How a 12-Year Old Canadian and U.S. Unions see Business Differently

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2013

Week in Review

Advancing technology has greatly increased productivity.  Allowing fewer workers to do what workers a generation earlier did.  Causing our workforce to age.  Fewer workers are entering the workforce than are leaving it.  And costly union contracts paying pensions and health care to those who have left the workforce has decimated union membership.  For the costs they place on business have made these businesses uncompetitive in the market place.  Chasing manufacturing jobs out of the country.  Leaving union membership in the private sector at its lowest rates since the heyday of the labor movement.  To understand why let’s take a business lesson from the Canadians.  Who are trying to encourage their kids to become entrepreneurs.  Unlike in America.  Where business and profits have become a 4-letter word (see Canadian entrepreneurs: Born or made? by BARRIE McKENNA posted 5/10/2013 on The Globe and Mail).

[Entrepreneurial Adventure] pairs students with local business people to create a business, design a product, sell it and then give the profits to charity.

Why?

Evidence suggests Canada suffers from a weak entrepreneurial culture. While it’s relatively easy to start a company, the record of turning start-ups into fast-growing and successful enterprises is less convincing.

A 2010 study by Industry Canada…

… found that Canada generates a lower proportion of fast-growing companies than other developed countries, that relatively few small companies export and that the age profile of business owners is getting older…

Many business schools, including McGill University and the University of Toronto, now offer special entrepreneurship programs.

This is a problem.  For the number one job creator in any free market economy are small business owners.  People who go into business for themselves.  Taking great risk.  And hiring people as they grow.  This is the entrepreneurial spirit.  People who start out small.  And become someone like Steve Jobs.  Most people don’t understand the entrepreneurial process.  And the importance of having a business-friendly environment to encourage entrepreneurialism.  To create jobs.  To grow a healthy economy.  Creating new products that make our lives better.  And to do that one of the first things an entrepreneur must learn is what this 12-year-old learned.

“Some things work and some don’t,” acknowledged Alim Dhanani, 12, who worked on project management and Web design for the company. “To sell something, you have to have the right price. Not too small, so you have a profit, but not too big, so people will buy it.”

A 12-year-old can understand this.  The role of prices in the economy.  They have to be high enough to pay the bills.  But low enough to encourage people to buy from you.  Often times it’s not a matter of a business owner determining the price he or she wishes to charge.  They have to figure out how to pay their bills (and earn a profit) at the prevailing market price.  Something labor unions don’t understand.  Or they simply don’t care (see Fast-food workers in Detroit walk off job, disrupt business by Steve Neavling and Lisa Baertlein posted 5/10/2013 on Reuters).

Hundreds of fast-food employees in Detroit walked off the job on Friday, temporarily shuttering a handful of outlets as part of a growing U.S. worker movement that is demanding higher wages for flipping burgers and operating fryers.

The protests in the Motor City – which is struggling to recover from the hollowing out of its auto manufacturing sector – marked an expansion in organized actions by fast-food workers from ubiquitous chains owned by McDonald’s Corp, Burger King Worldwide and KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut parent Yum Brands Inc.

Fast-food workers, who already have taken to the streets in New York, Chicago and St. Louis, are seeking to roughly double their hourly pay to $15 per hour from around minimum wage, which in Michigan is $7.40 per hour…

“People can’t make a living at $7.40 a hour,” said Rev. Charles Williams II, a protest organizer. “Many of them have babies and children to raise, and they can’t get by with these kind of wages.”

Those workers face high hurdles in their fight for better pay. Low-wage, low-skill workers lack political clout and face significantly higher unemployment than college graduates…

The Detroit action was put together by the Michigan Workers Organizing Committee, an independent union of fast-food workers, that is supported by community, labor and faith-based groups such as the Interfaith Coalition of Pastors, UFCW Local 876, SEIU Healthcare Michigan and Good Jobs Now.

The unions want to do to fast-food what they did to the automotive industry.  In this case the union basically gave unskilled workers the wages and benefits of skilled workers.  Sounds great if you’re an unskilled worker.  But the UAW priced the U.S. auto manufacturers out of the market.  The Big Three are a shell of what they used to be.  With both General Motors and Chrysler requiring taxpayer bailouts to avoid bankruptcy.  And pay for their crushing pension and health care cost obligations.  For GM was paying for more people not working than they were paying to work.  Even a 12-year-old can understand that this is a business model that just won’t work.

