The NHS is Rationing Health Care to give Everyone the Same Quality of Health Care

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 18th, 2013

Week in Review

We have Obamacare because there was a crisis in American health care.  Or so said the proponents of national health care.  Not everyone had equal access to the same high-quality care some people had.  The opponents of Obamacare said a quasi-national health care system wouldn’t change that.  All it would do is stretch limited resources over more people.  Ultimately reducing the quality of care for everyone.  Like in the NHS.  Where they are closing emergency departments in south Wales because they don’t have the resources to staff them all at the same level (see Wales NHS: Abandon south Wales A&E shake-up, say Conservatives posted 5/14/2013 on BBC News Wales).

The NHS is due to announce a cut in number of specialist A&E departments in south Wales from seven to four or five.

Officials say the current range of services can no longer be provided safely at all hospitals.

They say the planned changes, due to be unveiled this month, will result in the most seriously ill patients seeing consultants more quickly, although they may have to travel further.

Hospitals across Wales have said they have faced “unprecedented” levels of admissions this spring, with A&E consultants warning their departments are at “meltdown” due to overcrowding and a bed shortage…

Speaking on behalf of the health boards involved in the South Wales Programme, Dr Grant Robinson, medical director of Aneurin Bevan Health Board, said: “We cannot continue to provide all these services in every location across south Wales.

“We need to concentrate these services to ensure all patients receive safe and sustainable care.

The NHS is national health care.  Where they provide free health care to all of their people.  But to do that some people will have to travel farther than others.  Because they just don’t have the resources to have the same specialties at all hospitals.  Not when their aging population is consuming so much of the NHS budget.  Just as an aging population will consume the majority of the Obamacare budget.

National health care works better when you have a population growing younger.  When there are more people entering the workforce than leaving it.  So there are always more people to pay the high costs of retiree benefits.  But thanks to birth control and abortion populations are aging everywhere.  Making the national health care model simply unsustainable.

These nations set up their entitlement states before birth control and abortion shrank future generations.  Not really a problem in a nation with a limited government.  But a big one in a social democracy.  For that falling birthrate not only undermines the sustainability of national health care.  It also undermines state pensions.  And public sector union benefits.  Which include generous health care and pension benefits.  None of this will survive as the consumers of these benefits grow at a greater rate than those paying for these benefits.  Which will lead to higher tax rates on a shrinking workforce.  Or anarchy.  As people take to the streets as the government simply can no longer give them their benefits.

This was really not a good time to nationalize health care.  A blind person could have seen this.  But the proponents of national health care pushed for it anyway.  Even while the NHS is struggling under the weight of an aging population.  Proving that Obamacare is more about power politics than health care.  Or that those who gave it to us are just not that bright.  Whichever it is there is one thing for certain.  We would want neither to be in charge of our health care.

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Market Forces and Health Care

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2013

Economics 101

Keynesians try to reduce Human Behavior down to Complex and Confusing Math

We hear a lot about introducing market forces into health care.  But what does that mean?  What exactly are market forces?  Are they like magnetic forces?  Electric forces?  Hydraulic forces?  No.  Market forces are not forces that conform to the laws of science.  Rather, they belong in the realm of the social sciences.  That are less science.  And more opinion.  Where there are a lot of theories.  And politicians massage the data to fit their theory.  As Mark Twain said, facts don’t lie but liars figure.  And politicians figure.  A lot.

So there are no hard rules when it comes to the social sciences.  Just a lot of theorizing.  And a lot of drawing conclusions.  Based on the data.  And how some massage the data.  Something to keep in mind whenever anyone discusses economic numbers.  For the accepted school of economics most politicians adhere to is the Keynesian school.  The dirty little whore of economics.  For there is a whole lot of massaging going on with Keynesians.  With the data.  Not each other.  Politicians love Keynesian economics because this school of economic thought calls for governments to tax, borrow, print and spend.  Empowering government.  Making government grow.  And become more intrusive in our personal lives.  All things politicians love.  Which is why they massage the economic data.  They have to.  Because this school of economic thought doesn’t work.

