Henry Ford, Bill Hewlett & Dave Packard, Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak, Howard Schultz, Ray Kroc and Richard Branson

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 25th, 2014

 History 101

(Originally published May 8th, 2012)

Capitalism allows Entrepreneurs to bring their Great Ideas to Life

Entrepreneurs start with an idea.  Of how to do something better.  Or to create something we must have that we don’t yet know about.  They think.  They create.  They have boundless creative energies.  And the economic system that best taps that energy is capitalism.  The efficient use of capital.  Using capital to make profits.  And then using those profits to make capital.  So these ideas of genius that flicker in someone’s head can take root.  And grow.  Creating jobs.  And taxable economic activity.  Creating wealth for investors and workers.  Improving the general economy.  Pulling us out of recessions.  Improving our standard of living.  And making the world a better place.  Because of an idea.  That capitalism brought to life.

Entrepreneurs Risked Capital to bring Great Things to Market and to Create Jobs

Henry Ford established the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899.  Which failed.  He reorganized it into the Henry Ford Company in 1901.  Ford had a fight with his financial backers.  And quit.  Taking the Ford name with him.  And $900.  The Henry Ford Company was renamed Cadillac and went on to great success.  Ford tried again and partnered with Alexander Malcomson.  After running short of funds they reorganized and incorporated Ford Motor Company in 1903 with 12 investors.  The company was successful.  Some internal friction and an unexpected death of the president put Ford in charge.  Ford Motor built the Model A, the Model K and the Model S.  Then came the Model T.  And the moving assembly line.  Mass production greatly increased the number of cars he could build.  But it was monotonous work for the assembly line worker.  Turnover was high.  So to keep good workers he doubled pay in 1914 and reduced the 9-hour shift to 8 hours.  This increased productivity and lowered the cost per Model T.  Allowing those who built the cars to buy what they built.  In 2011 the Ford Motor Company employed approximately 164,000 people worldwide.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard established Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1939.  In a garage.  They raised $538 in start-up capital.  In that garage they created their first successful commercial product.  A precision audio oscillator.  Used in electronic testing.  It was better and cheaper than the competition.  Walt Disney Productions bought this oscillator to certify Fantasound surround sound systems in theaters playing the Disney movie Fantasia.  From this garage HP grew and gave us calculators, desktop and laptop computers, inkjet and laser printers, all-in-one multifunction printer/scanner/faxes, digital cameras, etc.  In 2010 HP employed approximately 324,600 employees worldwide.  (Steve Wozniak was working for HP when he designed the Apple I.  Which he helped fund by selling his HP calculator.  Wozniak offered his design to HP.  They passed.)

Steve Jobs had an idea to sell a computer.  He convinced his friend since high school, Steve Wozniak, to join him.  They sold some of their things to raise some capital.  Jobs sold his Volkswagen van.  Wozniak sold his HP scientific calculator.  They raised about $1,300.  And formed Apple.  They created the Apple I home computer in 1976 in Steve Jobs’ garage.  From these humble beginnings Apple gave us the iPad, iPhone, iPod, iMac, MacBook, Mac Pro and iTunes.  In 2011 Apple had approximately 60,400 full time employees.

Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker opened the first Starbucks in 1971 in Seattle, Washington.  About 10 years later Howard Schultz drank his first cup of Starbucks coffee.  And he liked it.  Within a year he joined Starbucks.  Within another year while traveling in Italy he experienced the Italian coffeehouse.  He loved it.  And had an idea.  Bring the Italian coffeehouse to America.  A place to meet people in the community and converse.  Sort of like a bar.  Only where the people stayed sober.  Soon millions of people were enjoying these tasty and expensive coffee beverages at Starbucks throughout the world.  In 2011 Starbucks employed approximately 149,000 people.

Ray Kroc sold Prince Castle Multi-Mixer milk shakes mixers to a couple of brothers who owned a restaurant.  Who made hamburgers fast.  Richard and Maurice McDonald had implemented the Speedee Service System.  It was the dawn of fast food.  Kroc was impressed.  Facing tough competition in the mixer business he opened a McDonald’s franchise in 1955.  Bringing the grand total of McDonald’s restaurants to 9.  He would go on to buy out the McDonald brothers (some would say unscrupulously).  Today there are over 30,000 stores worldwide.  In 2010 McDonald’s employed approximately 400,000 people.

Richard Branson started a magazine at 16.  He then sold records out of a church crypt at discount prices.  The beginning of Virgin Records.  In 1971 he opened a record store.  He launched a record label in 1972.  And a recording studio.  Signing the Sex Pistols.  And Culture Club.  In 1984 he formed an airline.  Virgin Atlantic Airways.  In 1999 he went into the cellular phone business.  Virgin Mobile.  In 2004 he founded Virgin Galactic.  To enter the space tourism business.  His Virgin Group now totals some 400 companies.  And employs about 50,000 people.

The Decline of Capitalism and the Rise of the Welfare State caused the European Sovereign Debt Crisis

And we could go on.  For every big corporation out there will have a similar beginning.  Corporations that use capital efficiently.  Bringing great things to market.  Introducing us to new things.  Always making our lives better.  And more comfortable.  One thing you will not find is a great success story like this starting in the Soviet Union.  The People’s Republic of China (back in the days of Mao Zedong).  East Germany (before the Berlin Wall fell).  North Korea.  Or Cuba.  No.  The command economies of communist countries basically froze in time.  Where there was no innovation.  No ideas brought to life.  Because the government kind of frowned on that sort of thing.

There is a reason why the West won the Cold War.  And why we won that war without the Warsaw Pack and NATO forces fighting World War III.  And why was this?  Because we didn’t need to.  For the communist world simply could not withstand the forces of living well in the West.  Whenever they could their people escaped to the West.  To escape their nasty, short and brutish lives.  In the command economies of their communist states.  Where the state planners failed to provide for their people.  Even failing to feed their people.  The Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea all suffered population reducing famines.  But not in the West.  Where we are not only well fed.  But our poor suffer from obesity.  Which is not a good thing.  But it sure beats dying in a famine.

Sadly, though, the West is moving towards the state planning of their one time communist foes.  Social democracies are pushing nations in the European Union to bankruptcy.  Japan’s generous welfare state is about to implode as an aging population begins to retire.  Even in the United States there has been a growth of government into the private sector economy like never before.  Which is causing the Great Recession to linger on.  As it caused Japan’s lost decade to become two decades.  And counting.  As it is prolonging the European sovereign debt crisis.  With no end in sight.  The cause of all their problems?  The decline of capitalism.  And the rise of the welfare state.  Which just kills the entrepreneurial spirit.  And the creation of jobs.  Which is one cure for all that ails these countries.  And the only one.  For only robust economic activity can pull a country out of recession.  And for that you need new jobs.  And the entrepreneurial spirit.  In short, you need capitalism.

