LESSONS LEARNED #60: “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me again shame on public education.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 8th, 2011

Slaves were Costly and Inefficient

George Washington made a profit on his plantation.  Better than some of his fellow Founding FathersThomas Jefferson couldn’t make a profit and was forever in debt.  But Washington could.  And did.  And would have been more profitable had he split up his slave families.  You see, he wanted to sell his slaves and use paid-laborers instead.  Why?  Because paid-labor was more profitable than slave-labor?  “What?!?” you ask.    Yes, that’s right.  Paid-labor was more profitable than slave-labor.  For a couple of reasons. 

First of all, slaves weren’t free.  People bought them at auction.  And anyone familiar with an auction knows that people sell to the highest bidder.  So there was an initial ‘investment’ in a slave that you didn’t have with a paid-laborer.  Think of this as the difference of buying or renting a house.  If you buy you pay a lot of money to own the house.  And you are responsible for all of the maintenance and upkeep on the house.  It’s different with renting.  You pay just a little bit each month for as long as you stay in the house.  It’s similar with paid-labor.  You rent people for the time they work.  Then they go home and feed and house themselves.  Slaves didn’t go home.  Because they were home.  And planters had to feed and house them.  And attend to their other needs.  These costs added up.  Especially if you had a lot of slaves out of their working prime (old men and young children) that you still had to feed and house.  And these are what Washington had a lot of.  Many generations of non-working slaves that he had to feed and house.  Which is why he wanted to sell them.  But people only wanted the workers.  Not the rest of the family.  But he refused to break up the slaves families.  So he kept them.  Even though it was a poor business decision.

Now Washington was no abolitionist, but he saw the conflict between the institution of slavery and the American ideal.  But his motives were financial at first.  His large crop of tobacco was not a money-maker.  So he wanted to diversify his crops.  And his risks.  Which meant different labor skills for different crops.  And this favored paid-labor.  Because you can always hire skilled laborers to grow these different crops.  Which was the great disadvantage of slave-labor.  Their advantage was in the large, single-crop plantation where a diverse skill-set was not required.  Trained in one skill, they kept repeating that single skill on a grand scale.  It was the best you could hope for from slave-labor.  Where people did the minimum to avoid punishment.  For that was their only incentive.  Paid-laborers, on the other hand, you can fire them.  Or reward them for bumper crops.  So they have an incentive to hone their skills and become the best at what they do.

King Cotton Abdicates

But Washington couldn’t break up the slave families.  And there was no way to give them the many years of farming skills overnight in these new skill areas and turn them into proper paid-laborers.  Who could take care of themselves and their families while integrating them into free society.  Unless he gave up his day job.  So he continued to use slave-labor.  However, his will freed his slaves after his wife passed away.  He and his wife were the last generation to live the old way of life.  His successors were to live the new way of life.  His will further instructed to teach the newly freed slaves trade skills and help them integrate into free society.

Many critics of the United States like to point to the institution of slavery and say that is why we became a great nation.  That we grew rich on slave-labor.  That we reaped huge profits because slaves were free.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  First of all, as noted above, slave-labor was not free labor.  It was costly.  And inefficient.  It was such a bad business model that it had almost died of its own accord.  As many of the Founding Fathers had earnestly wished.  But something happened.  Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.  Now machines could separate the seeds from the cotton faster than they could pick it.  All of a sudden the large, single-crop, cotton plantations in the south needed to plant, grow and pick more cotton than ever before.  To feed these new, hungry machines.  Cotton was the new high-demand fabric.  The textile markets in Great Britain couldn’t buy enough of it.  And the Southern economy flourished like it had never did before.  Southern planters grew rich.  As did the Southern economy.  King Cotton they called it.  Because cotton was king.

