huge roles in our energy system, coal’s been responsible for more than 65 percent of the fossil-fuel electricity we’ve generated for most of the last 50 years. (And for big chunks of the 20th century, we made half of all the electricity in this country by burning coal.)

But natural gas is in the process of overtaking coal as the top fuel in America — and fast.

There’s a reason coal dominated for so long.  And still does.  For awhile at least.  Generating electricity from coal is more efficient than generating electricity from natural gas.  Coal plants are heat engines.  They produce heat to boil water.  Natural gas plants are more like the jet engines on an airplane.  Where we use the products of combustion, expanding gases, to spin a turbine.  We don’t use it to boil water.  So we waste much of the heat generated from combustion.  Resulting in lower efficiencies than a coal-fired plant.

However, thanks to hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) the supply of natural gas is exploding (pardon the pun).  Causing prices to tumble.  And because natural gas is now so plentiful and so cheap the poorer efficiencies are less important.  Economically speaking.  So power companies are expanding their natural gas turbines.  Which helps them avoid headaches with the environmentalists.  For natural gas burns cleaner than coal.  So for the foreseeable future it will be roughly 50-50 between coal and natural gas.  But what about renewable energy you ask?  Like solar power?  When will solar power provide 50% of our electricity needs?

Each percentage point of share is roughly 40 million megawatt hours a year. By comparison, all solar projects in 2010 (the last year stats were available) produced 1.3 million megawatt hours.

About 40 million megawatt hours a year per percentage point?  Looking at the chart it looks like coal is currently at 52%.  And natural gas is at 45%.  Or thereabouts.   If you do the math that’s about 3,880 megawatt hours between the two of them.  Or approximately 96.97% of all fossil-fuel generated electricity.  While the 1.3 million megawatt hours of solar power provides about 0.032% of our fossil-fuel generated electricity.  So when will solar power provide 50% of our electricity needs?  Probably never.

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Free Market Competition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 2nd, 2012

Economics 101

Competition makes Everything Better for Consumers

Let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the railroads were making their way west.  Through barren and unforgiving country.  Where a depot is built in the middle of nowhere.  One day it will become a city but now is just a shack or two.  And a water tower along the tracks to replenish the steam locomotives.  This is the closest thing to civilization for hundreds of miles.  Railroad building supplies head west on the new track to continue the track further west.  And the trains stop to fill their locomotives with water.  You look at all that traffic passing that depot and decide to open up a diner/saloon to replenish all those people.  Who are earning wages.  But have nothing to spend them on for hundreds of miles around.

There’s no electricity yet.  Or ice.  So the meat shipped to the diner may not be the freshest.  But you can cook it with a lot of spices to hide any bad taste in case the meat is rancid.  Liquor comes out without any spoilage.  It’ll last so long that you can keep watering it down to make more money per bottle.  Your diner/saloon can be dirty and overrun with bugs.  You can just throw the bugs into the pot to make the meat go further.  It doesn’t matter.  Because for most of your customers this is the only place to come to eat and drink.  Even if they get ill from eating bad meat they’ll keep coming back.  Because where else are they going to go?

Your costs are low.  And your prices are high.  You’re doing very well.  It’s nice being the only diner/saloon at this depot.  But then a town starts growing around the depot.  And another diner/saloon opens.  It’s cleaner.  They serve fewer bugs in their food.  Their meat is less rancid.  Their liquor is less watered down.  And their prices are lower.  Everyone who eats and drinks at this depot-town eats and drinks there.  Not at your filthy shack.  You quickly go from making a lot of money to making nothing at all.  Because this new competition in town took away all of your business.  For competition makes everything better for consumers. 

When the Government Interferes with the Free Market there is no Incentive to Please their Customers

Competition is key to the free market economy.  And it’s the most important thing.  Even more important than government regulation.  Because with competition you don’t need regulations.  You don’t need inspectors.  You don’t have to file complaints.  You don’t have to wait for corrective action.  Because if you have competition you have something that works better.  And faster.  Pleasing customers.  If you don’t please them more than your competition then you will lose your customers to your competition.  This is a powerful incentive to lower your prices.  Improve the cleanliness of your establishment.  And to improve your quality.  Competition makes businesses try harder to please their customers.  On their own.  Without compulsion.