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Wal-Mart is the new General Motors for the Middle Class

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 22nd, 2014

Week in Review

The left hates Wal-Mart.  Because they are nonunion.  And their low prices make it difficult for small mom & pop shops to stay in business charging their customers higher prices.  But being nonunion lets them hire more people.  And their low prices allow people to buy more with their paychecks.  Good things.  Yet the left hates Wal-Mart.  Because they would rather have union jobs even if it means fewer jobs.  And higher prices.  Despite Wal-Mart being the best thing for the middle class since General Motors (see Walmart and the middle class, sinking together by Rick Newman posted 2/21/2014 on Yahoo! Finance).

It was once General Motors (GM) whose fortunes reflected those of the middle-class Americans who bought its products. Now, that bellwether Goliath is Walmart (WMT)…

A chronically weak job market is pinching lower-income consumers — some of whom can’t even afford to shop at Walmart anymore.

The digital revolution has left Walmart at a disadvantage against etailers such as Amazon (AMZN), which has 7 times’ Walmart’s online revenue, and a much smaller physical footprint to manage.

With Walmart tied so closely to the fortunes lower-middle-class Americans, it’s no exaggeration to say that, as goes Walmart, so goes America. And vice versa…

A century ago, Henry Ford famously doubled the pay of his workers — to $5 per day — to reduce turnover and make his production lines more efficient. That move had the added benefit of raising living standards for Ford workers and helping establish the modern middle class.

Even though Walmart is the nation’s largest employer — with 1.3 million U.S. workers — it seems highly unlikely it could achieve anything similar to what Henry Ford did. Global competition gives retailers little room to raise costs without giving away pricing advantages. And fading demand for lesser-skilled workers lacking a college degree leaves few companies with a real incentive to raise wages, aside from earning a bit of public goodwill. Before Henry Ford doubled wages, his workers often left for other blue-collar jobs in a booming industrial economy. Most Walmart workers lack such options.

Amazon is nonunion, too.  But Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, donated $2.5 million to support gay marriage in Washington State.  Donates primarily to Democrat candidates.  And supports an Internet sales tax (see What Are Jeff Bezos’s Political Leanings, and How Might They Shape the Washington Post? by David A. Graham, The Atlantic, posted 8/5/2013 on the National Journal).  So there are things the left likes about Amazon.  But they only have about 100,000 employees to Wal-Mart’s 2.2 million.  Which is why the left has an all out assault on Wal-Mart.  Because they want to unionize those 2.2 million.  For 2.2 million people would provide a lot of union dues.

Unionization or a higher minimum wage does not build a strong middle class.  A strong economy does.  That’s what helped Henry Ford raise his wages.  To keep his best workers from quitting so they could take higher paying jobs elsewhere.  Which is how people earn more money.  When an economy is so robust that there are more jobs than people to fill them.  Requiring employers to pay more to attract workers.  Not by forcing employers to pay more.  Especially during a weak economy.  When a business’ margins couldn’t be thinner.  Leaving them unable to raise wages without cutting workers.  Which the left will be glad to see.  Lost jobs.  As long as those remaining are union jobs.

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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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Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Westinghouse, Boeing, Gates and Tariffs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 10th, 2013

History 101

Ford brought the Price of Cars down and Paid his Workers more without Tariff Protection

Andrew Carnegie grew a steel empire in the late 19th century.  With technological innovation.  He made the steel industry better.  Making steel better.  Less costly.  And more plentiful.  Carnegie’s steel built America’s skylines.  Allowing our buildings to reach the sky.  And Carnegie brought the price of steel down without tariff protection.

John D. Rockefeller saved the whales.  By making kerosene cheap and plentiful.  Replacing whale oil pretty much forever.  Then found a use for another refined petroleum product.  Something they once threw away.  Gasoline.  Which turned out to be a great automotive fuel.  It’s so great that we use it still today.  Rockefeller made gasoline so cheap and plentiful that he put the competition out of business.  He was making gasoline so cheap that his competition went to the government to break up Standard Oil.  So his competition didn’t have to sell at his low prices.  And Rockefeller made gasoline so inexpensive and so plentiful without tariff protection.

Henry Ford built cars on the first moving assembly line.  Greatly bringing the cost of the car down.  Auto factories have fixed costs that they recover in the price of the car.  The more cars a factory can make in a day allows them to distribute those fixed costs over more cars.  Bringing the cost of the car down.  Allowing Henry Ford to do the unprecedented and pay his workers $5 a day.  Allowing his workers to buy the cars they assembled.  And Ford brought the price of cars down and paid his workers more without tariff protection.

George Westinghouse decreased the Cost of Electric Power without Tariff Protection

George Westinghouse gave us AC power.  Thanks to his brilliant engineer.  Nikola Tesla.  Who battled his former employer, Thomas Edison, in the Current Wars.  Edison wanted to wire the country with his DC power.  Putting his DC generators throughout American cities.  While Westinghouse and Tesla wanted to build fewer plants and send their AC power over greater distances.  Greatly decreasing the cost of electric power.  Westinghouse won the Current Wars.  And Westinghouse did that without tariff protection.

After losing out on a military contract for a large military transport jet Boeing regrouped and took their failed design and converted it into a jet airliner.  The Boeing 747.  Which dominated long-haul routes.  Having the range to go almost anywhere without refueling.  And being able to pack so many people into a single airplane that the cost per person to fly was affordable to almost anyone that wanted to fly.  And Boeing did this without tariff protection.

Bill Gates became a billionaire thanks to his software.  Beginning with DOS.  Then Windows.  He dominated the PC operating system market.  And saw the potential of the Internet.  Bundling his browser program, Internet Explorer, with his operating system.  Giving it away for free.  Consumers loved it.  But his competition didn’t.  As they saw a fall in sales for their Internet browser programs.  With some of their past customers preferring to use the free Internet Explorer instead of buying another program.  Making IE the most popular Internet browser on the market.  And Gates did this without tariff protection.

