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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Rolls Royce, Cadillac, Moving Assembly Line, Economies of Scale, VCR, Cell Phones and HD Plasma Television

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 1st, 2013

History 101

The Moving Assembly Line allows GM to Divide their Costs over more Units than Rolls Royce

Rolls Royce automobiles are very expensive luxury cars.  Of impeccable quality.  It may be the finest automobile ever built.  And I say built not manufactured.  For they build a Rolls Royce by hand to ensure that high quality.  By some of the most experienced and skilled artisans to ever hone metal, wood and leather into an automobile.  Because of this they can’t make a lot of them a year.  They set a record sales total in 2011.  By selling 3,538 hand-crafted automobiles.  The entry price for a Rolls Royce?  Around $250,000.

By contrast GM sold 152,389 Cadillac luxury automobiles in 2011 in North America.  These are not hand-crafted.  The Americans build them on moving assembly lines.  Which is why they can build 43 times as many Cadillacs than they can hand-build Rolls Royces.  The entry price for a Cadillac?  About $33,100.  While a top of the line may cost you around $63,200.  Now Cadillacs are nice.  The name has become synonymous with high quality.  The best quality is the ‘Cadillac’ of something.  The quality may not be Rolls Royce quality but few will complain about that quality when sitting behind the wheel of a Cadillac.  They are glad to settle for a Cadillac over a Rolls Royce.  Especially when it costs 7.5 times as much to get into a Rolls Royce than into a Cadillac.

Why are hand-crafted Rolls Royce automobiles so much more costly than Cadillacs manufactured on a moving assembly line?  Economies of scale.  The higher production levels of the mass-produced cars allows GM to divide all of their costs over many more units.  Bringing the unit cost down.  And the selling price.  With fewer sales the unit cost for Rolls Royce is much higher.  As is the selling price.

As Demand grew Manufacturers were able to Bring Prices Down thanks to Economies of Scale

Rolls Royce pays a price for their commitment to quality.  They can’t sell cars as inexpensively as some of their luxury rivals.  But that’s okay for them.  As the market for hand-crafted luxury cars is large enough to keep them in business doing what they love.  Building the finest quality automobile in the world.  And those who want the best can afford to pay a quarter of a million dollars for an entry-level Rolls Royce.  So they do.  Which is why Rolls Royce doesn’t have to worry about economies of scales to compete against their competition.

Before Henry Ford built the moving assembly line cars were too expensive for the working man.  Henry Ford changed that.  Once they started manufacturing the new driving machine on the moving assembly line Ford was able to reach an economy of scale that greatly increased production rates.  Bringing down the unit cost.  And the selling price.  As new products entered the market place they were typically unaffordable to all but the rich.  But then as demand grew manufacturers were able to bring prices down thanks to economies of scale.  Like Henry Ford did with the automobile.

The first commercially viable video tape recorder was the Ampex model VR-1000 in 1956.  It cost $50,000 (about $421,000 today).  It was the size of a kitchen stove.  And about the only place you found them were in television broadcast studios.  From this early beginning came the technology for the video cassette recorder (VCR).  By the mid to late Seventies schools had one they rolled from room to room.  It cost approximately $5,000 (about $19,400 today).  About a decade later you could buy a smaller unit that could do more for around $2,000 (about $4,000 today).  Just before the DVD player and the digital video recorder made them obsolete you could get a nice one for about $100.  They were so small and so inexpensive that you bought one for every television in the house.

Bringing these Prices Down are State-of-the-Art High-Tech Manufacturers throughout Asia

When the first cell phones came out we called them car phones.  Because they were so big and had no real battery life that they were permanently installed in a car.  Connected to the electrical system of the car.  The first real portable cell phone was something that looked like a brick and weighed in around 2 pounds.  The battery gave you maybe an hour of talk time.  And it cost $3,995 in 1982 (about $9,600 today).  By 1993 the price was down to $900 ($1,400 today) but still weighed in at 2 pounds.  By 1996 the weight dropped to about 3 ounces.  It cost about $1,000 ($1,400 today).  By 2002 you could buy a flip-phone with a built-in high resolution camera for $400 (about $510 today).  And so on until they got smaller and more powerful with longer battery lives.  Today you can often get a pretty nice phone free when you sign a contract for service.

