Iron, Steel, the Steam Engine, Railroads, the Bessemer Process, Andrew Carnegie and the Lucy Furnace

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 21st, 2012

(Originally published December 14, 2011)

With the Steam Engine we could Build Factories Anywhere and Connect them by Railroads

Iron has been around for a long time.  The Romans used it.  And so did the British centuries later.  They kicked off the Industrial Revolution with iron.  And ended it with steel.  Which was nothing to sneeze at.  For the transition from iron to steel changed the world.  And the United States.  For it was steel that made the United States the dominant economy in the world.

The Romans mined coal in England and Wales.  Used it as a fuel for ovens to dry grain.  And for smelting iron ore.  After the Western Roman Empire collapsed, so did the need for coal.  But it came back.  And the demand was greater than ever.  Finding coal, though, required deeper holes.  Below the water table.  And holes below the water table tended to fill up with water.  To get to the coal, then, you had to pump out the water.  They tried different methods.  But the one that really did the trick was James Watt’s steam engine attached to a pump.

The steam engine was a game changer.  For the first time man could make energy anywhere he wanted.  He didn’t have to find running water to turn a waterwheel.  Depend on the winds.  Or animal power.  With the steam engine he could build a factory anywhere.  And connect these factories together with iron tracks.  On which a steam-powered locomotive could travel.  Ironically, the steam engine burned the very thing James Watt designed it to help mine.  Coal.

Andrew Carnegie made Steel so Inexpensive and Plentiful that he Built America

Iron was strong.  But steel was stronger.  And was the metal of choice.  Unfortunately it was more difficult to make.  So there wasn’t a lot of it around.  Making it expensive.  Unlike iron.  Which was easier to make.  You heated up (smelted) iron ore to burn off the stuff that wasn’t iron from the ore.  Giving you pig iron.  Named for the resulting shape at the end of the smelting process.  When the molten iron was poured into a mold.  There was a line down the center where the molten metal flowed.  And then branched off to fill up ingots.  When it cooled it looked like piglets suckling their mother.  Hence pig iron.

Pig iron had a high carbon content which made it brittle and unusable.  Further processing reduced the carbon content and produced wrought iron.  Which was usable.  And the dominate metal we used until steel.  But to get to steel we needed a better way of removing the residual carbon from the iron ore smelting process.  Something Henry Bessemer discovered.  Which we know as the Bessemer process.  Bessemer mass-produced steel in England by removing the impurities from pig iron by oxidizing them.  And he did this by blowing air through the molten iron.

Andrew Carnegie became a telegraph operator at Pennsylvania Railroad Company.  He excelled, moved up through the company and learned the railroad business.  He used his connections to invest in railroad related industries.  Iron.  Bridges.  And Rails.  He became rich.  He formed a bridge company.  And an ironworks.  Traveling in Europe he saw the Bessemer process.  Impressed, he took that technology and created the Lucy furnace.  Named after his wife.  And changed the world.  His passion to constantly reduce costs led him to vertical integration.  Owning and controlling the supply of raw materials that fed his industries.  He made steel so inexpensive and plentiful that he built America.  Railroads, bridges and skyscrapers exploded across America.  Cities and industries connected by steel tracks.  On which steam locomotives traveled.  Fueled by coal.  And transporting coal.  As well as other raw materials.  Including the finished goods they made.  Making America the new industrial and economic superpower in the world.

Knowing the Market Price of Steel Carnegie reduced his Costs of Production to sell his Steel below that Price

Andrew Carnegie became a rich man because of capitalism.  He lived during great times.  When entrepreneurs could create and produce with minimal government interference.  Which is why the United States became the dominant industrial and economic superpower.

The market set the price of steel.  Not a government bureaucrat.  This is key in capitalism.  Carnegie didn’t count labor inputs to determine the price of his steel.  No.  Instead, knowing the market price of steel he did everything in his powers to reduce his costs of production so he could sell his steel below that price.  Giving steel users less expensive steel.  Which was good for steel users.  As well as everyone else.  But he did this while still making great profits.  Everyone was a winner.  Except those who sold steel at higher prices who could no longer compete.

Carnegie spent part of his life accumulating great wealth.  And he spent the latter part of his life giving that wealth away.  He was one of the great philanthropists of all time.  Thanks to capitalism.  The entrepreneurial spirit.  And the American dream.  Which is individual liberty.  That freedom to create and produce.  Like Carnegie did.  Just as entrepreneurs everywhere have been during since we allowed them to profit from risk taking.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Economic Stimulus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 5th, 2012

Economics 101

Prices match Supply to Demand letting Suppliers know when to bring more Goods and Services to Market

There is a natural ebb and flow to the economy.  Through good times and bad.  And you can tell which way the economy is heading by prices in the market place.  When prices are rising times are typically good.  As people are gainfully employed with money to spend.  As they compete with each other for the goods and services in the market place demand rises.  Growing greater than the supply of goods and services.  So prices rise.  Because when there are fewer goods and services they are worth more money.  For those who have them to sell.  Because demand is so great people are willing to pay top dollar for them.  To get them while supplies last.  This attracts the attention of other suppliers.  Who want to cash in on those high prices.  So they bring more goods and services to market.

In time supply catches up to demand.  And passes it.  Suddenly the market has more goods and services than people are buying.  As inventories grow retailers stop buying so much from their wholesale suppliers.  Who in turn stop buying so much from their manufacturers.  Who in turn stop buying so much from their raw material suppliers.  And manufacturers and their raw material suppliers begin laying off workers.  So there are fewer people gainfully employed with money to spend.  The fewer gainfully employed buy less than the more gainfully employed.  Causing inventories to grow larger as more goods are going into them than are coming out of them.  So they start cutting prices.  To unload these inventories before people start buying even less.  Because they spent a lot of money to build those inventories.  And it costs to hold these items in warehouses and stockrooms.

And that’s the natural ebb and flow of the economy.  What economists call the business cycle.  That goes from an expanding economy to a contracting economy.  From boom to bust.  From inflation to recession.  Something normal.  And natural.  Though it could be unpleasant for those who lose their jobs.  But it’s something that must happen.  To correct prices.  You see, prices make all of this work automatically.  They match supply to demand.  Letting suppliers know when to bring more goods and services to market.  And when they’ve brought too much.  When the economy goes into recession prices fall.  Which tells suppliers that supply exceeds demand.  And that anything additional they bring to market will not sell.  As they incur costs to bring things to market this is very good information to have.  So they don’t waste money.  Leaving their businesses short of cash.  Possibly causing their businesses to fail.