So what will happen in fast-food restaurants if you raise the labor wage from $7.40 per hour to $15 per hour?  That’s a labor cost increase of 103%.  In the restaurant business the rule of thumb for calculating your selling prices is as follows.  You calculate your food cost then triple it.  For in general one third of a menu price goes to food.  One third goes to labor.  And one third goes to overhead (utilities, rent, insurance, etc.) and profit.  Now let’s take a typical combination meal (sandwich, fries and beverage) price of $7.50.  One third of this price is $2.48 which represents the labor portion of the price.  The increase in labor is 103%.  So we take 103% of the $2.48 ($2.54) and add it to $7.50 to get the new selling price of the combo meal.  Bringing it to $10.04.

What will customers do?  Now that the combo meal will cost $2.54 more will they just continue to eat fast-food like they once did?  Will they stop adding an extra item from the dollar menu?  Will they just buy a burger and eat it with a beverage from home?  Will they just buy from the dollar menu instead of buying combos?  Of course, with the increase in labor costs that dollar menu will have to become the $2.03 menu.  Will people stop going to fast-food as often as they once did?  Some may decide that if they’re paying for a $6 hamburger the may go to a diner or bar for a $6 hamburger.  Worried about the lost business would fast-food owners try to cut their costs elsewhere to try to continue to sell fast-food at the market price?  By hiring fewer people?  Pushing current workers to part-time so they don’t have to give them costly health insurance?  Or will they just close their restaurant.  As people just won’t pay fancy restaurant prices for fast-food.

That 12-year-old in Canada would understand how the higher labor costs would affect business.  Causing changes in buying habits.  And changes in business practices.  He would not start up a fast-food franchise if labor prices were 103% higher than they are now.  For he would have to raise prices high enough to pay the bills.  But when he did they might be too high to get people to come in and buy food.  Causing a fall in business.  And a loss in revenue.  Making it more difficult to pay the bills.  That 12-year-old would see this as bad business.  Because he understands that a business owner can’t charge whatever he wants to charge.  He has to figure out how to stay in business while selling at the prevailing market price.  And though he may love fast-food he knows that his allowance won’t be able to buy as much as it once did.  So he would reduce his purchases at fast-food restaurants.  Just as his father will probably take the family out less often because of the higher prices.  Just as single mothers struggling to pay their household bills will, too.  But the unions don’t understand this.  Or simply choose not to.  Instead they just tell the workers that their employers are greedy.

It’s a sad day when a 12-year-old has better business sense than our unions.  Then again if unions cared about business they wouldn’t have bankrupted two of the Big Three.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #13: “If you were to live under the socialist maxim ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need’ you would find yourself surrounded by needy people with no ability.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 11th, 2010

“WHO IS JOHN GALT?”  If you can’t answer that I’m guessing you don’t like reading 1,000-page novels.  Or that you went to public school and had no conservative friends or family.

The book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  John Galt worked at the Twentieth Century Motor Company.  An engineer.  A pretty brilliant one at that.  He’s the hero of the novel.  The plot is the eternal struggle of individualism versus statism.  Private entrepreneurship versus state economic planning and control.  ‘Leave me the hell alone’ versus the all encompassing nanny state.  Good versus evil.  You know, the usual stuff.

Dagny Taggart is the heroine.  She’s the vice president of operations of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad.   If you like your women intelligent, strong, independent, feminine and sexual, then Dagny’s for you because she’s all that and a bag of Skittles.  She doesn’t take sh*t from anyone.

Anyway, Galt and Taggart do some brilliant things separately.  They have some mutual acquaintances.  They later meet.  Yadda yadda yadda, big climax and that’s the story.  I could tell you more but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you when you do read it.  And you should read it.  When people put together lists of books that have influenced lives, the Bible often lands in the #1 spot.  Atlas Shrugged often lands in the #2 spot.  A must read.  And when you make it through the 50+ page speech near the end, why, you’ll have some bragging rights.  Those of you who have read it are probably nodding your heads as you recall your own perseverance in reading that speech and your will to finish it.  But fret not, casual readers.  The other 950 or so pages are a breeze.

FROM EACH ACCORDING to his ability to each according to his need.  Great philosophy.  If you’re one of the needy.  Kinda sucks if you’re one of the able, though.  Big time.  Here’s how.