In the above example the first diner/saloon owner could have appealed to the government.  Asked the government to prohibit the second establishment from opening.  Saying that it was destructive competition.  That they were dumping lower-priced food and drink onto the market to put the first establishment out of business.  So they could raise their prices higher and lower their quality when they do.  That the market wasn’t large enough to support two businesses.  That their lower prices mean they will pay their employees less.  And a whole host of other bad things that will follow if this second business opens.  Of course the second business has none of these complaints.  Because they offer better quality at lower prices.  They don’t need the help of government.  Just a competitive free market.

If the first business should prevail in their request for government help the government will take action.  Force the second business to shut down.  Make them sell their food and drinks at higher prices.  Charge them a special excise tax on all their sales to raise money to transfer to and help the first business.  Or some other action to make the market ‘fair’ again.  Which means allowing the first establishment to continue to sell lower quality at higher prices.  Which they would.  For with the power of government helping them they have no incentive to please their customers.  So they don’t.  So people with no choice have to pay more for lower quality.  And this is what happens when the government interferes with the free market.

Free Market Competition delivers High Quality at Low Prices with the Most Efficient Allocation of Resources 

Competitive free markets also guarantee that businesses use resources in the most efficient manner.   As they try to sell the highest quality at the lowest price they will buy very carefully.  They will buy only the things they can sell.  And only enough of them to meet their demand.  For if they buy more than they can sell it will only raise their prices.  As those prices have to pay for the things they sell.  And the things they can’t sell.  So there is a very strong incentive to buy only what they absolutely need.  Leaving things for others to buy.  Which is much better than having some government bureaucrat allocate resources.

Suppose the government owned the railroad and all the depot-towns along the line.  And each depot has a diner/saloon.  Each depot-town is about the same size.  So the government bureaucrat ships the same supplies to each depot.  One barrel of flour.  One barrel of cornmeal.  One barrel of salted pork.  Two sacks of beans.  Four sacks of coffee.  Five cases of whisky.  And so on.  But the people don’t eat and drink the same in each of these depot-towns.  Some drink more liquor than others.  Some drink more coffee than others.  Some eat more meat than others.  Some eat more beans than others.  Depending on the season.  The cattle drives.  Whether the farmers are sowing or reaping.  The religious pilgrimages.  The weather.  Etc.  The local diner/saloon owners are in tune with the rise and fall of demand.  But the government bureaucrat 2,000 miles away isn’t.  So some receive more than they can use.  Others run out before the next shipment.  Making the allocation of resources inefficient.  Leading to waste.  And higher prices to pay for all of that waste.

Free market competition always works best.  And the more problems that we solve by creating more competition the better the solutions are for the people ultimately paying the prices.  The consumers.  As free market competition delivers high quality at low prices with the most efficient allocation of resources.  Giving us things like the high-definition television.  The smartphone.  The tablet computer.  And our morning coffee.  Where quality just keeps getting better while prices keep falling.  When we don’t use free market competition we get high prices, poor quality and inefficient resource allocation.  From cable television that increases rates while lowering quality (we’ll be at your house either sometime in the morning or sometime in the afternoon tomorrow or the day after.  Please have someone available at your home to meet our technician).  To waiting in line to renew your driver’s license.  Which is about as enjoyable as a root canal.

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Flint Tools, Levers, Wheels, Animal Power, Water Power, Wind Power, Steam Power, Electrical Power, Nuclear Power and Solar Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 22nd, 2012

Technology 101

Man harnessed the Energy in Moving Water with a Water Wheel

When prehistoric man first chipped a piece of flint to make a sharp edge he learned something.  It made work easier.  And his life better.  This tool concentrated his energy into that sharp edge.  Increasing the amount of energy he could put to work.  Allowing him to skin an animal quickly and efficiently like never before.  Making better hides to protect him from the elements.  Yes, he said, this tool is good.  But in a somewhat less sophisticated manner of speech.