Whenever we Devalue the Dollar with Inflationary Monetary Policy Prices Rise

No one likes losing their job.  Because they need income to pay their bills.  And the government doesn’t like people losing their jobs.  Because they tax those incomes to pay the government’s bills.  And unemployed people pay no income taxes.  So the government tries to tweak the economy.  At the federal level.  To extend the inflationary periods of the business cycle.  And they do that with inflationary monetary policy.  Using their monetary powers to keep interest rates below the true market interest rate.  Hoping it will encourage suppliers and consumers to keep borrowing and spending money.  Even though supply had already caught up to and passed demand.  Such that everyone that wanted to buy something could.  While every supplier that wanted to sell something couldn’t.

Some people take advantage of these lower interest rates.  Some people will remortgage their homes to lower their monthly payment.  Which will give them a little more disposable cash each month.  Which they may use to buy more stuff.  But other people will take this opportunity to buy a large house just because of the low interest rate.  As some businesses may borrow to expand their business just because of the low interest rate.  Not for unmet demand.  These actions may not help the economy.  In fact they may hurt the economy in the long-term.  When the inevitable recession comes along and they are so overextended they may not be able to pay their bills.  They may lose their house.  Or their business.  For the worst thing to have whenever you suffer a reduction in revenue or income is debt.

But there is an even worse effect of that inflationary monetary policy.  When you increase the money supply you increase the total amount of dollars in the economy.  But they’re chasing the same amount of goods and services.  Which makes each dollar worth less.  Requiring more of them to buy the same things they once did.  Which is why whenever we devalue the dollar with inflationary monetary policy prices rise.  So, yes, there may be an initial expansion of economic activity.  But some people will have inflationary expectations.  That is, they know prices will go up in the very near future.  So they won’t increase production.  Why?  While an initial burst of economic activity may draw down those bloated inventories those coming higher prices will increase business costs.  Which businesses will have to pass on in the prices of their goods.  And how do higher prices affect consumers?  They buy less.  So manufacturers are not going to expand production when price inflation is going to reduce their sales in the long run.

Cutting Taxes and Reducing Costly Regulations have Stimulated Economic Activity every time they’ve been Tried

Perhaps the worst effect of inflation is the false information those higher prices give.  When consumer demand rises so do prices.  And it’s a signal to suppliers to bring more goods and services to market.  But when prices rise because of a depreciated dollar and NOT due to higher consumer demand, some may bring more goods and services to market when there is no demand for it.  So you have rising prices.  And expanding production.  Producing more goods than the market is demanding.  Creating a bubble.  Adding a lot of stuff to the market place at very inflated prices.  That no one is buying.  Then the bubble bursts.  And recession sets in.  As businesses lay off workers to adjust supply to meet actual demand.  And those inflated prices fall back to market values.  The higher inflationary monetary policy pushed those prices up the farther they have to fall.  And the more painful the recession will be.

You see, inflationary monetary policy interferes with the natural ebb and flow of the economy.  And the automatic price mechanism that matches supply to demand.  By trying to expand the inflationary side of the business cycle, and contract the recessionary side, governments make recessions longer.  And more painful.  Which is why Keynesian stimulus policies (lowering interests rates and deficit spending) don’t stimulate long-term economic activity.  Yet it is what most governments turn to whenever the economy slows. While there is another way to stimulate economic activity.  One that is not so popular with most governments.  Across the board tax cuts on business and personal incomes.  And reducing costly regulations on businesses.  These make a more business-friendly environment.  Encouraging businesses to expand and hire people.  Because these actions will have a positive impact on a business’ long-term outlook.  And with consumers having more disposable income (thanks to the cuts in personal income tax rates) businesses know there will be a market of any increase in production.

So there you have two ways to stimulate economic activity.  One way that works (tax cuts and reducing costly business regulations).  And one that doesn’t (lowering interest rates and deficit spending).  So why is the one that doesn’t work chosen by most governments over the one that does?  Because governments like to spend money.  It’s how they build constituencies.  By giving generous benefits to voters.  But to do that they need tax revenue.  Lots of tax revenue.  Produced by increasing tax rates as often as they can.  So they cannot stand the thought of cutting taxes.  Ever.  Which is why they always choose inflationary policies over tax cuts.   Even though those policies fail to stimulate economic activity.  As proven throughout the era of Keynesian economics.  While cutting taxes and reducing costly regulations have stimulated economic activity every time they’ve been tried.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Macroeconomic Disequilibrium

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 24th, 2012

Economics 101

In the Barter System we Traded our Goods and Services for the Goods and Services of Others

Money.  It’s not what most people think it is.  It’s not what most politicians think it is.  Or their Keynesian economists.  They think it’s wealth.  That it has value.  But it doesn’t.  It is a temporary storage of value.  A medium of exchange.  And that alone.  Something that we created to make economic trades easier and more efficient.  And it’s those things we trade that have value.  The things that actually make wealth.  Not the money we trade for these things.

In our first economic exchanges there was no money.  Yet there were economic exchanges.  Of goods and services.  That’s right, there was economic activity before money.  People with talent (i.e., human capital) made things, grew things or did things.  They traded this talent with the talent of other people.  Other people with human capital.  Who made things, grew things or did things.  Who sought each other out.  To trade their goods and services for the goods and services of others.  Which you could only do if you had talent yourself.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods and services for goods and services.  Without using money.  Which meant you only had what you could do for yourself.  And the things you could trade for.  If you could find people that wanted what you had.  Which was the great drawback of the barter system.  The search costs.  The time and effort it took to find the people who had what you wanted.  And who wanted what you had.  It proved to be such an inefficient way to make economic transactions that they needed to come up with a better way.  And they did.

The Larger the Wheat Crop the Greater the Inflation and the Higher the Prices paid in Wheat

They found something to temporarily hold the value of their goods and services.  Money.  Something that held value long enough for people to trade their goods and services for it.  Which they then traded for the goods and services they wanted.  Greatly decreasing search costs.  Because you didn’t have to find someone who had what you wanted while having what they wanted.  You just had to take a sack of wheat (or something else that was valuable that other people would want) to market.  When you found what you wanted you simply paid an amount of wheat for what you wanted to buy.  Saving valuable time that you could put to better use.  Producing the goods or services your particular talent provided.

Using wheat for money is an example of commodity money.  Something that has intrinsic value.  You could use it as money and trade it for other goods and services.  Or you could use it to make bread.  Which is what gives it intrinsic value.  Everyone needs to eat.  And bread being the staple of life wheat was very, very valuable.  For back then famine was a real thing.  While living through the winter was not a sure thing.  So the value of wheat was life itself.  The more you had the less likely you would starve to death.  Especially after a bad growing season.  When those with wheat could trade it for a lot of other stuff.  But if it was a year with a bumper crop, well, that was another story.