Tariff Protection cost American Industries Years of Innovation and Cost Cutting Efficiencies

Carnegie Steel became U.S. Steel.  Which grew to be the nation’s largest steel company.  Carnegie had opposed unions to keep the cost of his steel down.  U.S. Steel had a contentious relationship with labor.  During the Great Depression U.S. Steel unionized.  But there was little love between labor and management.  There were a lot of strikes.  And a lot of costly union contracts.  Which raised the price of U.S. manufactured steel.  Opening the door for less costly foreign imports.  Which poured into the country.  Taking a lot of business away from domestic steel makers.  Making it more difficult to honor those costly union contracts.  Which led the U.S. steel producers to ask the government for tariff protection.  To raise the price of the imported steel so steel consumers would not have a less costly alternative.

During World War II FDR was printing so much money to pay for both the New Deal and the war the FDR administration was worried about inflation.  So they put ceilings on what employers could pay their employees.  With jobs paying the same it was difficult to attract the best employees.  Because you couldn’t offer more pay.  So General Motors started offering benefits.  Health care.  And pensions.  Agreeing to very generous union contracts.  Raising the price of cars.  Which wasn’t a problem until the imports hit our shores.  Then those union contracts became difficult to honor.  Which led the U.S. auto makers to ask the government for tariff protection.  To raise the price of those imported cars so Americans would not have a less costly alternative.

These two industries received their tariffs.  And other government protections.  Allowing them to continue with business as usual.  Even though business as usual no longer worked.  So while the foreign steel producers and auto makers advanced their industries to further increase quality and lower their costs the protected U.S. companies did not.  Because they didn’t have to.  For thanks to the government they didn’t have to please their customers.  As the government simply forced people to be their customers.  For awhile, at least.  The foreign products became better and better such that the tariff protection couldn’t make the higher quality imports costly enough to keep them less attractive than the inferior American goods.  With a lot of people even paying more for the better quality imports.  Losing years of innovation and cost cutting efficiencies due to their tariff protection these American industries that once dominated the world became shells of their former selves.  With General Motors and Chrysler having to ask the government for a bailout because of the health care and pension costs bankrupting them.  Something Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Westinghouse, Boeing or Gates never had to ask.

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Henry Ford, Bill Hewlett & Dave Packard, Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak, Howard Schultz, Ray Kroc and Richard Branson

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 8th, 2012

History 101

Capitalism allows Entrepreneurs to bring their Great Ideas to Life

Entrepreneurs start with an idea.  Of how to do something better.  Or to create something we must have that we don’t yet know about.  They think.  They create.  They have boundless creative energies.  And the economic system that best taps that energy is capitalism.  The efficient use of capital.  Using capital to make profits.  And then using those profits to make capital.  So these ideas of genius that flicker in someone’s head can take root.  And grow.  Creating jobs.  And taxable economic activity.  Creating wealth for investors and workers.  Improving the general economy.  Pulling us out of recessions.  Improving our standard of living.  And making the world a better place.  Because of an idea.  That capitalism brought to life.

Entrepreneurs Risked Capital to bring Great Things to Market and to Create Jobs

Henry Ford established the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899.  Which failed.  He reorganized it into the Henry Ford Company in 1901.  Ford had a fight with his financial backers.  And quit.  Taking the Ford name with him.  And $900.  The Henry Ford Company was renamed Cadillac and went on to great success.  Ford tried again and partnered with Alexander Malcomson.  After running short of funds they reorganized and incorporated Ford Motor Company in 1903 with 12 investors.  The company was successful.  Some internal friction and an unexpected death of the president put Ford in charge.  Ford Motor built the Model A, the Model K and the Model S.  Then came the Model T.  And the moving assembly line.  Mass production greatly increased the number of cars he could build.  But it was monotonous work for the assembly line worker.  Turnover was high.  So to keep good workers he doubled pay in 1914 and reduced the 9-hour shift to 8 hours.  This increased productivity and lowered the cost per Model T.  Allowing those who built the cars to buy what they built.  In 2011 the Ford Motor Company employed approximately 164,000 people worldwide.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard established Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1939.  In a garage.  They raised $538 in start-up capital.  In that garage they created their first successful commercial product.  A precision audio oscillator.  Used in electronic testing.  It was better and cheaper than the competition.  Walt Disney Productions bought this oscillator to certify Fantasound surround sound systems in theaters playing the Disney movie Fantasia.  From this garage HP grew and gave us calculators, desktop and laptop computers, inkjet and laser printers, all-in-one multifunction printer/scanner/faxes, digital cameras, etc.  In 2010 HP employed approximately 324,600 employees worldwide.  (Steve Wozniak was working for HP when he designed the Apple I.  Which he helped fund by selling his HP calculator.  Wozniak offered his design to HP.  They passed.)

Steve Jobs had an idea to sell a computer.  He convinced his friend since high school, Steve Wozniak, to join him.  They sold some of their things to raise some capital.  Jobs sold his Volkswagen van.  Wozniak sold his HP scientific calculator.  They raised about $1,300.  And formed Apple.  They created the Apple I home computer in 1976 in Steve Jobs’ garage.  From these humble beginnings Apple gave us the iPad, iPhone, iPod, iMac, MacBook, Mac Pro and iTunes.  In 2011 Apple had approximately 60,400 full time employees.

Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker opened the first Starbucks in 1971 in Seattle, Washington.  About 10 years later Howard Schultz drank his first cup of Starbucks coffee.  And he liked it.  Within a year he joined Starbucks.  Within another year while traveling in Italy he experienced the Italian coffeehouse.  He loved it.  And had an idea.  Bring the Italian coffeehouse to America.  A place to meet people in the community and converse.  Sort of like a bar.  Only where the people stayed sober.  Soon millions of people were enjoying these tasty and expensive coffee beverages at Starbucks throughout the world.  In 2011 Starbucks employed approximately 149,000 people.

Ray Kroc sold Prince Castle Multi-Mixer milk shakes mixers to a couple of brothers who owned a restaurant.  Who made hamburgers fast.  Richard and Maurice McDonald had implemented the Speedee Service System.  It was the dawn of fast food.  Kroc was impressed.  Facing tough competition in the mixer business he opened a McDonald’s franchise in 1955.  Bringing the grand total of McDonald’s restaurants to 9.  He would go on to buy out the McDonald brothers (some would say unscrupulously).  Today there are over 30,000 stores worldwide.  In 2010 McDonald’s employed approximately 400,000 people.

Richard Branson started a magazine at 16.  He then sold records out of a church crypt at discount prices.  The beginning of Virgin Records.  In 1971 he opened a record store.  He launched a record label in 1972.  And a recording studio.  Signing the Sex Pistols.  And Culture Club.  In 1984 he formed an airline.  Virgin Atlantic Airways.  In 1999 he went into the cellular phone business.  Virgin Mobile.  In 2004 he founded Virgin Galactic.  To enter the space tourism business.  His Virgin Group now totals some 400 companies.  And employs about 50,000 people.