Keynesians make economics very complex.  Open a text book and you will find a lot of graphs and formulas.  Where they try to reduce human behavior down to math.  Very complex and confusing math.  And you can’t do that.  Humans have free will.  They make decisions based on any number of things.  One influencing factor more or less could change the way they decide.  And there’s no way we can quantify all the variables in our lives.  Therefore, there’s no way to reduce human decision-making down to math.  Which is what drives market forces.  Our decision-making process.  That point in time that triggers the free exchange of money for goods and/or services.

When it comes to the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Customers think more in Terms of Quantity than Quality

Consider an all-you-can-eat buffet.  And how it changes your decision-making process.  But first let’s look at some typical behavior at a normal restaurant.  Where you may spend $15 for a 4-course meal and drink.  Soup, salad, entrée and dessert.  Which you enjoy with a friend.  You have pleasant conversation as you enjoy each of your 4 courses.  Taking your time.  Enjoying each course.  Slowly getting full.  And satisfied.  The portion sizes are just right.  Leaving just enough room for dessert.  You’re full.  But not too full.  Comfortable.  You’re able to go for an after-dinner walk.  Even take in a movie.

Now let’s consider the all-you-can-eat buffet.  Where you may pay $20 for unlimited access to the buffet.  You’re paying more than for a sit-down service.  Why?  Because you plan to eat more.  You will maximize the value you get for your $20.  Which means you’ll probably skip the soup and salad.  And start loading your plate with the expensive entrées.  You’ll probably go back once or twice.  Making sure you get a taste of everything.  And a lot of anything that is expensive.  Again, to maximize your value.  In fact you maximize so much that you become uncomfortably full.  Too full to sit through a movie without nodding off.  And too full for a walk.  All you want to do is go home and nap.

The restaurant sees this from a slightly different perspective.  The all-you-can-eat buffet is simple to serve.  You mass produce food to load up the buffet so it’s ready at the beginning of the buffet hours.  You replace the items people eat most.  While the less popular items sit longer in the buffet.  Becoming less fresh.  Also, the buffet is a good way to get rid of things approaching their ‘serve by’ dates.  Saving the freshest food for the made-to-order sit-down service.  And putting the older food in the buffet.  Because when it comes to the buffet you know customers are thinking more in terms of quantity than quality.  The food is good in the buffet.  But not as good as the food for the sit-down clientele.

If you Pay Cash at the Pharmacy you are more likely to Ask for the Less Expensive Generic Drugs

These are market forces.  People have come together to make voluntary exchanges.  The quantity of food available makes some people opt for the more expensive all-you-can-eat buffet.  Others may opt for the less expensive but higher quality made-to-order sit down service.  For the person who places the greatest value on eating mass quantities of food will choose the buffet.  The person who places the greatest value on the dining experience (quality of food, made-to-order, conversation, after-dinner walk or movie, etc.) will choose the sit-down service.  If more people are choosing the buffet the owner may extend the buffet hours.  If fewer people are choosing the buffet and leave a lot a food to throw away the owner may end the buffet service.  These are market forces.  Buyer and sellers coming together in the marketplace.  Seeing what each has to offer.  If they come to a mutual agreement they make an economic exchange.  The buyer willingly exchanges his or her money for goods and/or services.  The seller willingly accepts an amount of money in exchange for his or her goods and/or services.

The private economy works because it is buyers and sellers meeting and making exchanges they both freely agree to.  This is the key of market forces.  It’s what makes people with money go to the marketplace.  And it’s what makes people bring goods and/or services to the marketplace.  Because they will seek each other out and make these exchanges.  After which both buyer and seller will come away with something they value more.  This is what is missing in health care.  Buyer and sellers aren’t meeting to make exchanges.  In fact, the buyer and seller do not even meet.  Patients never ask for any prices.  Because they aren’t paying for anything.  Their insurer is.  And the medical provider will always provide the most expensive treatment billing guidelines will allow.  For that’s who they must please.  The people paying them.  Not the patient.  And they have to charge as much as they can to cover all the things they won’t get paid for.  People they treat without insurance who can’t pay.  And for the billings the insurers deny.

So this changes the decision making process.  For everyone.  Introducing a third party into the equation removes market forces.  If you pay cash at the pharmacy you are more likely to ask for the less expensive generic drugs.  If you get free prescription coverage you will ask for the most expensive name-brand medicine they have.  For when you’re not paying price is no object.  But when you are paying price is a very important object.  Because when it’s our money getting value for our money is very important.  So we’ll ask if the name-brand has any more value than the generic.  For who would spend more for something that doesn’t give you any more value than something you can get for less?