And that is why the South lost the Civil War.  For if cotton was king that meant the South was a monarchy.  And for all intents and purposes, it was.  Most Southerners didn’t own slaves.  Most were poor.  Working on family farms.  The institution of slavery didn’t tarnish them.  No.  The rich planters owned the vast majority of the slaves.  The planter elite.  The planter aristocracy.  And it was an aristocracy in every sense of the word.  Just watch the classic Gone with the Wind and tell me what that world reminds you more of.  America?  Or European feudalism?  That wasn’t America.  America was the poor southerner working the family farm.  And the poor northerner working the family farm.  It was not inherited wealth passed from generation to generation.  Wealth created by labor bonded in servitude attached to the land (serfs in Europe, slaves in America).  No, this was not America.  It was a charmed life for the privileged few.  But only the privileged few.  Because it mattered what your last name was.

Laissez-Faire Capitalism wins the Civil War

The North won the Civil War because it was more laissez-faire capitalism.  The South had the better generals at the beginning of the war.  And the Southern soldier was a formidable foe in combat.  But factories in the North fed Northern shipyards.  Which built a navy that blockaded southern ports.  Making all that cotton worthless.  Great Britain would then turn to India for her cotton needs.  So much for King Cotton. 

The Southern economy was a cotton economy without a market.  They had factories and shipyards, too, buy not like the industrialized North.  The South never had a chance.  Unless she could strike a winning blow early.  Because they could not win a war of attrition.  Which is what the Civil War became.  Especially after the Confederate ‘high water’ mark.  Gettysburg.  The Confederacy shrank as the Union Army advanced.  Fed by a growing network of railroads.  This relentless advance of man and material made possible by the prudent investment of capital by savvy investors.  The genius of entrepreneurs.  And the drive of industrialists.

This miracle of capitalism would tip the scales again in World War I.  And in World War II.  The Arsenal of Democracy.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  Paid-laborers.  Incentive.  And profit.  The best things in life.  They gave us the comforts we now take for granted.  And they took us from a new nation to a superpower in little over one hundred years.

Pliant, Subservient Students grow up to become good Democratic Voters

So that’s history.  But people today still think slavery made us great.  They attack capitalism.  Incentive.  Profits.  And just about everything else that built and made this country great.  Why?  Because they learned somewhere that slavery made us great.  That capitalism is bad and unfair.  That incentive and profits exploit the working class.  Where?  In our public schools.  And our public universities.  Kids in our public institutions learn these things.  Not the things that made us great.  Because these schools indoctrinate.  They don’t educate.  Why?  For the same reason the planter aristocracy fought in the Civil War.  To protect a privileged class.

Today, the liberal Democrats are the descendants of the planter aristocracy.  Not literally.  But figuratively.  Liberal Democrats are not capitalists.  Or industrialists.  They don’t like incentive or profit.  They prefer patronage.  They like rewarding their friends.  And punishing their enemies.  And to have this power they need to have the people vote for them.  So they come across as the champion of the poor and friend of the working man.  Or any other minority or class of people whose vote they need to buy.  But they’re anything but.  For an example just look at one of their favorite cause célèbre.  The black family.  These white liberals want to ease other whites’ guilt over slavery by doing as much as they can for the black family.  To make up for all those years of injustice.  And they dropped a neutron bomb.  Aid to Families with Dependent Children.  AFDC.  A real feel-good thing to do.  But it led to an explosion of single-mother families in the black community.  Because of the incentives of the program.  It encouraged women to have more children.  Stay unmarried.  And not work.  For a young woman with no working skill this was a godsend.  The state would replace the father and provide for her and her children.  But as it turned out, the state was a very poor father figure.  Children need fathers.  We all know this.  That’s why there are big brother programs.  To provide a father figure for these fatherless children.  For they will stray without this strong role model in the family.  And have.  Economist Thomas Sowell blames AFDC for greatly destroying the black family.

But the liberal Democrats don’t look at the destruction they cause.  They look at the political power they’ve gained.  Much like the planter elite.  So they need to tweak history a bit.  To mask their failures.  And accentuate the good they meant to do.  But never did.  And what better way to do that than in our public schools?  So they take care of our teachers.  Pull them into their aristocratic class.  Help them get favorable contracts without allowing the taxpayers a say.  Feed them big salaries.  Some of which is returned to them via their union dues.  Quid pro quo. They live the good life.  The politicians get ‘campaign’ contributions.  And pliant, subservient students grow up to become good Democratic voters.