Things people like and demand can accelerate this process of quality improvement and lower prices.  For half a century the television has been a fixture in most American homes.  So technology buffs with money were always ready to spend a lot of money on the next best thing.  And when high-definition plasma televisions hit the market it didn’t take long for economies of scale to bring prices down as demand exploded for these beautiful things.  A Panasonic 42″ high-definition plasma television cost around $2,500 in 2004 (about $3,000 today).  About 4 years later you could get a slightly better set for about $700 (about $750 today).  Today you can buy an even better 42 inch plasma set from Panasonic for as little as $400.

Bringing these prices down are state-of-the-art high-tech manufacturers throughout Asia (Japan, South Korea, etc.).  They can mass produce cell phones and televisions and other high-tech goods at remarkable production rates.  Filling ships with their goods to export around the world.  They bring together high-skilled labor and the best in automated production equipment.  They can retool and begin new production so fast that they can fill the demand for the next big thing without missing a step.  And quickly ramp up to an economy of scale wherever they see growing consumer demand.  Bringing down unit costs.  And prices.  Making a lot of happy consumers around the world.

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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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Labor Costs, Standard of Living, Artisans, Gunsmiths, Specifications, Interchangeability of Parts, Machine Tools and the Assembly Line

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 15th, 2012

Technology 101

Since the Dawn of Civilization we’ve Waged a War against High Labor Costs

Technology determines our standard of living.  The greater we develop technology the higher our standard of living.  Because the things that make our lives easier and more enjoyable come down in price as technology advances.  So that the great conveniences and comforts of life are available to all.  And not just for the amusements of a wealthy upper class.  For example, who owned and enjoyed the first automobiles?  It was the wealthy upper class.  Exclusively.  Until Henry Ford used all the technology of the day to reduce the price of a car so that a working man could afford and enjoy one.  Changing America forever.

Labor.  The cost of people making things.  This is the cost that holds back the standard of living.  The thing that made the comforts of life affordable only to the rich.  Since the dawn of civilization we’ve waged a war against high labor costs.  To find ways to allow people to create more for less.  The division of labor allowed specialization and a middle class.  Where artisans made things they could trade for other things.  But artisans were artists.  Each thing they made was one of a kind.  And it took time.  A single artisan could not operate at an economies of scale to bring unit prices down.  Which tended to keep their more labor-intensive works more costly and available only to the wealthy class.  And rulers of their civilization.

Great talent was going to waste.  And a great number of people were not living anywhere near as well as the few well-to-do.  To unleash this human capital, to make a better life available to anyone, they had to reduce these labor costs.  Figure out a way to make more for less.  And we took a giant step forward in this direction thanks to war.  One of the great drivers of technology.

Precision Machine Tools allowed the Interchangeability of Parts

Some of our first firearms were works of art.  Built by highly skilled artisans.  Gunsmiths.  Who carefully and painstakingly shaped, fitted and gently filed parts he created and assembled together into a working firearm.  Changed the way we fought wars forever.  They were expensive.  And not all that plentiful at first.  Because it took such a long time for a gunsmith to build one from scratch.  Who was always busy building new guns.  Or carefully and painstakingly repairing old ones damaged in battle.  Shaping, fitting and filing a replacement part into the old firearm and restoring it to working order.

Then someone got a bright idea.  Actually, a few had the same bright idea at various points in time.  If we could standardize these parts by building them to a set of specifications we could mass-produce these parts.  Building the same part over and over again, one after another, following a set of specifications as closely as possible.  And then take these uniform parts and assemble firearms out of them.  Because the parts were uniform they were interchangeable.  Any part could go into any gun.  A worker could just grab these interchangeable parts from piles of identical parts and slap them together into a finished firearm.  Furthermore, we could keep spare parts in our armories.  So we can easily repair parts damaged or broken in combat by simply replacing the broken part with a new part.  Without sending the firearm back to the manufacturer.