If farmers flood the market with wheat because of an exceptional growing season then the value for each sack of wheat isn’t worth as much as it used to be.  Because there is just so much of it around.  Losing some of its intrinsic value.  Meaning that it won’t trade for as much as it once did.  The price of wheat falls.  As well as the value of money.  In other words, the bumper crop of wheat depreciated the value of wheat.  That is, the inflation of the wheat supply depreciated the value of the commodity money (wheat).  If the wheat crop was twice as large it would lose half of its value.  Such that it would take two sacks of wheat to buy what one sack once bought.  So the larger the wheat crop the greater the inflation and the higher the prices (except for wheat, of course).  On the other hand if a fire wipes out a civilization’s granary it will contract the wheat supply.  Making it more valuable (because there is less of it around).  Causing prices to fall (except for wheat, of course).  The greater the contraction (or deflation) of the wheat supply the greater the appreciation of the commodity money (wheat).  And the greater prices fall.  Because a little of it can buy a lot more than it once did.

Keynesian Expansionary Monetary Policy has only Disrupted Normal Market Forces

Creating a bumper crop of wheat is not easy.  Unlike printing fiat money.  It takes a lot of work to plow the additional acreage.  It takes additional seed.  Sowing.  Weeding.  Etc.  Which is why commodity money works so well.  Whether it’s growing wheat.  Or mining a precious metal like gold.  It is not easy or cheap to inflate.  Unlike printing fiat money.  Which is why people were so willing to accept it for payment.  For it was a relative constant.  They could accept it without fear of having to spend it quickly before it lost its value.  This brought stability to the markets.  And let the automatic price system match supply to the demand of goods and services.  If things were in high demand they would command a high price.  That high price would encourage others to bring more of those things to market.  If things were not in high demand their prices would fall.  And fewer people would bring them to market.  When supply equaled demand the market was in equilibrium.

Prices provide market signals.  They tell suppliers what the market wants more of.  And what the market wants less of.  That is, if there is a stable money supply.  Because this automatic price system doesn’t work so well during times of inflation.  Why?  Because during inflation prices rise.  Providing a signal to suppliers.  Only it’s a false signal.  For it’s not demand raising prices.  It’s a depreciated currency raising prices.  Causing some suppliers to increase production even though there is no increase in demand.  So they will expand production.  Hire more people.  And put more goods into the market place.  That no one will buy.  While inflation raises prices everywhere in the market.  Increasing the cost of doing business.  Which raises prices throughout the economy.  Because consumers are paying higher prices they cannot buy as much as they once did.  So all that new production ends up sitting in wholesale inventories.  As inventories swell the wholesalers cut back their orders.  And their suppliers, faced with falling orders, have to cut back.  Laying off employees.  And shuttering facilities.  All because inflation sent false signals and disrupted market equilibrium.

This is something the Keynesians don’t understand.  Or refuse to understand.  They believe they can control the economy simply by continuously inflating the money supply.  By just printing more fiat dollars.  As if the value was in the money.  And not the things (or services) of value we create with our human capital.  Economic activity is not about buying things with money.  It’s about using money to efficiently trade the things we make or do with our talent.  Inflating the money supply doesn’t create new value.  It just raises the price (in dollars) of our talents.  Which is why Keynesian expansionary monetary policy has been such a failure.  For their macroeconomic policies only disrupt normal market forces.  Which result in a macroeconomic disequilibrium.  Such as raising production in the face of falling demand.  Because of false price signals caused by inflation.  Which will only bring on an even more severe recession to restore that market equilibrium.  And the longer they try to prevent this correction through inflationary actions the longer and more severe the recession will be.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Say’s Law

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 6th, 2012

Economics 101

Keynesians believe if you Build Demand Economic Activity will Follow

People hate catching a common cold.  And have long wanted a cure for the common cold.  For a long time.  For hundreds of years.  But no one had ever filled this incredible demand.  All this time doctors and scientists still haven’t been able to figure that one out.  Despite knowing with that incredible demand, and our patent rights, whoever does figure that one out will become richer than Bill Gates.  Which is quite the incentive for figuring out the ingredients to make one little pill.  So why hasn’t anyone found the cure for the common cold?

There are many reasons.  But let’s just ignore them.  Like a Keynesian economist ignores a lot of things in their economic formulas.  In fact, let’s try and enter the head of some Keynesian economists.  And have them answer the question why there isn’t a cure for the common cold.  Based on their economic analysis you might hear them say that we have a cure for the common cold.  Because a high demand makes anything happen.  Or you might hear them say we don’t have a cure because enough people haven’t caught a cold yet.  And that we need to get more people to catch colds so we increase the demand for a cure.

Keynesians believe if you build demand economic activity will follow.  Like in that movie where they build a baseball diamond in a cornfield and those dead baseball players come back to play on it.  So Keynesians believe in government spending.  And love stimulus spending.  As well as taxing people to give their money to other people to spend.  Because having money to spend stimulates demand.  Consumers will consume things.  And increase consumption.  So suppliers will bring more things to market.  And create more jobs to meet that consumption demand.  Unless people save that money.  Which is something Keynesians hate.  Because saving reduces consumption.   Which is about the worst thing you could do in the universe of Keynesian economics.  Save money.  For in that universe spending trumps saving.  In fact, spending trumps everything.  No matter how you create that spending.  Keynesians actually believe taxing people so they can pay other people to dig a ditch and then fill that ditch back in stimulates economic activity.  Because these ditch diggers/fillers will take their paycheck and spend it.

Today People wait Anxiously for the next Apple Release to Learn what the Next Thing is that they Must Have

Of course there is a problem with this economic theory.  When you take money away from others they haven’t created new economic activity.  They just transferred that spending to someone else.  The people who earned that money spend less while the people who didn’t earn it spend more.  It’s a wash.  Some spending goes down.  While some spending goes up.  Actually there is a net loss in economic activity.  Because that money has to pass through government hands.  Where some of it sticks.  Because bureaucrats have to eat, too.  So the people receiving this money don’t receive as much as what was taxed away.  So Keynesian stimulus doesn’t really stimulate.  It actually reduces economic activity from what it might have been.  Because of the government’s cut.

And it gets worse.  Because this consumption demand doesn’t really create jobs.  We get nothing new out of it.  What do people demand?  Things they see.  Things they know about.  For it is hard to demand something that doesn’t exist.  You see a commercial for another incredible Apple product and you want it.  Thanks to some great advertising that explained why you must have it.  In other words, when you give money to people all they will do is buy things they’ve always wanted.  Things that already exist.  Old stuff.  It’s sort of the chicken and the egg thing.  Which came first?  Wanting something?  Or the thing that people want?

Raising taxes on Apple to create a more egalitarian society by redistributing their wealth will let people buy more of the old stuff.  But it won’t help Apple create more new things to bring to market.  Things we don’t even know about yet.  If we tax them so much that it leaves little left for them to invest in research and development how are they going to develop new things?  Things we don’t even know about yet?  Things that we will learn that we must have?  Once upon a time no one was asking for portable cassette players.  Then Sony came out with the Walkman.  And everyone had to have one.  Once upon a time there were no MP3 players.  No smartphones.  No tablet computers.  Now people must have these things.  After their manufacturers told us why we must have them.  Today people wait anxiously for the next Apple release to learn what the next thing is that they must have.