The Decline of Capitalism and the Rise of the Welfare State caused the European Sovereign Debt Crisis

And we could go on.  For every big corporation out there will have a similar beginning.  Corporations that use capital efficiently.  Bringing great things to market.  Introducing us to new things.  Always making our lives better.  And more comfortable.  One thing you will not find is a great success story like this starting in the Soviet Union.  The People’s Republic of China (back in the days of Mao Zedong).  East Germany (before the Berlin Wall fell).  North Korea.  Or Cuba.  No.  The command economies of communist countries basically froze in time.  Where there was no innovation.  No ideas brought to life.  Because the government kind of frowned on that sort of thing.

There is a reason why the West won the Cold War.  And why we won that war without the Warsaw Pack and NATO forces fighting World War III.  And why was this?  Because we didn’t need to.  For the communist world simply could not withstand the forces of living well in the West.  Whenever they could their people escaped to the West.  To escape their nasty, short and brutish lives.  In the command economies of their communist states.  Where the state planners failed to provide for their people.  Even failing to feed their people.  The Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea all suffered population reducing famines.  But not in the West.  Where we are not only well fed.  But our poor suffer from obesity.  Which is not a good thing.  But it sure beats dying in a famine.

Sadly, though, the West is moving towards the state planning of their one time communist foes.  Social democracies are pushing nations in the European Union to bankruptcy.  Japan’s generous welfare state is about to implode as an aging population begins to retire.  Even in the United States there has been a growth of government into the private sector economy like never before.  Which is causing the Great Recession to linger on.  As it caused Japan’s lost decade to become two decades.  And counting.  As it is prolonging the European sovereign debt crisis.  With no end in sight.  The cause of all their problems?  The decline of capitalism.  And the rise of the welfare state.  Which just kills the entrepreneurial spirit.  And the creation of jobs.  Which is one cure for all that ails these countries.  And the only one.  For only robust economic activity can pull a country out of recession.  And for that you need new jobs.  And the entrepreneurial spirit.  In short, you need capitalism.

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GM and Ford pursuing Carbon Fiber to Improve Fuel Efficiency and Increase Profits

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Ford and GM following the lead of Airbus and Boeing.  Using composite materials to make their vehicles lighter.  And more fuel efficient.  For as Airbus and Boeing have proven, improved fuel efficiency during times of high fuel costs leads to more unit sales (see Ford, Dow to explore carbon fiber use in vehicles by Deepa Seetharaman posted 4/12/2012 on Reuters).

Ford Motor Co and Dow Chemical Co will work to develop cost-effective ways of using carbon fiber in high-volume cars and trucks as the No.2 U.S. automaker moves to cut vehicle weight to improve overall fuel economy…

Weight reduction is one way for automakers to boost the efficiency of their fleets in anticipation of rising oil prices and stricter fuel economy standards for upcoming model years…

Using carbon fiber in lieu of conventional steel can lower the weight of a vehicle component by up to 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting a car’s weight by 10 percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent.

Carbon fiber, already used in racing cars and products like hockey sticks, is not new to the auto industry. BMW (BMWG.DE), for example, uses the material in its M3 coupe.

Yet carbon fiber’s high cost has blocked its wide-scale use. Industry experts say one way to lower the overall cost of carbon fiber is to find cheaper ways of preparing those materials…

Last month, the Obama administration announced it would provide $14.2 million in funding to spur development of stronger and lighter materials.

Really?  The government needs to fund this with subsidies?  You mean there is no incentive for automakers to make their cars lighter?  I think there is.  If they can make a car lighter without shrinking it down to something slightly larger than a shoe box they will improve fuel economy.  And increase sales.  For what family would not want to buy a fuel efficient car that lets them pack the family in it and take it on vacation?  Letting them take longer trips because the cost of gasoline doesn’t eat up the family vacation budget?  Or let families spend more on their grocery bill rather than on gasoline?  To enjoy more cookouts during their summer vacation?  One thing for certain is that if you can produce a more fuel efficient car that doesn’t trade anything else to get that efficiency (size, range, etc.), people will run to buy it.  And that is what we call incentive.

GM revenue in 2011 was $150.3 billion alone.  So Ford and GM are not doing this to get their hands on that piddling $14.2 million in federal money.  Which was about 0.01% of GM’s total revenue in 2011.  Which is little more than a rounding error.  They’re doing this to increase their market share in an increasingly competitive market.  In 2011 GM, Ford and Chrysler had global market shares of 8%, 8% and 3%, respectively.  If you divide GM’s revenue by 8 that comes to about $18.8 billion in revenue per percentage point.  Which is one heck of an incentive to increase unit sales to get just one more percentage point in market share.  And during times of high fuel costs one way to do that is to make a car cheaper to own by making it more fuel efficient.  That’s why they’re pouring money into carbon fiber technology.  Not because the government is offering what amounts to loose change under the sofa cushions as far as GM is concerned.  Because fuel efficiency equals higher market share when gasoline is expensive.  And market share equals higher revenue.  And profits.

Yes, it’s greed that’s making Ford and GM pursue carbon fiber to increase fuel efficiency.  Which is the best reason.  Because greed requires no government subsidies.

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Chevys and Jeeps appear to be Catching on Fire while being Driven

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 1st, 2012

Week in Review

More cars are catching on fire.  What these car companies need is more government help.  Active government intervention to help make their cars safer.  Like we know GM and Chrysler cars will now be.  Thanks to the caring and profit-less motives of our kind and loving government.  So exactly whose cars are catching on fire (see Fires in Chevrolet Cruzes, Jeep Wranglers spark probe by feds by Jerry Hirsch posted 4/1/2012 on the Los Angeles Times)?

Federal safety regulators have launched an investigation into the cause of fires in the Chevrolet Cruze, General Motors’ bestselling passenger car.

According to complaints made with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, there have been at least two incidents in which the small sedan has caught fire while being driven.  GM said it is researching warranty claims involving fires for at least 19 Cruzes…

The NHTSA launched the Cruze probe only two months after closing a similar investigation into fires that broke out following safety tests of the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s plug-in hybrid vehicle.  GM fixed the problem by adding structural reinforcement that better protects the Volt’s battery pack from punctures or a coolant leak in a severe side crash…

In one incident, a driver said they had a 2011 Cruze Eco – a model with a special factory-installed set of options that increases the sedan’s fuel economy – with about 11,000 miles on the odometer.