When it comes to medical tests and procedures patients aren’t going to ask for more than they absolutely need.  And doctors aren’t going to prescribe any more than a patient needs.  Because they aren’t billing a faceless bureaucrat.  They’re billing someone they have a close and personal relationship with.  And they sure aren’t going to try and bill someone they have a close and personal relationship with for someone else’s unpaid bill.  Not if they want to keep them as a patient.  Because a doctor-patient relationship is a long-term relationship.  A doctor could lose a lot of business by mistreating a patient to make an extra buck.  These are market forces.  Which makes the private sector work so well.  And why their absence makes the health care system not work so well.  Transforming our health care from a moderately priced, high quality, custom, sit-down service to a higher priced, mass-produced, lower quality, all-you-can-eat buffet.

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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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Real Prices fall where Consumers Spend their own Money which is why Health Care Prices have Soared

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 23rd, 2012

Week in Review

A lot of us no doubt hear our elders talk about how cheap things used to be.  “When I was a kid you could buy a bottle of pop for a nickel.”  “When I started driving you could fill up the gas tank for a couple of dollars.”  “I remember when 99 cents would buy you two eggs, 4 sausage, a slice of ham, 4 rashers of bacon, hash browns, toast and a cup of coffee.”  And, yes, everything they said was true.  Things cost a lot less back then.  But our paychecks were a lot smaller back then, too.

When President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold we started printing money.  And when we did we devalued the dollar.  Causing a sustained and permanent inflation.  This inflation caused prices to go up.  And our paychecks grew, too, to allow us to afford those higher prices.  So prices are relative.  They become more expensive when they rise greater than our paychecks.  They become less costly when our paychecks rise greater than prices.  There is a better way to look at how prices change over time.  Something that factors in the affect of inflation.  By looking at the number of hours worked required for a purchase (see The Cost of Health Care: 1958 vs. 2012 by Chris Conover posted 12/22/2012 on Forbes).

Mark Perry has posted some interesting comparison of how prices have plummeted between 1958 and 2012 when measured in terms of the hours of work required to purchase items. He concludes that today’s consumer working at the average wage of $19.19 would only have to work 26.6 hours (a little more than three days) to earn enough income ($511) to purchase a toaster, TV and iPod.  The equivalent products (in terms of their basic function, not their quality) would have required 4.64 weeks of work in 1958. In short, the “time cost” of these items has massively declined by 86% in less than 5 decades.

Similarly, Perry calculates that measured in the amount of time working at the average hourly wage to earn enough income to purchase a washer-dryer combination, the “time cost” of those two appliances together has fallen by 83%, from 181.8 hours in 1959 to only 31 hours today.

What if we applied this kind of analysis to health care? The results are quite interesting. In 1958, per capita health expenditures were $134. This may seem astonishingly small, but it actually includes everything, inclusive of care paid for by government or private health insurers. A worker earning the average wage in 1958 ($1.98) would have had to work 118 hours—nearly 15 days–to cover this expense. By 2012, per capita health spending had climbed to $8,953. At the average wage, a typical worker would have to work 467 hours—about 58 days.

In short, while time prices for other goods and services had shrunk to less than one quarter of their 1958 levels, time prices for health care had more than quadrupled…!

This simple comparison reminds us of three basic truths. In general, private markets tend to produce steadily lower prices in real terms (e.g., in worker time costs) and steadily rising quality. This is exactly what we observe for goods such as toasters, TVs, iPods, washers and dryers. In contrast, while the quality of health care unequivocably has risen since 1958, real spending on health care has climbed dramatically. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison insofar as the bundle of goods and services that constitute health care is also much larger today than in 1958. In contrast, even though the quality may be better, a washing machine in 2012 is still a washing machine.[2] If we were willing to rely more on markets in medicine, we might be able to harness the superior ability of Americans to find good value for the money to produce results more similar to other goods.

So why are health care prices soaring in real prices when everything else is falling?  In a word, waste.  Where consumers spend their own money real prices have fallen.  Where consumers receive benefits other people pay for real prices have soared.  Where there are market forces (i.e., competition) prices fall and quality goes up.  Because manufacturers have to get consumers who are looking for the best value for the money to buy from them.  Where there are no market forces because someone else is paying for your benefits (single payer, third-party, insurance, government, etc.) people don’t look for the best value for the money.  They just look to get the most someone else will pay for.  So there is no incentive to reduce costs or find cheaper ways to deliver higher quality.  Like in the private sector.