Say’s Law states that Supply Creates Demand

Supply leads demand.  We can’t ask for the unknown.  We can only ask for what the market has shown us.  Which is why Keynesian economics doesn’t work.  Because focusing on demand doesn’t work.  Giving people money to spend doesn’t stimulate creativity in the market place.  Because that money was taxed out of the market place.   Reducing profits.  Leaving less for businesses to invest into research and development.  And reducing their incentive to take big risks to bring the next big thing to market.  Like a phone you can talk to and ask questions.  Again something no one was demanding.  But now it’s something everyone wants.

Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832) was a French economist.  Another brilliant French mind that contributed to the Enlightenment.  And helped advance Western Civilization.  He observed how supply led demand.  Understood production was key in the economy.  He knew to create economic activity you had to focus on the producers.  Not the consumers.  Because if we encourage brilliant minds to bring brilliant things to market the demand will follow.  As history has shown.  And continues to show.  Every time a high-tech company brings something new to market that they have to explain to us before we realize we must have it.  Or said in another way, supply creates demand.  A little law of economics that we call Say’s law.

If Keynesian economics worked no one would have to have a job.  The government could print money for everyone.  And the people could take their government dollars and consume whatever was in the market place.  Which, of course, would be pretty sparse if no one worked.  If there were no Steve Jobs out there thinking of brilliant things to bring to market.  Because supply creates demand.  Demand doesn’t create supply.  For fists full of money won’t stimulate any economic activity if there is nothing to buy.  So using Keynesian stimulus as a cure for a recession is about as effective as someone’s homemade cure for the common cold.  You take the homemade concoction and in a week or two it cures you.  Of course, the cold just ran its course.  Which is how recessions end.  After they run their course.  Which can be a short course if there isn’t too much Keynesian intervention.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stages of Production

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2012

Economics 101

People used their Human Capital to Transform Raw Materials into Something Valuable

As we unleashed our human capital civilization advanced.  Our food needs taken care of thanks to advances in agriculture we used our new free time to think.  To think about transforming the world around us.  By exploring our world.  And the stuff that made it.  Great civilizations rose and fell throughout history.  But the ones that really advanced the world were those in northern Europe.  The people who conquered the oceans.  The Portuguese.  The Spanish.  The Dutch.  The French.  And the British.

As these great European powers set out to explore the world they established colonies in faraway lands.  To gather the raw materials available.  And to ship them back to their mother countries.  Where their advanced civilizations would transform those raw materials into higher value finished goods.  And then export them throughout the world.  Including their colonies.  This was mercantilism.  Establish colonies.  Ship raw materials to the mother country.  Export finished goods.  And Import bullion accepted in payment for those finished goods.

It’s not a good economic system.  Mercantilism.  But it did create the United States.  Which started out as a British colony.  But as a colony of a mercantilist country the Americans had to follow the rules of the mother country.  First of all they had to understand their place.  And purpose.  They were subordinate to the mother country.  And their only purpose was to procure raw materials and ship them to the mother country.  They couldn’t open trade with other countries.  Everything that left the colonies had to go on a British ship to a British port.  Where British manufacturers would transform those raw materials into finished goods for export.  The British did this because finished goods were more valuable than raw goods.  And sold for much higher prices than the raw materials sold for.  So Britain did the manufacturing.  While their colonies fed their manufacturers with raw material.

The Stages of Production is the Economic Activity that happens to bring Finished Goods to Market

The British eventually abandoned mercantilism and adopted free market capitalism and free trade.  And the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  This after losing the American colonies in the Revolutionary War, losing about half of their empire.  So free market capitalism is clearly superior to mercantilism.  But for a couple of centuries mercantilism built empires.  And provided an excellent example of the stages of production.

Raw materials mean little to consumers.  What we like are the things that people with human capital transform them into.  The things we go to the store to buy.  Such as a smartphone, for example.  Whenever a new model comes out we flock to our favorite retail store to buy it.  The retail store has it to sell because they bought a shipment from their wholesaler.  The wholesaler had it to sell because they bought it from the assembly plants that assembled them.  The assembly plants could build them because they bought the components (displays, hard cases, antennas, keys, circuit boards, etc.) from various manufacturers.  And the various manufactures bought raw materials from those who extracted them from the ground.  Interconnecting all of these is ship, rail and truck transportation.  Even planes.  Not to mention an extensive cellular network to make these smartphones work.  As well as all the software applications they run.  Adding value at every stage along the way.

There is much economic activity that happens to bring that smartphone to your favorite retail store.  Throughout these stages of production.  Note how everything else has to happen before you buy that smartphone.  Going all the way back to the extraction of raw materials from the ground.  All of these stages have to happen before you buy that phone.  So the payment for the phone follows much later than all of these other stages.  Introducing a very important element in the stages of production.  Time.  It takes time to bring things to market.  And because it takes time it also takes money.  Everyone working from raw material extraction to the salesperson selling you the phone earns an income.  And their employers pay them before you buy your phone.  Some a lot earlier than others.  Also, all of these people either work in a building.  Or in the field with equipment.  Things that others have to build first before we can even begin our raw material extraction.  Requiring an enormous capital investment before anyone earns a dime of revenue on the sale of a smartphone.

The British Empire went on to Rule the World for a Century or More because they let the Market Manage their Economy

To bring a smartphone to a retailer near you requires people to risk their money by investing in something that may earn a profit.  Investors.  And bankers.  As people saved their money they created large pools of capital for businesses to borrow.  Venture capitalists bankrolled promising entrepreneurs.  And the big corporations turned to the equity and bond markets to raise their capital.  Individuals worked hard and saved money to put in their savings account.  Or to buy stocks and bonds.  Because they did there was money to borrow.  Or to invest.  And because there was money to borrow and invest the stages of production could begin.

In the days of mercantilism the government controlled much of this.  Even providing some of that early capital.  But as the economy grew more complex it was too complex for government to manage.  Which is why the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or more.  Because they let the market manage their economy.  A myriad of people in the market place pursuing their own interests.  Pursuing profits.  Which is why free market capitalism works.  For no one person could know enough to manage all of the stages of productions to bring a smartphone to market.  And the beautiful thing is in free market capitalism no one person has to.  For when people throughout the stages of production pursue profits smartphones arrive at a retailer near you.  At reasonable prices to boot.