Of course, the interchangeability of parts was not possible without the precision machine tools provided.  At first artisans guided their hand tools with a trained eye.  Often securing the piece he was working in a vise and working the tool around the piece.  Machine tools allowed us to spin our work and used a constrained tool to shape it.  Or to constrain our work and apply a spinning tool to drill, cut or shape it.  Using machines to constrain our work allowed us to apply greater forces on our work.  Which advanced metal working.  And allowed us to manufacture things with complex shapes and demanding specifications.  Creating the many thousands of pieces that we ultimately assemble into a finished good.  Allowing us to build more for less.

Computer Controlled Machine Tools and Robots increased the Speed and Precision of Assembling Automobiles

The interchangeability of parts and machine tools led to the assembly line.  Where we assembled things in mass quantities.  From piles of interchangeable parts.  Then Henry Ford made the assembly line move.  Taking mass production to a new level.  Reducing the costs for one of the wealthy class’ most expensive toys.  The automobile.  Bringing labor costs down so far that the final selling price was inexpensive enough for the working man to afford.

Computer controlled machine tools increased the speed and precision at which we made these interchangeable parts.  And robots on the assembly line increased the speed and precision of assembling automobiles.  Which should have reduced the price of cars even further.  But they seem to be more expensive than they need be.  Making many cars today too expensive for the working man.  Making them toys for the rich and well-to-do again.  For technology has reduced costs everywhere in the assembly pipeline but one.  The final assembly labor costs.  Which should have plummeted in the advance of all this technology.  But they haven’t.  Because unions have removed these costs from market forces.  Keeping labor costs higher than market costs.  And in turn pushing the selling price of their cars higher than market prices.  Opening the door to Japanese competition in the Seventies.  And the Japanese stepped in.  Sold a lot of cars.  So many that they would one day even sell more than GM.  Where we come full circle.  One of the countries (the other being Nazi Germany) that changed American manufacturing by pulling it out of the Great Depression changed it once again.

During the war years of the Great Depression FDR set a wage ceiling.  He didn’t want employers paying workers too much.  A bit of a problem when you’re trying to hire the best workers.  So employers got creative.  And, instead, started offering benefits to get around that wage ceiling to attract the best workers.  Following World War II the wage ceiling was gone.  But the benefits lived on.  And are some of the most contentious issues discussed at contract negotiations with the United Automobile Workers (UAW).  Ultimately leading to the great legacy costs that led the Big Three (GM, Chrysler and Ford) to bankruptcy and government bailouts. 

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LESSONS LEARNED #52: “The political right is usually right.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 10th, 2011

The Right Knows Business.  The Left Doesn’t.

Creating jobs is important.  Without jobs no one has any money.  No one can buy anything.  And the government can’t tax what we don’t have.  So jobs are important.  To those on the right.  As well as on the left.

Now critics of the Right claim that those on the right only care about profits.  Not people.  Whereas those on the left claim they care about people.  Not profits.  In some sense this is true.  Those on the right tend to understand business.  They know a business can only survive by making a profit.  And only a business that stays in business can create jobs.  The Right understands this.

Those on the left, on the other hand, don’t really understand business.  They don’t understand incentive.  Only duty.  And sacrifice.  For others, that is.  Not them.  They don’t think a business should make a profit.  That they should give any excess revenue to their workers.  Or to the government.  In other words, business owners, they feel, should serve others.  They should work and sacrifice so others may live better.  Workers shouldn’t have to work hard or sacrifice.  But owners should.

Protecting an Industry only Delays the Inevitable

Some great entrepreneurs created some great businesses.  Made life better for all of us.  Provided good, inexpensive clothing.  Made high quality steel cheaper and more plentiful than any other nation.  Built cars than the average working man could afford.  These titans of industry built this nation.  Because of them we surpassed all other nations and became the most powerful economic engine of the world.  Life was good.  There were lots of jobs.  Lots of stuff.  And lots of homes filled with the most modern stuff available.  America was the place to be.  People waited in line to immigrate to our shores.

Unfortunately, big piles of money attract a lot of people.  And not just workers begging to get a job in these new industries.  No.  It was people looking out for the workers.  Labor unions organized workers.  To get a ‘decent’ wage.  And better working conditions.  Cost of labor went up.  Which made the price of what they sold go up.  Imports started to look more attractive.  So government stepped in and slapped tariffs on those.  To force Americans to pay the higher price for our domestic goods.  Then they legislated ways to further ‘protect’ these American industries.  And how did that all work?