The driver complained of a slight smoke smell while driving and brought the vehicle to a stop.  A flame appeared out of the hood and the car was completely engulfed within five minutes. It was only after the first flames appeared that a warning light appeared on the dashboard…

The agency also has received eight reports alleging fires originating in the engine compartment of the 2010 model year Jeep Wrangler vehicles.

Seven of the 8 complainants allege the fire or symptoms of the impending fire began while driving.

Oh.  The cars are from the companies the government bailed out.  The ones with the caring and profit-less motives of our kind and loving government.

These numbers of cars catching fire are almost statistically insignificant.  Unless, of course, it was your car catching on fire.  And you were driving it at the time.  It doesn’t change anything statistically.  But it does change the significance of it.

I guess this is what we should expect now that the government has taken an active part in these companies since bailing them out of bankruptcy.  This may have nothing to do with these fires.  Though it is interesting that so far there haven’t been any Fords catching on fire.  And if you recall, the government didn’t bail out Ford.  So their management is still government-free.

If it’s not the government’s fault there’s still one thing you can say, though.  The government hasn’t made these cars safer than the ones built by the companies that didn’t receive any bailout help.  At least based on the cars that are catching on fire.  So government doesn’t automatically make things better.  While there’s even a case to be made that they make things worse.  Again, based on the cars catching fire.

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President Obama: Worse President than George W. Bush? Or Worst President Ever?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 8th, 2011

Obama Rolling up his Sleeves and Wagging his Finger

President Obama has taken out his wagging finger.  And he has wagged it.  Scolding Republicans to grow up and be like his daughters.  It is interesting he referred his daughters for an example of responsible behavior.  And not himself.  Because his track record on acting responsibly hasn’t been all that good as Charles Krauthammer points out and lists some of his failings (see The Elmendorf Rule by Charles Krauthammer posted 7/8/2011 on The Washington Post).

• Ignored the debt problem for two years by kicking the can to a commission.

• Promptly ignored the commission’s December 2010 report.

• Delivered a State of the Union address in January that didn’t even mention the word “debt” until 35 minutes in.

• Delivered in February a budget so embarrassing — it actually increased the deficit — that the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected it 97 to 0.

• Took a budget mulligan with his April 13 debt-plan speech. Asked in Congress how this new “budget framework” would affect the actual federal budget, Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf replied with a devastating “We don’t estimate speeches.” You can’t assign numbers to air.

Not even a modicum of responsibility there.  So he’s rather like the pot calling the kettle black.  He should perhaps have said “do as I say and not as I do even though I do not do as I say you should do but that’s okay because I’m smarter than you so there.  When will all of you finally get this?”

But the Republicans, insolent as they are, refuse to budge.  So Obama had to bring out the wagging finger to discipline these insolent children.  Advising them to be more like his own children.  Who do their homework in a timely manner.

My compliments. But the Republican House did do its homework. It’s called a budget. It passed the House on April 15. The Democratic Senate has produced no budget. Not just this year, but for two years running. As for the schoolmaster in chief, he produced two 2012 budget facsimiles: The first (February) was a farce and the second (April) was empty, dismissed by the CBO as nothing but words untethered to real numbers.

Obama has run disastrous annual deficits of around $1.5 trillion while insisting for months on a “clean” debt-ceiling increase, i.e., with no budget cuts at all. Yet suddenly he now rises to champion major long-term debt reduction, scorning any suggestions of a short-term debt-limit deal as can-kicking.

That’s right, neither the Democrats nor Obama has done any responsible fiscal legislating/governing for the past two years.  Looks like the responsible shoe is on the other foot.  And those deficits?  They’re records.  Over 5 times larger than those world-ending Reagan deficits.  Yet he has the audacity to wag that finger at the Republicans for not being responsible?  Perhaps he should be wagging that finger at himself. 

And what have been Obama’s own debt-reduction ideas? In last week’s news conference, he railed against the tax break for corporate jet owners — six times.

I did the math. If you collect that tax for the next 5,000 years — that is not a typo — it would equal the new debt Obama racked up last year alone. To put it another way, if we had levied this tax at the time of John the Baptist and collected it every year since — first in shekels, then in dollars — we would have 500 years to go before we could offset half of the debt added by Obama last year alone.

Obama’s other favorite debt-reduction refrain is canceling an oil-company tax break. Well, if you collect that oil tax and the corporate jet tax for the next 50 years — you will not yet have offset Obama’s deficit spending for February 2011.

It is clear the president is in reelection mode.  Because he’s stoking the fires of class warfare.  Rich people fly jets.  And own oil companies.  Rich people are getting sweetheart tax deals.  Saving them billions.  And he wants to put a stop to this unfairness.  And make it fair.  It won’t help to erase the deficit at all.  But it gives you something to campaign on.  Which he needs.  Because his policies have been an economic train wreck. 

The June Jobs Report is worse than May’s

How bad have those policies been?  The June jobs report is in.  And it’s worse than May’s (see June Jobs Report Lands With A Thud: Up Just 18,000 by Steve Schaefer posted 7/8/2011 on Forbes).

In a stark reminder that the U.S. economy has been mired in slow growth, the Labor Department reported Friday that nonfarm payrolls added just 18,000 jobs in June and unemployment came in at 9.2%…

The stunning lack of improvement in June’s report – April’s payrolls figure was revised to 217,000 from 232,000 and May’s cut by more than half to 25,000 from 54,000 – rocked Wall Street Friday morning, as index futures sharply reversed after indicating small opening gains earlier. The Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq were all signaling a red start to the trading session after solid gains Thursday.

And as bad as the May report was, the current report revises the May numbers down.  Fewer jobs were added than originally reported.  April’s, too.  It’s a trend.  Both a downward trend in job creation.  And the revising of previous reports.  Which means the anemic 18,000 jobs reported in June will likely be revised down in the July report.  There’s no good economic news out there.  The stimulus spending failed in a big way.  Which is why Obama is resorting to class warfare.  Because economically he has been an utter and absolute failure.

The June Jobs Report is even worse than it Says

And as bad as the June report was, it’s worse (see Without Dropouts, Jobless Rate Would Be Over 11% by Phil Izzo posted 7/8/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

The share of the population in the jobs market, called the labor-force participation rate, fell to 64.1% last month — the lowest level since 1984 when women were still just beginning to enter in full force… The participation rate was 66% at the start of the recession and 65.7% when the recovery started in June 2009. If the participation rate were still at that level, the unemployment rate would be more than 11% right now…

There’s also a problem of underemployment. A comprehensive gauge of labor underutilization, known as the “U-6″ for its data classification by the Labor Department, accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who can’t find full-time jobs. That number shot up in June to 16.2% from 15.8% a month earlier.