Obamacare won’t improve this.  In fact, adding vast layers of bureaucracy will only add waste.  And increase prices further.  With all that money feeding into the new Obamacare bureaucracy there will be less available for health care services.  Resulting in longer wait times, service rationing and service denials.  Health care may be free one day to patients.  But the cost of that free health care will soar even higher for the taxpayers who will have to pay for all of that bureaucratic waste.

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New Zealand to publish Literacy and Numeracy Standards despite School Principals’ Opposition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2012

Week in Review

The education system hierarchs are circling the wagons.  This time in New Zealand.  For they are under assault.  By parents.  Who want a means to measure the quality of their children’s education.  And principals oppose these parental thugs for good reason.  They don’t want parents to know that they may not be very good in their jobs (see Data release ‘sad day’ by JONATHAN CARSON posted 8/8/2012 on the Waikato Times).

A Waikato education leader says it is a ”sad day for New Zealand education” after the Government announced plans to publicly release National Standards data today.

Education Minister Hekia Parata this morning confirmed that schools’ literacy and numeracy achievement levels will be published on the Ministry’s website in September.

She said it would allow parents to see how their child’s school was performing…

Waikato Principals’ Association chair John Coulam said principals in the region opposed the data being made public.

”What is of concern is that people who look at the data, unless they understand education, they can be making misleading judgements.

”Looking at data released on a website won’t show the hardworking teachers in the school, it won’t show the added value that’s made by a school – all it will show is that there are students that aren’t achieving, and there will always be a tail.”

So hardworking teachers’ efforts won’t appear in this data because the non-hardworking teachers’ poor efforts will bring the scores down?  The data won’t show how well a school does in other areas besides literacy and numeracy?  And what educational skills would these be?  Teaching the importance of diversity?  The evils of global warming and the necessity of a carbon tax?  I bet young students can tell you an earful on global warming even if they have poor literacy and numeracy skills.  Because it’s like that in the U.S.  Where the public education systems appear to be teaching our students more of what’s good for the public school system (teaching them to vote Democrat) than what is good for the students.  Strong literacy and numeracy skills.

Parents want the best education for their kids.  That means holding schools accountable.  And if they don’t look at the quality of the product of their education (literacy and numeracy skills) how else are they going to hold schools accountable?  Especially if they have non-hardworking teachers lowering educational scores?  Education is the only industry that we are supposed to accept whatever they say about their product.  Can you imagine any other industry getting to do that?

“You wouldn’t understand how to read a chemical analysis report.  So you shouldn’t.  Just trust us when we say that the smoke out of our stack and the discharge out of our plant into the river is clean.”

“Clean?  Okay.  Thank you very much.  I feel better now.  And I will let my children swim downstream of your discharge.”

Can you imagine that happening?  I dare say you can’t.

Education isn’t complicated.  That’s why private schools thrive.  People who can afford it will send their kids to private school.  Because they know they will come out of those schools with better literacy and numeracy skills.  Not because their kids will learn skills other than literacy and numeracy.  Because that’s what you need to advance into the workforce.  Or into higher education.  You have to be good in math.  And you have to be able to express yourself intelligibly both verbally and in writing.  This is what parents want for their kids.  To give them the best chance of succeeding in a high-tech world.

That’s all parents want from their education system.  And to do that they have to know what schools are good.  And what schools are not.  So they can improve the weaker schools.  Which would allow every child to have the best chance to succeed in the high-tech world.

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Competition, Mom and Pop Store, Big Box Store, Cooperative, Internet Sales, POS System, Inventory Control System and Wal-Mart

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 3rd, 2012

History 101

Big Box Stores offered More Choice and Lower Prices putting Mom and Pop Stores our of Business

Competition makes everything better for consumers.  Consumers love competition.  Because it gives them so much to choose from.  And choice is good.  Especially when that choice lowers prices.  And raises quality.  Which is why we love competition.  But it’s not very popular with businesses.  Especially the older ones.  Used to doing things the old way.  Who got into a comfortable rut.  Doing things the way they always did them.  Enjoying their comfortable incomes.  Until something arrived that shattered their world. 