From that moment forward it has been man’s singular desire to improve on this first tool.  To find ways to concentrate energy and put it to work.  Levers allowed him to move heavier things.  Wheels allowed him to move heavier loads.  The block and tackle allowed him to lift or pull heavier weights.  Harnessing animals allowed him to do all of these things even better.  And we would use animal power for millennia.  Even today they still provide the primary source of power for some less developed countries.

But animals have their limitations.  They’re big, they eat, drink, pee and poop.  Which doesn’t make them an ideal source of power to turn a mill wheel.  A big wheel that grinds grain into flour.  It’s heavy.  But it doesn’t have to spin fast.  Just for long periods of time.  Then man had another moment like he did when he chipped a piece of flint.  He noticed in his environment that things moved.  The wind.  And the water in a river.  The wind could blow fast or slow.  Or not at all.  But the water flow was steady.  And reliable.  So man harnessed the energy in the moving water with a water wheel.  And connected it to his mill wheel via some belts and pulleys.  And where there was no water available he harnessed the less reliable wind.

The Steam Engine eliminated the Major Drawbacks of Water Power and Wind Power 

The water flowed day and night.  You didn’t have to feed it or clean up after it.  And a strong current had a lot of concentrated energy.  Which could do a lot of work.  Far more than a sharpened piece of flint.  Which was ideal for our first factories.  The water wheel shaft became a main drive shaft that drove other machines via belts and pulleys.  The main drive shaft ran the length of the factory.  Workers could operate machinery underneath it by engaging it to the main drive shaft through a belt and pulley.  Take a trip to the past and visit a working apple mill powered by a water wheel.  It’s fascinating.  And you’ll be able to enjoy some fresh donuts and hot cider.  During the harvest, of course.

While we built factories along rivers we used that other less reliable source of energy to cross oceans.  Wind power.  It wasn’t very reliable.  And it wasn’t very concentrated.  But it was the only way you could cross an ocean.  Which made it the best way to cross an ocean.  Sailors used everything on a sailing ship from the deck up to catch the wind and put it to work.  Masts, rigging and sails.  Which were costly.  Required a large crew.  And took up a lot of space and added a lot of weight.  Space and weight that displaced revenue-earning cargo.

The steam engine eliminated the major drawbacks of water power and wind power.  By replacing the water wheel with a steam engine we could build factories anywhere.  Not just on rivers.  And the steam engine let ships cross the oceans whenever they wanted to.  Even when the wind didn’t blow.  And more space was available for revenue-earning cargo.  When these ships reached land we transferred their cargoes to trains.  Pulled by steam locomotives.  That could carry this revenue-earning cargo across continents.   This was a huge step forward.  Boiling water by burning coal to make steam.  A highly concentrated energy source.  A little of it went a long way.  And did more work for us than ever.  Far more than a water wheel.  It increased the amount of work we could do so much that it kicked off the Industrial Revolution.

With Nuclear Power our Quest to find more Concentrated Forms of Energy came to an End 

We replaced coal with oil in our ships and locomotives.  Because it was easier to transport.  Store.  And didn’t need people to shovel it into a boiler.  Oil burners were more efficient.  We even used it to generate a new source of power.  Electrical power.  We used it to boil water at electrical generating plants to spin turbines that turned electrical generators.  We could run pipelines to feed these plants.  Making the electricity they generated even more efficient.  And reliable.  Soon diesel engines replaced the oil burners in ships and trains.  Allowed trucks and buses to run where the trains didn’t.  And gasoline allowed people to go anywhere the trains and buses didn’t go.

The modern economy ran on petroleum.  And electricity.  We even returned to the water wheel to generate electricity.  By building dams to build huge reservoirs of water at elevations.  Creating huge headwater forces.  Concentrating more energy in water.  Which we funneled down to the lower elevation.  Making it flow through high-speed water turbines connected to electrical generators.  That spun far faster than their water wheel ancestors.  Producing huge amounts of reliable electrical power.  We even came up with a more reliable means to create electrical power.  With an even more concentrated fuel.  Fissile material gave us nuclear power.  During the oil shocks of the Seventies the Japanese made a policy change to expand their use of nuclear power.  To insulate them from future oil supply shocks.  Which it did.  While in America the movie The China Syndrome came out around the time of the incident at Three Mile Island.  And killed nuclear power in America.  (But as a consolation prize we disproved the idea of Keynesian stimulus.  When the government created massive inflation with Keynesian policy.  Printing money.  Which raised prices without providing any new economic activity.  Causing instead high inflation and high unemployment.  What we call stagflation.  The Japanese got a big Keynesian lesson about a decade later.  When their massive asset bubble began to deflate giving them their Lost Decade.)