If we count the people who have given up looking for a job the actual unemployment rate would be as a high as 11%.  If you add in all those only working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job the unemployment rate jumps up to 16.2%.  These are horrible numbers.  How horrible?  These are more Great Depression numbers than George W. Bush numbers.

The Green Energy Bubble

America became the world’s largest economy thanks to the innovation of the private sector.  Great entrepreneurs like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford took risks.  The government didn’t have to tell them how to make steel better, more plentiful and cheaper.  Or how to make gasoline better, more plentiful and cheaper.  Or how to make automobiles better, more plentiful and cheaper.  That’s capitalism in the free market.  The private sector takes risks in pursuit of profits.  And when it does it makes things better, more plentiful and cheaper.  When people like Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford are left alone to do what they know how to do best.  Create wealth.  And jobs.

Obama, on the other hand, believes he knows best.  That he’s smarter than these entrepreneurs.  And that he can direct the private sector to do his bidding.  Which, of course, in his Ivy League world, should result with economic activity.  And jobs.  Even if you’re telling people to build stuff the market doesn’t want (see The Coming Clean Tech Crash by Devon Swezey posted 7/7/2011 on Forbes).

The global clean energy industry is set for a major crash. The reason is simple. Clean energy is still much more expensive and less reliable than coal or gas, and in an era of heightened budget austerity the subsidies required to make clean energy artificially cheaper are becoming unsustainable.

Clean tech crashes are nothing new. The U.S. wind energy industry has collapsed three times before, first in the mid 1990s and most recently in 2002 and 2004 when Congress failed to extend the tax credit that made it profitable. But the impact and magnitude of the coming clean tech crash will far outstrip those of past years.

After one of the worst housing bubbles in U.S. history we now have a green energy bubble.  That’s about to pop.  And you know what happens when a bubble pops?  You get a recession.  To correct for all that malinvestment (to borrow a little Austrian School vernacular).  Which is pretty bad considering we’re still trying to recover from the first bubble.  And may very well still be in a recession despite all the massaging of economic data to say otherwise.  So if we’re still in a recession perhaps the pop of this bubble will push us into depression.  If we’re not in one already.  Based on those god-awful employment numbers.

As part of its effort to combat the economic recession, the federal government pumped nearly $80 billion in direct investment and tax credits into the clean energy sector, catalyzing an unprecedented industry expansion. Solar energy, for example, grew 67% in the United States in 2010. The U.S. wind energy industry also experienced unprecedented growth as a result of the generous Section 1603 clean energy stimulus program. The industry grew by 40% and added 10 GW of new turbines in 2009. Yet many of the federal subsidies that have driven such rapid growth are set to expire in the next few years, and clean energy remains unable to compete without them.

The crash won’t be limited to the United States. In many European countries, clean energy subsidies have become budget casualties as governments attempt to curb mounting deficits. Spain, Germany, France, Italy and the Czech Republic have all announced cuts to clean energy subsidies.

Can’t compete without them?  So what was the point in giving them all of those subsidies in the first place?  Were we forever going to pay for a more costly energy while less costly energy (i.e., fossil fuel) was available?  Apparently so.   Being that the life-blood of an economy is energy that would have just raised the cost of all businesses.  And the price of all consumer goods.  Less disposable income means less demand.  Less demand means fewer jobs.  Not a good plan, really.  Unless your goal is to put the country into a depression.

And the problem is global.  So the coming economic crisis will be global.  As if the European Union didn’t have enough financial crises on their hands already.  This could even hurt those emerging markets of China, India and Brazil.  Who depend on these export markets.  As we depend on them.  To buy our debt.

The U.S. has tried this clean energy before.  And all of these attempts ended in failure.  For the reasons already noted.  But if we’ve tried this so many times before, why haven’t we figured out how to do it right?  To find that innovation that makes it cost-competitive with fossil fuels?

Why is the United States still locked in this self-perpetuating boom-bust cycle in clean energy? The problem, according to a new essay by energy experts David Victor and Kassia Yanosek in this week’s Foreign Affairs, is that our system of clean energy subsidization is jury-rigged to support the deployment of only the least-risky and most mature clean energy technologies, while lacking clear incentives for continual innovation that could make clean energy competitive on cost with conventional energy sources. Rather, we should “invest in more innovative technologies that stand a better chance of competing with conventional energy sources over the long haul.” According to Victor and Yanosek, nearly seven-eighths of global clean energy investment goes toward deploying existing technologies that aren’t competitive without subsidy, while only a small share goes to encouraging innovation in existing technologies or developing new ones.

Oh, that’s why.  Because the government is in the business of picking winners and losers when it comes to the lottery of free government money.  Which is par for the course.  For government spending is about political cronyism.  That money is spent based on political forces.  Not market forces.  Which is a shame.  Because spending that money isn’t necessary.  Because there is an incentive to create cost-competitive green energy.  Unfortunately, that incentive is being distorted by the government subsidies.

It is clear that the current budgetary environment in the United States presents challenges to the viability of the fast-growing clean energy industry. But it also presents an opportunity. By repurposing existing clean energy policies and investing in clean energy innovation, the United States can be the first country to make clean energy cheap and reliable, a distinction that is sure to bring major economic benefits in a multi-trillion dollar energy market.

Get rid of all that malinvestment and that multi-trillion dollar energy market will provide the necessary incentive for the private sector to solve the green energy problem. Making it cost competitive with fossil fuels.  For whoever cracks that nut will be the next Carnegie.  The next Rockefeller.  The next Ford. 

You want to create a green energy market?  Okay, I’ll tell you how to do it.  Step one, get government the hell out of the way.  Step two, eliminate the capital gains tax.  That will motivate people to spend money on solving the problem because if they’re successful they’ll be richer than the Kennedys.  Step three, enjoy your green energy.

Barack Obama and his Keynesian Economics have Failed

President Obama has no chance of reelection if he has to run on his economic record.  Because his economic record may prove to be the worst of all time.  And he knows it.  Hence the finger wagging.  And the class warfare.  He has spent more than any other president.  And not just a little more.  A lot more.  Before him the worst post-war federal deficits were around $200-400 billion.  Since Obama they’re around $1.5 trillion.  And yet he scolds Republicans for being irresponsible because they refuse to raise the debt limit without getting real spending cuts.  As if the Republicans spent all of that money.  Not him.  Or his Democrats.  If he was so worried about defaulting on American debt obligations he shouldn’t have spent money his administration didn’t have.  But he did.  And now he’s wagging his finger at Republicans.