Let’s say there’s a husband and wife who are both brilliant doctors.  He’s a neural surgeon.  She works in the field of infectious diseases.  They are among the best of the best in their respective fields.  They are literally saving lives where people once had no hope.  They worked long and hard to reach this point in their careers.  And they continue to work and study.  They contribute greatly in research.  Workaholics both.  Being so dedicated in their careers they chose not to have children.  They felt the work they were doing was that important.  As did others.  Between the two, they earn in excess of $500,000 annually.  Talent like theirs is just so rare and oh so valuable.

Now let’s consider a 19 year old high school dropout.  He works as a bouncer at a strip club and sells a little weed on the side.  Lives in his mother’s basement.  Parties all night and sleeps in till 4 PM.  And he has 10 children by 9 different women.

Now, in the normal world, the doctors would have a nice home and drive Mercedes Benzes.  The bouncer would not.  But in the world where we take from those according to ability and give to those according to need, things would be different.  You see, the doctors don’t have very many needs.  They have no children and work most of the time.  The bouncer, though, has a lot of need.  Ten kids to support.  So can you guess how things would work in this Socialist Utopia?  That’s right.  We take from the doctors and give to the bouncer.  Fair, right?

It depends on your definition of fair.  If you’re just a leech that wants to suck on the teat of society, you have no complaints.  You find the whole thing pretty sweet.  Why, anyone running on that platform, they got your vote.

But what about the ones who spend 8 years in med school, struggle through sleep-deprived internships, residency, continuing education, who work long and stress-filled days and give up a lot of personal pursuits in the process?  What about them?  Shouldn’t we reward that incredible effort and self-sacrifice?  I mean, if we don’t, why do it?  For the good of the people?  Yeah, right.  If it’s all the same, why can’t the bouncer sacrifice for the good of the people?  Why is it always the ones who work hard that have to do all of the sacrificing?  And do.

So there it is, the Socialist Utopia.  Work hard and succeed and get…less.  Don’t work hard and be irresponsible and get…more.  This is the essence of Marxism/Socialism.  In economics, we call this a disincentive to succeed.  Anyone with half a brain will strive to show as much need as possible while showing as little ability at the same time.  Because if you don’t you can see where this ends, can’t you?  You get stuck doing all the hard work.  And if you don’t have a lot of need, you get bupkis for all your sweat and ulcers. 

But it gets worse.  If no one chooses to do those incredibly difficult and stressful jobs, what happens then?  Simple.  If you choose to say ‘no’ someone will simply says ‘yes’ for you.  And what do we call forced labor against one’s will?  We call it slavery.  Or servitude, if you prefer.  As in F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom which shows the progression from socialism to servitude when someone ultimately has to be the final decision maker in determining what’s best for the common good.

INTERESTING THING ABOUT socialism.  It has a track record.  Not a good one.  Everywhere it’s been tried it has failed.  Why?  It goes against human nature.  Ponder this, if you will.  Let’s say you’re going to dine at a fine restaurant.  There are two ways in.  One through the main entrance where the maître d’ greets you.  The other is through the kitchen.  If you come in through the kitchen, though, you’ll have to do some basic food prep for table 3 and wash the dishes from table 5 before you eat.  Now, which path do you choose?

Yes, it’s a silly example.  But it makes a point.  Only an idiot would enter through the kitchen in this example.  Why?  Because we choose the path of least resistance.  Always.  Even though helping with some food prep and washing some dishes is best for the common good we’re just not going to do it.  At least, not voluntarily.  And that’s why socialism has failed and always will fail.  The natural state for people is NOT slavery.  We don’t volunteer to do more for the same outcome.  People do that only when forced, for the state of slavery can only exist by force.  As Hayek so aptly shows in The Road to Serfdom with the rise of the Nazi and the Italian fascist dictatorships.

THIS IS WHY Atlas Shrugged is so enduring.  It is THIS story.  The eternal tug of war between individualism and statism.  The escalation of force.  Submission.  And breaking points.  Both Hayek and Rand warned of the same dangers and the ultimate consequences of our ‘altruist’ actions.  He by philosophical treatise.  She by narrative.  And one of her characters, Francisco d’Anconia, summed it up well in an exchange with Henry Rearden when he said:

“…if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders-what would you tell him?”

Rearden didn’t have an answer.  D’Anconia did.  He’d tell him, “to shrug.”  To let go his burden.

And, of course, Atlas is a metaphor for those people with rugged individualism, the entrepreneurial spirit.  And the day they do shrug, we’re screwed.

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