So the next time you pick up a smartphone at a retailer think of everything it took to bring it to your hands.  And everything it takes to operate it as you wish.  Hundreds of thousands of people pursuing profits.  Most of which have no idea what they’re doing will allow you to hold a smartphone at your favorite retailer.  Because in the stages of production everyone does their part.  Without any consideration of what their part is in the big picture.  Which is why it works so well.  Thanks to people thinking.  And unleashing their human capital to create great things throughout the stages of production.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rent-Seeking

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 11th, 2012

Economics 101

Wealth Creators Freely met and Made Trades they felt were Mutually Beneficial

The human race started as subsistence hunters and gatherers.  Our ancestors spent all of their time hunting.  And gathering.  If they were successful they propagated our species.  Making it possible for us to be here.  If they weren’t their family tree was a barren one. 

So that was life.  A rather short and brutish life.  Except that part about propagating the species.  And we lived that way for some 2 million years.  Eating.  Fleeing.  Fighting.  And, of course, propagating.  As we grew more intelligent we did a lot of things that ushered in the modern world.  But perhaps the single greatest advancement that brought on the modern age was our evolution from hunters and gatherers to farmers.  Everything followed from this.  We learned to live together in cities.  And we increased crop yields so much we created food surpluses.  Which gave us time to do other things.  It allowed the rise of artisans.  A middle class.  That built things and traded them for their food.  These new goods helped produce more food.  And the greater food production allowed more people to do other things.  Creating a complex economy.  Where people traveled to market with the things they created.  And traded them for the things other people brought to market.  We traded things of value for other things of value.  Because these traders, these wealth creators, each created something of value.

These wealth creators freely met and made trades they felt were mutually beneficial.  Each felt they came out a winner after their trade.  For they each received something they valued more than what they traded away to get it.  Which means going to the market was where to go to get valuable things.  Which provided an incentive to make more things so you could take them to market.  And trade for things you valued more.  As everyone did this the overall wealth in the economy increased.  People specialized.  Focused on what they were good at.  To produce as much as possible so they could trade for more.  And because they specialized they improved quality.  And used the available resources as efficiently as possible.

Rent-Seeking People took more Wealth from the Market than they Brought to It

There are many competing schools of economics.  But if you go back to where it all began what you find is laissez faire free market capitalism.  Where the profit incentive drove people to create wealth.  Which they then traded for the things they didn’t make.  Then things started to change.  Some people didn’t want to work hard and innovate.  And bring new things to market.  What they wanted was influence.  Privilege.  And a rigged market.  So they could get more in trade than the value of the things they produced for trade.  One of the first vehicles used for this was the artisan guild.

In medieval Europe if you wanted to be a blacksmith you had to join a guild.  If the guild accepted you a long apprenticeship awaited you.  But the guilds denied more people entry than they allowed.  Why?  To limit competition.  So blacksmiths could keep their prices high.  At any given time a city, town or village had a very limited number of blacksmiths.  The guild worked to keep it that way.  For the last thing these blacksmiths wanted was other blacksmiths opening up shop.  Putting more goods onto the market.  And lowering prices.  No, the guild wanted to fix prices above their market value by keeping would-be blacksmiths out of the trade.

The economic term for this is rent-seeking.  Which is sort of the opposite of profit seeking.  In profit-seeking people create wealth to trade (or to pay) for other wealth.  They work hard to earn more so they can buy more.  Both buyer and seller add wealth to the economy.  Not so in rent-seeking.  In rent-seeking you try to garner more wealth not by working harder but by using the power of government.  By getting tariffs placed on foreign competition.  By getting prices fixed above market prices.  By getting onerous regulations enacted to hurt your competition.  By restricting entrance into the industry thus limiting domestic competition.  Such as the guilds did for those medieval blacksmiths.  This interference into laissez faire free market capitalism reduced economic activity.  Because rent-seeking people took more wealth from the market than they brought to it.

The Government caused the Great Depression by Favoring Rent-Seeking over Free Market Capitalism

Some say a better name for rent-seeking is privilege seeking.  For that is what they are seeking.  Special privilege so they don’t have to compete in the free market.  For the cost of a little lobbying can remove the need for innovation.  Maintaining the level of quality.  Or satisfying customers.  For if you have a government-imposed monopoly you don’t have to do any of those things because the people don’t have anywhere else to go.

Rent-seeking is rife in crony capitalism and state capitalism.  Neither of which is true capitalism.  These companies are granted monopolies (or near monopolies) by the government in exchange for political support.  Which they can afford when they can sell their goods above market prices.  They get rich.  Their cronies in government get rich.  But the consumers suffer.  As they have to pay higher prices. Suffer poorer quality.  And less innovation.  Rent-seeking is common in the older industries.  Particularly ones with strong unions.  Who have negotiated costly wage and benefit packages.  Which they can afford to pay until new innovation and new competition enters the market.  Putting out a higher quality product at a lower price.  Prices so low that an old firm saddled with a costly union wage and benefit package simply can’t sell at and pay their bills.  So they go to government.  And lobby for privilege.

What typically happens is that they delay the inevitable.  All the protected industries in the U.S. have failed.  Textile.  Steel.  Even the automobile (well, two of the Big Three have failed.  Ford hasn’t).  For when you take more wealth from the market than you bring to it you’re just transferring wealth.  You’re not creating it.  Which is a problem.  Because you have to create wealth to increase economic activity.  So when you protect an industry you’re just pulling wealth out of the private economy and transferring it to the rent-seekers.  Who give so little in return.   Which results in a decline of economic activity.  And if it spreads enough it can and has caused recessions.  Even a Great Depression.  Such as when domestic industries lobbied government to enact the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Which launched an all-out trade war.  All because the government favored rent-seeking over free market capitalism.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Chinese Economy is mostly Bad Investments, Savings and little Domestic Consumption

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

The Chinese economic juggernaut is losing steam.  The communist 5-year plans in infrastructure projects isn’t having the magic it once did.  Exports are down thanks to a worldwide recession.  And worse of all for Keynesians everywhere savings are outpacing consumption.  People across China are acting responsibly.  And this just won’t do (see Chinese urged to spend more, save less by Mure Dickie posted 5/25/2012 on The Washington Post).

Yet with China’s economy slowing — to a relatively modest annual rate of 8.1 percent growth in the first quarter — some observers fret that consumption could be faltering. Retail spending in April was weaker than expected. And while Wen Jiabao, the premier, last week signaled action to shore up growth, the government appears to have set its policy focus on promoting investment rather than consumption…

Indeed, [Andrew] Batson [research director at GK Dragonomics] suggests that the present slowdown could promote a much-heralded rebalancing of China’s economy, away from reliance on increasingly unproductive investment to a healthier consumption-driven model.