And what did we get for all that spending?  Further proof that he and his administration are economically incompetent.  Government spending doesn’t create jobs.  And government doesn’t know better than the private sector.  He can talk with all the righteous indignation and all-knowing condescension he wants but it doesn’t change that fact.  America’s greatest economic achievements and innovation was done without Government butting into the private sector.

Barack Obama and his Keynesian economics have failed.  Time to try something new.

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LESSONS LEARNED #55: “Liberals are all for trickle-down economics as long as the wealth trickles down from those who support liberals.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 3rd, 2011

 JFK Governed as a Conservative

We’ve had two ‘trickle-down’ administrations in recent times.  Both JFK and Ronald Reagan were proponents of supply-side economics.  Between these two administrations we had a few Keynesians (LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter).  JFK and Reagan cut tax rates.  The Keynesians never lowered the tax rate lower than JFK’s.  Reagan did.  But not the Keynesians.

JFK was a Democrat.  But he governed as a conservative.  He was strong on defense.  Even got us into Vietnam to prevent the dominoes from falling in Southeast Asia.  And he was business friendly.  But that doesn’t stop Democrats from loving him, though.  Most probably don’t know anything about his conservative side.  They think about Camelot.  Jackie.  John John.  “Ich bin ein Berliner” (the big Cold War speech after the Soviet Union built the Berlin Wall).  Landing a man on the moon and returning him safely.  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  And the civil rights stuff.  Not that he was a hawk when it came to war (Bay of Pigs-sort of, Cuban Missiles Crisis and Vietnam).  And a tax cutter.

LBJ may have been JFK’s vice president but he was no JFK.  Kennedy wanted to build a strong economy and he believed that started with making a business-friendly environment.  Which he did.  Johnson, on the other hand, was a big, old school, liberal.  To him businesses were just cash piñatas for the government to whack.  He wanted their money.  Because he wanted to spend it.  And boy did he.  He exploded the role of government in our lives.  Increased taxes.  Increased regulation.  And increased the government bureaucracy.  He called it his Great Society.  And he gave FDR‘s New Deal a run for its money.

JFK’s Tax Cuts Stimulated Economic Activity

When Kennedy became president, there was a bit of a recession going on.  Unemployment got as high as 6.7% in his first year.  And the top marginal tax rate was 91%.  When he looked at the two the answer was obvious to him.  With a top marginal tax rate of 91%, there was little incentive to invest.  If your earnings exceed a certain amount, you only kept 9 cents of each additional dollar?  So why bother?  Like Billy Joel said, “You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime.  Is that all you get for your money?”  Or like George Harrison said, “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.  Cause I’m the taxman.”   

No one likes paying taxes.  Especially confiscatory taxes.  It’s why the Beatles left the UK.  All you need may be love.  But even hippies want to keep their money.  And JFK understood this.  High taxes discouraged investment.  And drove some business away.  So he put together an economic plan that included cuts in the tax rates.  He brought the top marginal rate from 91% to 70%.  And how did that work?  Not too bad.  Based on the numbers.

In the four years following his tax cuts, tax receipts increased 41%.  So he brought more money into Washington by cutting tax rates.  And it gets better.  The unemployment rate went down 33% (from 5.7% to 3.8%).  And GDP increased 35%.  In the technical language of economists, these numbers are awesome.

The LBJ/Nixon Policies End the JFK Economic Expansion

Well, the party wasn’t going to last.  Thanks to Lee Harvey Oswald.  JFK was dead.  Assassinated.  And LBJ took the oath of office in Air Force One before leaving Texas.  Who can forget the image of a grief-stricken Jackie as Johnson took the oath?  Much like with the assassination of Lincoln, the consequences of that action was to forever change the country (we all wonder how Reconstruction would have gone with Lincoln).  JFK was gone.  LBJ was in.  And he was bringing his Great Society with him.  And the size of government would never be the same.

Johnson raised taxes in his last 2 years to pay for the massive federal spending.  Nixon cut them.  He brought the top marginal rate back to the Kennedy level.  But he didn’t cut spending.  And to keep up with the spending he started printing money.  Gold started flying out of the country so he decoupled the dollar from gold, igniting inflation.  The heady days of the JFK economic expansion were over.  Looking at a period that included the last 2 years of LBJ’s term and Nixon’s 6 years, it’s not a pretty picture.

Tax receipts soared 77% to pay for all that government spending.  And, not surprisingly, the unemployment rate soared, too.  It went from 3.8% to 5.6% (an increase of 47%).  GDP shot up an impressive 80%, too.  Landing on the moon, Vietnam and the Great Society created a lot of economic activity.  But that economic activity wasn’t real.  It was a bubble.  Paid for with high taxes and printed dollars.  So prices were high thanks to inflation.  And a lot of us didn’t have a job.  And this is what Carter got when he entered office.  Malaise.  Stagflation (high unemployment and high inflation).  And something we called the misery index (the sum of the unemployment and inflation rates).  Carter was not going into the 1980 election with a lot going for him.  And the Iranian Hostage Crisis didn’t help any either.

Ronald Reagan Cuts Taxes, Stimulates the Economy and Wins the Cold War

Then came Ronald Reagan.  He put Carter out of his misery by winning the 1980 election.  Then rolled up his sleeves.  And got to work.  When he came into office the top marginal tax rate was 69%.  By the time he left it was 28%.  The Left called him reckless and irresponsible.  That he ran high deficits.  And exploded the federal debt.  Well, yes, both of these did increase during the Reagan years.  But it’s not because of the tax rate cuts.  Those were caused by spending more money than the treasury collected.  And, believe you me, the treasury really raked it in during the Reagan presidency.

In 1981, tax receipts were about $600 billion.  In 1990 (adding in the first year of George H.W. Bush), tax receipts were about $1 trillion.  In other words, the Reagan tax rate cuts increased tax receipts by 72%.  The treasury collected more tax dollars at the lower tax rates.  So there is no way no how you can blame deficits and debt on the Reagan tax rate cuts.  And it gets better.

During the Eighties, the unemployment rate fell 26%.  And the GDP rose 86%.  Lower tax rates.  Higher tax revenue.  Lower unemployment.  And a surge in economic activity.  Wow.  Can it get any better?  Why, yes.  Reagan spent the Soviet Union into defeat in the Cold War.  They just couldn’t keep up.  Caused a lot of trouble on the other side of the Iron Curtain.  Long story short, after his presidency, Eastern Europe would be free of Communism.  And the Berlin Wall would be no more. 