And with nuclear power that quest to find more ways to make better and more efficient use of concentrated energy from that first day we used a flint tool came to an end.  Global warming alarmists are killing sensible sources of energy that have given us the modern world.  Even animal rights activists are fighting against one of the cleanest sources of power we’ve ever used.  Water power.  Because damming rivers harms ecosystems in the rivers we dam.  Instead political pressures have turned the hands of time backwards by using less concentrated and less efficient sources of energy.  Wind power.  And solar power.  Requiring far greater infrastructure installations to capture far less amounts of energy from these sources.  Power plants using wind power and solar power will require acres of land for windmills and solar panels.  And it will take many of these power plants to produce what a single power plant using coal, oil, natural gas or fissile material can generate.  Making power more costly than it ever has been.  Despite wind and sunshine being free.  And when the great civilizations become bankrupt chasing bankrupt energy policies we will return to a simpler world.  A world where we don’t make and use power.  Or machinery.  Much like our flint-tool using ancestors.  Albeit with a more sophisticated way of expressing ourselves.

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Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan, Interstate Commerce Act, Sherman Antitrust Act, Sherman Silver Purchase Act, Federal Reserve, Nixon and Reagan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 31st, 2012

History 101

Government Induced Inflation caused the Panic of 1893 and caused the Worst Depression until the Great Depression

Britain kicked off the Industrial Revolution.  Then handed off the baton to the United States in the latter half of the 19th century.  As American industry roared.  Great industrialists modernize America.  And the world.  Andrew Carnegie made steel inexpensive and plentiful.  He built railroad track and bridges.  And the steel-skeleton buildings of U.S. cities.  Including the skyscrapers.  John D. Rockefeller saved the whales.  By producing less expensive kerosene to burn in lamps instead of the more expensive whale oil.  He refined oil and brought it to market cheaper and more efficiently than anyone else.  Fueling industrial activity and expansion.  J.P. Morgan developed and financed railroads.  Made them more efficient.  Profitable.  And moved goods and people more efficiently than ever before.  Raising the standard of living to heights never seen before. 

The industrial economy was surging along.  And all of this without a central bank.  Credit was available.  So much so that it unleashed unprecedented economic growth.  That would have kept on going had government not stopped it.  With the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.  Used by competitors who could not compete against the economy of scales of Carnegie, Rockefeller and Morgan and sell at their low prices.  So they used their friends in government to raise prices so they didn’t have to be as competitive and efficient as Carnegie, Rockefeller and Morgan.  This legislation restrained the great industrialists.  Which began the era of complying with great regulatory compliance costs.  And expending great effort to get around those great regulatory compliance costs.

Also during the late 19th century there was a silver boom.  This dumped so much silver on the market that miners soon were spending more in mining it than they were selling it for.  Also, farmers were using the latest in technology to mechanize their farms.  They put more land under cultivation and increased farm yields.  So much so that prices fell.  They fell so far that farmers were struggling to pay their debts.  So the silver miners used their friends in government to solve the problems of both miners and farmers.  The government passed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act which increased the amount of silver the government purchased.  Issuing new treasury notes.  Redeemable in both gold and silver.  The idea was to create inflation to raise prices and help those farmers.  By allowing them to repay old debt easier with a depreciated currency.  And how did that work?  Investors took those new bank notes and exchanged them for gold.  And caused a run on U.S. gold reserves that nearly destroyed the banking system.  Plunging the nation in crisis.  The Panic of 1893.  The worst depression until the Great Depression.