While the government has long talked of such a shift, the proportion of gross domestic product accounted for by investment actually soared to 46 percent in 2010, while household consumption’s share of GDP slumped to just 35 percent…

So China’s investment is increasingly unproductive.  Perhaps their high-speed train program isn’t the only black hole for their investment capital to disappear in.  The Chinese have invested a fortune in their high-speed trains but so far that has been an investment earning a negative return.  Sure, it created a lot of jobs but their high-speed trains can’t turn a profit.  So far they’re only accumulating debt.  But they keep spending this money.  Adherents to Keynesian economics that they are.  For the Keynesians say anything that puts more money into a workers pocket is good.  Because that worker will spend that money.  Even if we pay him to dig a ditch.  And then pay him to fill it back in.  Or pay him to build a very costly high-speed railway that the people don’t need.  Or can ever pay for itself.  A Keynesian will say that’s good.  Because it will give the worker money.  And that worker will spend that money.  Thus increasing consumption.  Unless that worker does something stupid like put it in the bank.

Some economists say the government needs to do more to promote this rebalancing in a country where citizens still save a far larger proportion of their incomes than do their counterparts in developed economies…

Lower-income consumers also save fiercely. In the village of Wuti in northern Hebei province, house builder Li Moxiang and his farmer wife aim to set aside $3,150 or more a year to help raise their future grandchild — even though stingy state-set interest rates mean such savings are constantly eroded by inflation…

A big motivation for such saving is the lack of a social security system to cushion Chinese in old age or ill health. Serious illness or accident often spells household bankruptcy. For most rural people, children have to play the role of pension provider.

In a report this week, the World Bank said fiscal measures to support consumption — including targeted tax cuts, social welfare spending and other social expenditures — should be Beijing’s top priority as it seeks to avert an economic “hard landing.”

Some economists would like to see mass privatization to shift wealth out of the dominant and domineering state sector.

Keynesians hate savings.  They want people to spend their money.  And not be responsible and save for their retirement.  Or to save to pay for any unexpected expenses.  Why they hate savings so much that they constantly inflate the currency to dissuade you from saving.  For if you do save you’ll only see inflation eat away the value of your savings.  Sort of like putting an expiration date on your money.  Telling you saving is for fools.  That consumption is the smart way to go.  And so what if you can’t afford food or housing in your retirement.  Or pay for medical care.  That’s what family is for.  So you can be a burden to them.

Right now the social democracies of Europe are imploding from the massive debts they incurred from their social spending.  And the World Bank is encouraging Beijing to increase their social spending.  To be as irresponsible as the Europeans were.  Unbelievable.  Europe is burning because of the social expenditures they can no longer afford to pay.  And the people are rather reluctant to give up.  So when the government tries to live within their means with a touch of austerity the people reply with riots.  And this is what the World Bank is advising the Chinese to do.

History repeats.  For everything the Chinese are doing, or trying to do, or are being advised to do has been done by every nation with a spending and debt problem.  Sure, China is still enjoying 8% GDP growth.  But a lot of that growth is from building stuff that the market isn’t demanding.  Consumer spending in China is only at 35%.  With the worldwide recession hurting Chinese exports that leaves that 35% as a large component of their market-driven spending.  And you can rarely sustain economic growth from making stuff the market isn’t demanding.  Instead this artificial growth usually leads to some kind of a bubble.  And a painful recession to correct the mess the government made while artificially increasing economic output.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FT118: ” It’s better to have rich investors risk their wealth than having the government risk our taxes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 18th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

It wasn’t the Private Investors who lost Half a Billion Dollars on Solyndra

It takes money to create jobs.  Some conveniently forget this fact when the politicians want to take money away from rich people who got rich by creating jobs.  But the politicians always remember this fact when they want to ‘invest’ our tax money into projects to create jobs.  When they want to spend our taxes they then fully understand the concept that it takes money to create jobs.  Funny how that works.

Also funny is that the projects the politicians want to invest in are not projects the rich investors want to invest in.  Because it’s their wealth they’re risking they are a little choosier in deciding where to invest it.  So they don’t invest in these losers the politicians champion.  For even though these politicians are Ivy League graduates who are smarter than everyone else they only like to risk other people’s money.  Unless they have inside information.  Such as pending legislation that will affect the market.  Then they’ll invest their own money.  But that’s the only time.  For as smart as these Ivy League graduates are they have little understanding of free market capitalism.  Or what it takes to be an entrepreneur.  And have no idea how to evaluate an investment opportunity without having inside information.

Still, politicians are so arrogant to believe that they are smarter than the market.  And that if they ‘wisely’ invest our tax money that they can do a better job than those who risk their own money.  People the politicians believe aren’t smart enough to make the best and wisest investments.  Despite their having gotten rich doing just that.  Making wise investments.  For example, it wasn’t the private investors who lost half a billion dollars on Solyndra.  For they saw the only thing keeping the solar industry afloat were government subsidies.  And any industry that requires government subsidies is not likely ever to earn a profit.  So they said ‘no’ to Solyndra and put their money in what they deemed wiser investments.  While the government invested in Solyndra.  Because they saw that as the ‘wiser’ investment.  Only to lose a half a billion of our tax dollars in the process.  Yup.  When it comes to making smart investments the politicians are regular ‘geniuses’.  And by that I mean they are actually the opposite of geniuses.  I was using sarcasm.

Politicians lose Hundreds of Billions of our Tax Dollars in Investment after Investment because they Care 

So the politicians are worse than the worst rank amateur investor.  We know it.  They know it.  At least they should know it what with their perfect record of failure.  So why do they do it?  Why do they continually take money away from the people who know how to better invest that money so they can make some of the worst investments of all time?  That’s a good question.  And we really need to think about it. 

To figure this out think about this one word.  Elections.  That’s the key.  You see, a majority of people wouldn’t vote for these politicians.  Because they want to spend our money.  They want to raise our taxes.  So they can spend it on more Solyndras.  How does that help them?  Here’s how.  People at these companies who receive this federal money are very grateful.  And to show their gratitude they make campaign contributions.  Often with some of the very money they received from the government.  Part of that ‘wise’ investment to create the ‘smart jobs’ of the future.  And why not?  There’ll be a little left over after paying some generous executive salaries and bonuses.  Why not give a little back to the people that made all of that possible?  Make a nice campaign contribution to help the politicians convince the people that they are smart and wise and deserve to win the next election.  So they can spend more of the people’s taxes.  Into other wise investments.  Like Solyndra. 

You just need one thing to make this all possible.  A bad investment.  An investment so bad that no rich people will risk their own money.  Because they know what a loser the investment is.  It has to be that bad.  So someone in the government can say rich people are evil and selfish.  That they only care about turning a profit.  That they are not interested in the jobs of the future.  Or high paying jobs with good benefits for the working man.  Like the politicians do.  They care about the people.  Instead of turning a profit.  And are willing to invest taxpayer money in the poorest of investments.  And lose hundreds of billions of our tax dollars in investment after investment.  Because they care.  More for their own self-interests but they care.  Unlike those evil rich people.  Who refuse to waste valuable investment capital.  And won’t let the people they’ve loaned it to waste it either.  Because they only care about the money.  Unlike our government.  Who has no problem throwing away trillions of our tax dollars.