Supply-Side Economics Works

The moral of this lesson?  Supply-side (aka, trickle-down) economics works.  It worked for JFK.  And it worked for Reagan.  What doesn’t work is the Keynesian economics of LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter.  They grew government.  Increased government spending.  Giving us higher taxes, higher unemployment, higher inflation and malaise.  The only thing that trickled down was their misery.

So if trickle-down can fill the federal coffers why do liberals hate it?  Because those who support supply-side economics are typically in the private sector.  Have jobs.  Don’t belong to a union.  And don’t need any help from government.  You put that all together and the answer is clear.  These people don’t lobby liberals.  So what good is their wealth when no part of it makes its way to liberal pockets?  Like Big Labor?  Or public sector unions?

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LESSONS LEARNED #43: “If business ain’t selling, business ain’t hiring.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 9th, 2010

Before Competition, the Big Three were Living Large

President Obama bailed out GM and Chrysler in 2009.  And why did they need financial help?  The same reason any company needs financial help.  They weren’t selling enough.

I had a finance professor who said few companies have a debt problem.  Companies struggle because they have a revenue problem.  They’re simply not selling enough.  And when a company goes into bankruptcy reorganization, they emerge with the same revenue problems.  Which is why so many still fail after reorganizing and slashing their debt costs.

For decades, the Big Three had a monopoly on the automotive market.  Wherever you lived in the world, if you wanted a car you bought a Ford, GM or Chrysler product.  So the Big Three could charge whatever they wanted for their cars.  That is, until the Japanese entered the market.

Unskilled Line Workers Living Better than Doctors

It was their great success that led to their downfall.  Selling cars with fat profits allowed the Big Three to pay fat wage and benefits.  And they did.  Then the UAW got greedy.  An unskilled line worker could own two houses, a boat, 2 new cars, take expensive vacations, own the latest in toys, etc.  They lived better than doctors.  And doctors were highly skilled.  They spent 8 years in medical school.  And spent a decade of their life paying off the debt from that medical school.  And to add insult to injury, doctors worked 80+ hours per week during that decade when they lived like paupers.  Line workers worked only 40.  And lived like kings.

It was nice work if you could get it.  And many did.  Before the Japanese.  But it all started to come apart in the 1970s.  When the Big Three were selling junk.  Cars that rusted out in a few years.  Unreliable.  Ugly.  These just screamed “we just don’t give a damn anymore.”  More money went to the workers.  Less into making quality cars people wanted.  No problem for the UAW.  I mean, who else were you going to buy a car from?

Hello, what’s this?  Honda?  What’s that?  I’m not sure but it costs less.  And looks pretty good.  Nice quality.  So why should I continue to pay more for less and buy this junk from the Big Three?  Or so went the thinking.  Yes, the Japanese had arrived.  And they were selling something the people wanted.

Fat Wage and Benefit Packages come back to Bite the Big Three in the Ass

So that was the beginning of the end.  Those fat wage and benefit packages for unskilled labor required higher sticker prices than the market was willing to pay.  So they sold fewer cars.  And the Japanese (and, in time, the other imports) sold more.

But it got worse.  Not only were their revenues falling, but their costs were rising.  The Big Three were around for awhile.  They had an aging work force that was retiring.  And getting sick.  Pension and health care costs soared.  Costs per car soared.  While the Japanese were enjoying economies of scales (the more you sell the less each unit costs to make), the Big Three were bleeding red ink all over their balance sheets.

I was in a meeting one time on the floor of an assembly plant.  I was staring at the part of the line where a worker threw insulation into the bottom of the trunk.  She threw in a pad.  Walked over to her coworker at the next station.  Chatted a bit.  Walked back to her station.  Talked to someone else.  Then threw a pad into the next car on the line.  I could just see the red ink bleed.

The Big Three screwed themselves.  In order to cover those fat wage and benefit packages for their unskilled workers, they have to sell cars for a whole lot more than their competition was.  And they couldn’t.  Imagine McDonald’s workers receiving the same wage and benefit packages as the UAW.  And cooking hamburgers at the same pace.  You’d have to wait in line for 45 minutes for your burger.  And you’d pay over $20 for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

Buying American is not Necessarily American

I often see those bumper stickers that ask, “Unemployed?  Keep buying foreign.”  Or something like that.  What these people don’t understand, or choose not to understand, is that more people buy cars than make cars.  Paying more for less helps the few people that build cars.  While they enjoy a very good life, the greater number of buyers of those cars have to get by on less.  So the economy as a whole gets worse.  To help a group of unskilled workers live a better life than our own.

Is that fair?  Making the majority subsidize a minority elite?  Unless you live in North Korea or Cuba, the answer is, of course, ‘no’.  So we choose to buy what gives us the most value for our money.  Which is why the Japanese upstart Toyota would see the day when they would sell more cars than GM.  And why did they reach this remarkable milestone?  Because they were selling what people were willing to buy.

Interestingly, the GM and Chrysler bailouts were not your run of the mill reorganizations.  By the power the government gave itself, they walked all over the Rule of Law.  These companies didn’t have a debt problem.  Not anymore, at least.  Because the government screwed the bondholders.  And who did they reward?  That’s right, those unskilled UAW line workers.  The reorganization gave them shares in the new company for no other reason other than being politically loyal to the Democrat Party.  They weren’t even in the line of secured creditors, but that didn’t stop them from jumping to the head of that line.  Remarkable, really.  The Rule of Law had become merely a suggestion.

And when the union sold those ‘gift’ shares of stock they funded their unfunded pension liabilities.  While retirees who invested their life savings into GM bonds lost everything and had to get a job at McDonald’s.  Because McDonald’s is always hiring.  Because they are always selling something people want to buy.

McDonald’s can still Hire during Bad Economic Times

Like my finance professor said, no company fails because of a debt/cost problem.  A debt/cost problem happens when something happens to revenue.  And the biggest reason a business has a revenue problem is because of competition.  Someone somewhere is selling more for less.  Giving the people more bang for the buck.

During bad economic times, revenue problems quickly turn into cost problems.  For some.  Auto manufacturers may idle a shift at an assembly plant, laying off hundreds.  Because there’s no point in making cars no one is buying.  And these manufacturers simply cannot afford to pay these fat wage and benefit packages if they’re not selling cars.

But not everyone has the same financial problems during a recession.  Some still hire during bad economic times.  McDonald’s for one.  Why?  A couple of reasons.  Their workers don’t belong to the UAW.  Because of this we can still call McDonald’s fast food.  And your typical McDonald’s worker doesn’t own two houses, two cars and a boat.  So we don’t have to pay $37.50 for a #2 combo meal. 

We’re buying what McDonald’s is selling.  So they can hire people.  Even during bad economic times.

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