Richard Nixon Decoupled the Dollar from Gold and the Keynesians Cheered 

J.P. Morgan stepped in and loaned the government gold to stabilize the banking system.  He would do it again in the Panic of 1907.  The great industrialists created unprecedented economic activity during the latter half of the 19th century.  Only to see poor government policies bring on the worst depression until the Great Depression.  A crisis one of the great industrialists, J.P. Morgan, rescued the country from.  But great capitalists like Morgan wouldn’t always be there to save the country.  Especially the way new legislation was attacking them.  So the U.S. created a central bank.  The Federal Reserve System.  Which was in place and ready to respond to the banking crisis following the stock market crash of 1929.  And did such a horrible job that they gave us the worst depression since the Panic of 1893.  The Great Depression.  Where we saw the greatest bank failures in U.S. history.  Failures the Federal Reserve was specifically set up to prevent.

The 1930s was a lost decade thanks to even more bad government policy.  FDR’s New Deal programs did nothing to end the Great Depression.  Only capitalism did.  And a new bunch of great industrialists.  Who were allowed to tool up and make their factories hum again.  Without having to deal with costly regulatory compliance.  Thanks to Adolf Hitler.  And the war he started.  World War II.  The urgency of the times repealed governmental nonsense.  And the industrialists responded.  Building the planes, tanks and trucks that defeated Hitler.  The Arsenal of Democracy.  And following the war with the world’s industrial centers devastated by war, these industrialists rebuilt the devastated countries.  The fifties boomed thanks to a booming export economy.  But it wouldn’t last.  Eventually those war-torn countries rebuilt themselves.  And LBJ would become president.

The Sixties saw a surge in government spending.  The U.S. space program was trying to put a man on the moon.  The Vietnam War escalated.  And LBJ introduced us to massive new government spending.  The Great Society.  The war to end poverty.  And racial injustice.  It failed.  At least, based on ever more federal spending and legislation to end poverty and racial injustice.  But that government spending was good.  At least the Keynesians thought so.  Richard Nixon, too.  Because he was inflating the currency to keep that spending going.  But the U.S. dollar was pegged to gold.  And this devaluation of the dollar was causing another run on U.S. gold reserves.  But Nixon responded like a true Keynesian.  And broke free from the shackles of gold.  By decoupling the dollar from gold.  And the Keynesians cheered.  Because the government could now use the full power of monetary policy to make recessions and unemployment a thing of the past.

Activist, Interventionist Government have brought Great Economic Booms to Collapse 

The Seventies was a decade of pure Keynesian economics.  It was also the decade that gave us double digit interest rates.  And double digit inflation rates.  It was the decade that gave us the misery index (the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate).  And stagflation.  The combination of a high inflation rate you normally only saw in boom times coupled with a high unemployment rate you only saw during recessionary times.  Something that just doesn’t happen.  But it did.  Thanks to Keynesian economics.  And bad monetary policy.

Ronald Reagan was no Keynesian.  He was an Austrian school supply-sider.  He and his treasury secretary, Paul Volcker, attacked inflation.  The hard way.  The only way.  Through a painful recession.  They stopped depreciating the dollar.  And after killing the inflation monster they lowered interest rates.  Cut tax rates.  And made the business climate business-friendly.  Capitalists took notice.  New entrepreneurs rose.  Innovated.  Created new technologies.  The Eighties was the decade of Silicon Valley.  And the electronics boom.  Powering new computers.  Electronic devices.  And software.  Businesses computerized and became more efficient.  Machine tools became computer-controlled.  The economy went high-tech.  Efficient.  And cool.  Music videos, CD players, VCRs, cable TV, satellite TV, cell phones, etc.  It was a brave new world.  Driven by technology.  And a business-friendly environment.  Where risk takers took risks.  And created great things.

History has shown that capitalists bring great things to market when government doesn’t get in the way.  With their punishing fiscal policies.  And inept monetary policies.  Activist, interventionist government have brought great economic booms to collapse.  Who meddle and turn robust economic activity into recessions.  And recessions into depressions.  The central bank being one of their greatest tools of destruction.  Because policy is too often driven by Big Government idealism.  And not the proven track record of capitalism.  As proven by the great industrialists.  And high-tech entrepreneurs.  Time and time again.

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