Investors Invest Responsibly and know how to Pick a Winner that will Create Jobs 

Rich investors take risks when they invest their own money.  So they are very careful in how they invest it.  And when they invest it they are very interested in how that money is used.  They don’t need any oversight committees or legislation.  Because they are no one’s fool.  They are not rank amateurs.  And they appreciate the value of hard-earned money.  They have a vested interest to make sure that money is used in the most efficient manner possible.  Because it’s their money.  And they care.

Politicians invest taxpayer money.  They have no vested interest.  So they don’t care.  When they run out of money from all of their bad investments they don’t suffer any consequences.  All they do is malign rich people again to foster a little class warfare to make raising taxes on the ‘evil rich’ easier.  Then they keep on making bad investments.  Mostly to their political cronies.  Who will return some of that public money back to them in the form of a campaign contribution.

That’s why it’s better to have rich investors risk their wealth than having the government risk our taxes.  Investors will invest responsibly.  The politicians will not.  And the investors know how to pick a winner that will create jobs.  The politicians do not.  The only way they know how to make money is with inside information.  Or skimming a little off the top of the public purse.  Which is the only way to explain investments like Solyndra.  It’s either that or our politicians are just really stupid. 

What a choice.  Corrupt or stupid.  Or is it even worse?  Are they corrupt AND stupid?  If so it sure would help explain a lot.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Capital and Capitalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 7th, 2012

Economics 101

Entrepreneurs have an Insatiable Desire to Think and Create

It takes money to make money.  For it is money that buys the means of production.  The land, manufacturing plants, small shops, office space, machines, equipment and infrastructure that make things.  The trucks, barges, container ships, locomotives and rolling stock that transport raw material, work-in-progress and finished goods.  These physical assets are capital.  From assembly lines to inventory control systems to accounting software.  Things that let businesses conduct business.  And make profits.

This is the key to capitalism.  Profits.  It’s what allows businesses to make the things we need and enjoy.  Profits are what make an entrepreneur take a risk.  To spend their life savings.  To mortgage their home.  To borrow from a bank.  They do these things because they believe they will be able to earn enough profits to replenish their life savings.  To make their mortgage payments.  To repay their loans.  AND to earn a living in the process.  It is a risky endeavor.  And far more risky than working for someone and earning a steady paycheck.  But if entrepreneurs didn’t take these risks we wouldn’t have things like the iPhone or the automobile or the airplane.  All of which were brought to us because one person had an idea.  And then invested in the capital to bring that idea to market.

Some business ideas succeed.  Many more fail.  But people keep trying.  Because of that insatiable desire to think and create.  And the ability to earn profits to pay for their ideas.  To build on their ideas.  To expand their ideas.  From the first thoughts of it they kicked around in their head.  To the multinational corporations their ideas grew into.  All made possible by the profits they earned.  The more they earned the more they could do.  As they reinvested those earnings into their businesses.  To buy more capital.  That allowed them to build more things.  And use even more capital to bring these things to market.  Creating jobs all along the way.  Jobs that only came into being because of those profits that started as a single thought in someone’s head.

If you can’t Service your Debt your Creditors can and will Force you into Bankruptcy

This is where corporations come from.  From a single thought.  Profitable business operations grow that thought into the corporations they become.  For corporations are not the evil spawn of the damned.  Corporations come from people having a great idea.  Like Starbucks.  And Ben and Jerry’s.  Who are now everywhere so we can enjoy their products wherever we are.  All made possible by the profits of capitalism.

Who’s up for a little accounting?  You are?  Well, then, you came to the right place.  For we’re going to learn a little accounting.  Right here.  Right now.  Corporations determine their profits by closing their books at the end of an accounting period.  A series of accounting steps culminate in the trial balance.  Where the sum of all debits equal the sum of all credits.  Or eventually do after various adjusting entries.  Once they do the books are balanced.  And business at last can see if they were profitable.  By producing an income statement.  Which lists revenue at the top.  Then sums all costs (materials, production wages, payroll taxes & health insurance for that labor, etc.) that produced that revenue.  Subtracting these costs from revenue gives you gross profit.  Then comes overhead costs.  Fixed costs.  Like rent and utilities.  And overhead labor (corporate officers, management, accounting, human resources, etc.).  They sum these and subtract them from gross profit.  Which brings us to earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT).  A very important profitability number.  For if there is any money left by the time you reach EBIT your business operations were profitable.  Your business was able to pay all the due bills to produce your revenue.  Which leaves just two numbers.  Interest they owe on their loans.  And income taxes.

EBIT is a very important number.  For if it’s not large enough to service your debt everything above EBIT is for naught.  Because if you can’t service your debt your creditors can and will force you into bankruptcy.  Never a good thing.  And what follows is usually the opposite of growing your business.  Shrinking your business.  By seriously cutting costs (i.e., massive layoffs).  And eliminating unprofitable lines of revenue.  Downsizing and reorganizing as necessary so your cost structure can produce a profit at the given market price for your goods and/or services.  A price determined by your competition in the market.  If you cannot downsize and reorganize sufficiently to become profitable then you go out of business.  Or you sell the business to someone who can make a profit.  Because unless you can turn a profit your business will consume money.  And that money has to come from somewhere.  Typically it is the business owner until they run out of life savings and home to mortgage.  Because a bank can’t give you money to lose in your business.  For their depositors put their money into the bank to grow their savings.  Not to shrink them.  So a bank has to be profitable to please their depositors.  And if the bank is using their money to make bad loans they will remove their money.  As will other depositors.  Perhaps creating a run on the bank.  And causing the bank to fail.  So while operating at a loss will save employees jobs in the short term it will cause far greater harm in the long term.  Which isn’t good for anyone.

Capitalism works because with Risk there’s Reward

As you can see getting those accounting reports to fairly state the profitability of a business is crucial.  For it’s the only way a business knows if it can pay its bills.  And the way they pay their bills complicate matters.  Revenue and costs come in at different times.  To bring order to this chaos businesses use accrual accounting.  Which includes two very important rules.  To record accurately when revenue is revenue (for example, a down payment is not revenue.  It’s a liability a business owes the customer until the sale transaction is complete).  And to match costs to revenue.  Meaning that every cost a business incurred producing a sale is matched to that sale.  Even long-term fixed assets like buildings and machinery.  Which they depreciate over the life of the asset.  Charging a depreciation expense each accounting period until the asset is fully depreciated.