And thus the lie is sustained.  Those who destroy are portrayed as nurturers.  And those who nurture are portrayed as destroyers.  A political sleight of hand.  That pays dividends in the voting booth.

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LESSONS LEARNED #20: “It is never a consumer that complains about ‘predatory’ pricing.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 1st, 2010

ECONOMIES OF SCALE and vertical integration can do two things very well.  Make industrialists rich.  And make the things they sell cheap. 

The more you make, the less each thing you make costs.  Businesses have fixed costs.  Big one time investments in plant and equipment.  Businesses have to recover these costs.  Each thing they sell has a portion of these fixed costs added to its price.  The more they sell, the less they need to add to each unit sold.  This is economies of scale.  Think of bulk goods.  Warehouse clubs.  Places where you can buy large quantities of things at lower unit prices.  You may buy an ‘economy pack’ of 3 bottles of shampoo shrink-wrapped together.  The purchase price of a 3-pack will be greater than the price of a single bottle of shampoo at your convenient corner drug store.  But the unit cost of each of the bottles in the 3-pack will be less.  You save more over time by buying 3 bottles at a time.  Spending more, then, means spending less.  In time.

Few of us buy raw materials.  Few have a need for crude oil.  Iron ore.  Coal.  Limestone.  Manganese.  But they make the stuff we buy.  A lot of things have to happen before those raw materials make it to us in those things we buy.  It has to be mined or drilled/pumped.  Transported.  Processed.  Stored.  Transported again.  Processed again.  Stored again.  Transported again.  There are many different stages between extracting raw materials from the earth and incorporating them into a final product we consumers buy.  At every stage there are costs.  And inefficiencies.  Which add to costs.  By reducing these costs along the way, the component materials used at the final manufacturing stage cost less.  This reduces the selling price of the final product.  This is what vertical integration does.  It puts everything from the extraction of raw materials to the incorporation of those processed materials into the final product for sale under control of the final user.  It brings in a high level of quality, cost containment and reduction of inefficiencies into the entire process resulting in a high quality, mass produced, inexpensive product.

Not everyone can do these things.  You have to live and breathe the industry you’re in.  You have to understand it intimately.  An industrialist at the top of his game can do this.  A politician can’t.  States trying to take control of their economy have failed.  Every time they’ve tried.  Why?  Politicians are ‘intellectuals’.  They’ve never run a business.  They only thought about it.  And, somehow, that gives them the moral authority to tamper in something they are simply unqualified to do.  And when they meddle, they destroy.  Purposely.  Or through unintended consequences.  In the process, though, they enrich themselves.  And their cronies.

ANDREW CARNEGIE WAS a brilliant entrepreneur.  After working for a railroad, he saw the future.  Railroads.  And he would build its rails.  And its bridges.  With his Keystone Bridge Company.  Which used steel and iron.  So he built his Union Mills.  Which needed pig iron.  So he built his Lucy blast furnace.  Which consumed raw material (iron, coke, limestone).  So he secured his own sources of raw materials. 

His Lucy blast furnace set world records, nearly doubling the weekly output of his steel competitors.  No one made more steel than Carnegie.  For less.  In about 20 years, he brought the price down for steel rails from $160/ton to $17/ton.  And got rich in the process.

Economies of scale.  Vertical integration.  And innovation.  Carnegie hired the best people he could find and used the latest technology.  Always improving.  Always cutting costs.  Always making steel more plentiful.  And cheaper.  His steel built a nation.  Dominated the industry.  And destroyed the competition.  Of course, that drew the attention of the government.  And they tried to break up the steel giant because it was unfair to the competition.  Who couldn’t sell steel as cheap as he could.

JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER was a brilliant entrepreneur.  After trying the oil drilling business, he saw the future.  The refining business.  For America lit the night with kerosene.  And he would provide that kerosene.  At prices that a poor man could afford.  And he did.  And he saved the whales in the process (his cheap kerosene put the whale oil business out of business).