Well, take a look at the American textile, steel and automobile industries.  The Left overreached.  And killed these industries.  They’re no longer the dominate industries they once were.  We have no textile industry to speak of anymore.  The once big steel towns look more like ghost towns.  And the government had to bail out 2 of the Big Three auto makers.  Those generous union contracts added thousands to the price of a car.  Allowing Toyota to take over the top auto manufacturer spot from GM.  By providing the same or better quality for less.

Bad Jobs Today may have been Good Jobs Yesterday

That’s what happens when you protect an industry.  That industry has no incentive to innovate.  To be better.  To be more efficient.  To be more productive.  To give the consumer what they want.  Because when the consumer doesn’t have a choice, where else is the consumer going to go?  So protected industries rest on their laurels.  While others innovate.  And became better.

Combine that with union wages and benefits that keep getting higher and higher and what do you get?  Inferior products that cost more than the higher quality imports.  The Big Three sold crap during the Seventies.  Opened the door to the Japanese.  And a few decades later they took over the top spot from GM.  No matter how much we tried to protect our domestic automotive industry.

Say what you want about life before labor unions but the fact remains that we had more jobs.  And as dangerous or as dirty as those jobs were, people still came to this country by the thousands to get those jobs.  People were falling off the Golden Gate Bridge during construction.  Did that dissuade people from wanting to work on that bridge?  No.  There was a shanty town with people waiting for others to fall and die so they could get their job.  Sure, by today’s standards, these were some pretty nasty jobs.  But not then.  In fact, they were pretty damn good jobs.  Compared to what else was out there.  How can we say this?  Because they chose those jobs over the other jobs out there.

The Greed of the Left Killed the Golden Goose. 

Henry Ford had a bold idea.  He was going to mass produce a car so he could sell it at a price that the working man could afford.  To get the best people in his plants he offered $5 per day.  Twice what other manufacturing jobs were offering.  No union made him do this.  The market did.  He got the best mechanics and the lowest turnover rates.  Other businesses had to follow suit to retain their best people.  And working conditions improved.  Because of the greed of these business owners.

Contrast that to today where union contracts force high wage and benefit packages onto a manufacturer.  And contractual obligations that make it near impossible to get rid of excess workers during times of weak demand.  Using the Ford model, Detroit became the Motor City.  An economic dynamo.  Under the union model, GM and Chrysler went bankrupt.  And Detroit is considering bulldozing sparsely populated neighborhoods into farmland.

When profit wasn’t a dirty word businesses prospered and provided jobs.  When the left came in to protect the little guy from those greedy business owners they made it difficult to make a profit.  Business struggled to compete with their competition.  And when they couldn’t, they shuttered operations.  Jobs disappeared.  The greed of the left to protect against the greed of the right killed the golden goose.  And all those good manufacturing jobs grew legs and left the country.  Where they’re now providing a better life for other workers.  Like they once did here.

Greed is a Hell of an Incentive

The Right understands business.  The Left doesn’t.  But it has never stopped them from trying to tell businesses how they should conduct business.  And the more they get involved, the more business suffers.  The more jobs we lose.  And the less competitive we get as a nation.

FDR tried for a decade to end the Great Depression.  Nothing he did worked.  When World War II came along, something had to change.  There was a crisis.  We needed to provide war material to our allies.  So the FDR administration told American industry to do what they do best.  They let them make profits.  Restored incentive.  And the government said they would interfere no more.  Well, that unleashed the floodgates.  Workers were hired and factories worked round the clock.  Businesses made profits that let them innovate.  Improve productivity.  Trucks, planes, boats, weapons, etc., poured out of American factories.  The Allies armies were mechanized.  Jeeps and trucks moved our armies.  While the Nazis used horses to pull their artillery and supplies.  The Arsenal of Democracy, the Detroit dynamo of industry, won World War II.  And men like Henry Ford made it all possible.  Because they were greedy.

The post-war era was one of the most prosperous times in our nation.  There were jobs for everyone.  And a better life was there for the taking.  Times would stay good until the Left ushered in their Big Government programs beginning in the Sixties.  To protect the little guy.  And it’s been downhill ever since (with a brief respite during the Reagan Eighties).

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