Because of these accounting reports that fairly state business operations a business knows if they are profitable.  That they can pay all of their bills.  Their suppliers AND their employees.  Their health insurance AND their payroll taxes.  The interest on their debt AND their income taxes.  They can pay all of these when they come due.  And not run out of money when other bills come due.  Which is why they can have confidence when they read their income statement.  Knowing that they paid all their costs due in that accounting period.  Including the interest on their debt.  And their income taxes.  Which takes them to the bottom line.  Net profit.  And if it’s positive they have money to reinvest into their business.  To expand operations.  To increase sales revenue.  Create more jobs.  And they can grow.  But not too much that they lose control.  So they can always pay their bills.  So they can keep doing what they love.  Thinking.  And bringing new ideas to market.

This is capitalism.  Where people take risks.  In hopes of making profits.  They invest in capital to make those profits.  And then use those profits to invest in capital.  It works because there is a direct relationship between risk and profits.  It’s why people take risks.  Create jobs.  And provide the things we need and enjoy.  Because with risk there’s reward.  And accounting reports that fairly state business operations give a business’ management the tools to be profitable.  By matching costs to revenue.  Telling them when they are not using their capital efficiently.  Helping them to stay profitable.  (Unlike anything the government runs.  Because there is no matching of costs to revenue.  Taxes come into the treasury and the treasury pays for a multitude of things.  With no way to know if they are using those taxes efficiently).  And this is capitalism.  Risk and reward.  And accountability.  For when you’re risking your money you become very accountable.  Which is why capitalism works .  And government-run entities don’t.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FDR, Wage Ceiling, Arsenal of Democracy, Benefits, Big Three, Japanese Competition, Legacy Costs, Business Cycle and Bailouts

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 14th, 2012

History 101

After the Arsenal of Democracy defeated Hitler the Wage Ceiling was Gone but Generous Benefits were here to Stay

FDR caused the automotive industry crisis of 2008-2010.  With his progressive/liberal New Deal policies.  He placed a ceiling on employee wages during the Great Depression.  The idea was to keep workers’ wages low so employers would hire more workers.  It didn’t work.  And there was an unintended consequence.  As there always is when government interferes with market forces.  The wage ceiling prevented employers from attracting the best workers by offering higher wages.  Forcing employers to think of other ways to attract the best workers.  And they found it.  Benefits.

Adolf Hitler ended the Great Depression.  His bloodlust cut the chains on American industry as they tooled up to defeat him.  The Arsenal of Democracy.  America’s factories hummed 24/7 making tanks, trucks, ships, airplanes, artillery, ammunition, etc.  The Americans out-produced the Axis.  Giving the Allies marching towards Germany everything they needed to wage modern war.  While in the end the Nazis were using horses for transport power.  This wartime production created so many jobs that they even hired women to work in their factories.  Bringing an end to the Great Depression finally after 12 years of FDR.

The Arsenal of Democracy defeated Hitler.  U.S. servicemen came home.  And the women left the factories and returned home to raise families.  With much of the world’s factories in ruins the U.S. economy continued to hum.  Only they were now making things other than the implements of war.  The auto makers returned to making cars and trucks.  The ceiling on wages was gone.  But those benefits were still there.  Greatly increasing labor costs.  But what did they care?  The American auto manufacturers had a captive audience.  If anyone wanted to buy a car or truck there was only one place to buy it.  From them.  No matter the cost.  So they just passed on those high wages and expensive benefit packages on to the consumer.  Times were good.  The Fifties were happy times.  Good jobs.  Good pay.  Free benefits.  Nice life in the suburbs.  All paid for by expensive vehicle prices.

The Big Three could not Sell Cars when there was Competition because of their Legacy Costs

But it wouldn’t last.  Because it couldn’t last.  For those factories destroyed in the war were up and running again.  And someone noticed those high prices on American cars.  The Japanese.  Who rebuilt their factories.  Which were now humming, too.  And they thought why not enter the automotive industry?  And this changed the business model for the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) as they knew it.  The Big Three had competition for the first time.  Their captive audience was gone.  For the consumer had a choice.  They could demand better value for their money.  And chose not to buy the ‘rust buckets’ they were selling in the Seventies.  Cars that rusted away after a few snowy winters.  Or a few years near the ocean coast.

The new Japanese competition started about 30 years after U.S. workers began to enjoy all those benefits.  So the U.S. car companies paid their union auto workers more and gave them far more benefits than their Japanese competition.  And those early U.S. workers were now retiring.  Giving a great advantage to the Japanese.  Because those generous benefits provided those U.S. retirees very comfortable pensions.  And all the health care they could use.  All paid for by the Big Three.  Via the price of their cars and trucks.

Well, you can see where this led to.  The Big Three could not sell cars when there was competition.  Because of these legacy costs.  Higher union wages.  Generous pension and health care benefits that workers and retirees did not contribute to.  (By the time GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy in 2010 there were more retirees than active union workers).  The United Automobile Workers (UAW) jobs bank program where unemployed workers (laid off due to declining sales) collected 95% of their pay and benefits.  (You can find many quotes on line from a Detroit News article stating some 12,000 UAW workers were collecting pay and benefits in 2005 but not working.)  The Japanese had none of these costs.  And could easily build a higher quality vehicle for less.  Which they did.  And consumers bought them.  The Big Three conceded car sales to the Japanese (and the Europeans and South Koreans) and focused on the profitable SUV and truck markets.  To pay these high legacy costs.  Until the gas prices soared to $4/gallon.  And then the Subprime Mortgage Crises kicked off the Great Recession.  Leading to the ‘bankruptcy’ of GM and Chrysler.  And their government bailouts.

The U.S. Automotive Government Bailout cut Wage and Benefits once Set in Stone

The Big Three struggled because they operated outside normal market forces.  Thanks at first to a captive audience.  Then later to friends in government (tariffs on imports, import quotas, union-favorable legislation, etc.).  All of this just delayed the day of reckoning, though.  And making it ever more painful when it came.

During economic downturns (when supply and prices fall) their cost structure did not change.  As it should have.  Because that’s what the business cycle does.  It resets prices and supply to match demand.  With recessions.  Painful but necessary.  Just how painful depends on how fast ‘sticky’ wages can adjust down to new market levels.  And herein lies the problem that plagued the Big Three.  Their wages weren’t sticky.  They were set in stone.  So when the market set the new prices for cars and trucks it was below the cost of the Big Three.  Unable to decrease their labor (wage and benefit) costs, profits turned into losses.  Pension funds went underfunded.  And cash stockpiles disappeared.  Leading the Big Three to the brink of bankruptcy.  And begging for a government bailout.

Well, the bailout came.  The government stepped in.  Gave the union pension fund majority control of the bailed out companies.  Screwing the bondholders (and contract law) in the process.  And created a two-tier labor structure.  They grandfathered older employees at the unsustainable wage and benefit packages.  And hired new employees at wage and benefit packages that the market would bear.  Comparable to their Asian and European transplant auto plants in the right-to-work states in the southern U.S. states.  And put the market back in control of the U.S. auto industry.  For awhile, at least.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

« Previous Entries   Next Entries »