Like Carnegie, cutting costs and production efficiencies consumed him.  He built his own kilns and used his own timber for fuel.  He made his own barrels from his own timber.  He used his own horse-drawn carts, boats, rail cars and pipelines.  He bought up competitors.  He grew to dominate the industry.  By far the biggest shipper, he got better shipping rates than his competitors.  And he constantly innovated.  When others were dumping the gasoline byproduct from refining kerosene into the river (no internal combustion engine yet), he was using it for fuel.  He hired the best talent available to find a use for every byproduct from the refining process, giving us everything from industrial lubricants to petroleum jelly (i.e., Vaseline).

His company, Standard Oil, was close to being a monopoly.  When they controlled 90% of the market kerosene was never cheaper.  He brought the price down from $0.26/gallon to $0.08/gallon.  And that was an outrage.  We can’t allow any one company to control 90% of the market.  Sure, consumers were doing well, but the higher-cost competitors could not stay in business selling at those low prices.  So the government broke up Standard Oil via antitrust legislation (the Sherman Act).  To protect the country from monopolistic practices.  And cheap kerosene, apparently.

BILL GATES WAS a brilliant entrepreneur in building Microsoft.  The personal computer (PC) was new.  You couldn’t do much with it in the early days unless you were pretty computer savvy.  But programs were available that made them great business tools (word processing and spreadsheet programs). 

IBM created the PC.  And they licensed it so others could make IBM-like machines.  IBM clones.  The PC industry chewed each other up.  But Gates did well.  Because all of these machines used his operating system (Microsoft’s Disk Operating System – DOS).  Apple developed the Macintosh (with a mouse and Graphical User Interface – GUI) but it was expensive.  Anyone who used one in college wanted to buy one.  Until they saw the price.  So they bought an IBM clone instead.  And when Gates came out with Windows, they were just as easy to use as the Macs.

Because of the higher volume of the IBM platform sold, Microsoft flourished.  Software was bundled.  New machines came preloaded with Windows.  And Internet Explorer.  And Windows Media Player.  You got a lot of bang for the buck going with a Windows-based PC.  And Windows dominated the market.  Consumers weren’t complaining.  Much.  Sure, there were things they did bitch about (glitches, drivers, viruses, etc.), but it sure wasn’t price.

Of course, Microsoft’s competitors were hurting.  They couldn’t sell their products if Microsoft was giving away a similar product free.  Because they were hurting their competitors, the government tried to break up the company with the Sherman Act. 

THE NORTHERN SECURITIES SUIT of 1902 found a holding company guilty of not yet committing a crime.  Teddy Roosevelt’s administration filed a Sherman antitrust suit against Northern Securities.  This was a holding company for Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroads.  What’s a holding company?  It replaced a trust.   Which large corporations created in response to government’s attacks on large corporations.

Small competitors feared large corporations.  They could not compete against their economies of scale and vertical integration.  The little guys couldn’t sell things as cheap as the big corporations could.  So the government intervened to protect the little guy.  So they could sell at higher prices.

But businesses grow.  All big corporations started out as little guys.  And the growing process doesn’t stop.  So the big corporations had to find other ways to grow.  They formed trusts.  Then the trust-busters busted up the trusts.  The next form was the holding company. 

The trust-busters said that the big corporations, trusts and holding companies were all trying to become monopolies.  And once they eliminated all competitors, they would raise their prices and gouge the consumers.  Northern Securities never did.  But they could.  So they were guilty.  Because they might commit a crime.  One day.

ALL BUSINESS OWNERS aren’t morally ethical and honest.  But the market is, albeit cruel.  Economies of scales will always put the little guy out of business.  Sad, yes, for the little guy.  But for every little guy put out of business, millions of consumers save money.  They can buy things for less.  Which means they have more money to buy more things.  New things.  Different things.  From new little guys who now have a chance with this new surplus of purchasing power.

But when politicians get involved, consumers lose.  When they help a competitor, they help them by keeping prices high.  To keep competition ‘fair’.  For the politically connected.

Consumers never complain about low prices.  Only competitors do.  Or their employees.  Those working on whaling ships didn’t like to see the low price of Rockefeller’s kerosene.  But the new refining industry (and its auxiliaries) created far more jobs than were lost on the whaling ships.  We call it progress.  And with it comes a better life for the many.  Even if it is at the expense of the few.

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