America became the innovative capital of the world.  Thanks to their entrepreneurs.  In the land of liberty they were free to do great things.  Invent great things.  And go into business.  In cities and small towns everywhere moms and pops opened up shops.  Mom and pop stores.  Family affairs.  Serving their communities with quality goods and services.  At reasonable prices.  At least what people thought were reasonable prices.  Often times there was little competition for these mom and pop stores.  Apart from other mom and pop stores.

Mom and pop stores don’t have large sales.  Or large purchasing power.  So their prices are higher than a competitor who has large sales and large purchasing power.  Mom and pop office supply stores learned this lesson quickly when Office Max opened in town.  And Office Depot.  And Staples.  Big box stores that offered more choice and lower prices.  And no matter how much we loved our mom and pop stores when we had a chance to get more for less we chose to get more for less.  And these big box office supply stores put the mom and pop office supply stores out of business.

Advanced POS and Inventory Control Systems allow a Large Variety of Items at Low Prices

The mom and pop hardware stores suffered the same fate.  When the big box home improvement stores moved in.  Builders Square.  Home Quarters.  Home Depot.  Lowes.  Who served both consumers and contractors.  Giving them huge economies of scale.  Moving such a wide variety of material at low prices the small mom and pop hardware stores could never match.  Some survived.  Offering services like they did in the old days (like fixing a broken window).  And joining a cooperative (such as True Value or ACE Hardware) to match the purchasing power of the big box stores.  To get some economies of scale.  But more have gone out of business than stayed in business.

During the Eighties a lot of computer stores opened as the personal computer industry took off.  A lot of small stores custom built PCs.  Sold dot-matrix printers.  Fanfold printer paper.  Printer ribbons.  Floppy disks.  Cables.  External storage devices.  With the advent of the Internet they added dial-up modems.  As the industry grew the big box stores came in.  CompUSA.  Computer City.  The big box office supply stores.  Best Buy.  And Circuit City.  Put the small computer stores out of business.  By providing a huge variety at low prices.  They added software.  Games.  Uninterruptible power supplies.  And other electronic devices (PDAs, digital cameras, game boxes, game controllers, etc.).  Then Internet sales took off putting pressure on the big box stores.  Putting some of them out of business.

A big driver in the move away from the mom and pop stores to the big box stores is technology.  In particular inventory control systems.  Tied into their point of sale (POS) systems.  Buying a lot of goods and storing them in large warehouses is costly.  Because inventory doesn’t earn any revenue.  It costs to warehouse items.  And it takes cash to place things into inventory.  Businesses buy these things to sell them later.  If they buy too much of the wrong things they may sit in those warehouses.  Becoming less valuable as people’s interests change.  Requiring deep discounting to move these unwanted items out of inventory.  On the other hand, if you don’t carry a large inventory there is a chance you may run out of something that is popular and is selling.  This is where technology comes in.  When a cashier completes a sales transaction a lot of things happen automatically.   As people receive their change from the cashier the POS system automatically interfaces with the inventory control system.  It updates the system to show the reduction in inventory.  And the inventory control system places an automatic order to replenish the inventory.  The successful big box stores carry smaller inventories of each individual item.  Allowing them to carry a larger variety of items.  Which is how they can offer a larger variety at lower prices.

Stores like Wal-Mart are the People’s Hedge against Bad Fiscal and Monetary Policy 

The king of retail, Wall-Mart, got to be king with technology.  The ultimate big box store that sells just about everything under the sun (groceries, clothes, hardware, gardening supplies, electronics, prescription drugs, you name it).  They have taken inventory control systems to an art.  They combine economies of scale and efficiency that few can match.  They sell so much that they get to buy at the best prices.  And their sophisticated POS and inventory control systems keep the shelves stocked with the things people want to buy while keeping their inventories lean.  Few stores please consumers more by their wide variety and low prices.  Allowing them to fill their shopping carts without having to sacrifice other family needs.

Competition created Wal-Mart.  Because people wanted more choice and lower prices.  And Wal-Mart figured out how to do that.  Something the mom and pop stores just couldn’t do.  Which is why Wal-Mart stores are opening everywhere.  The people love them.  And the people want them.  Or they want the store that puts Wal-Mart out of business by offering even more choice at even lower prices.

Of course this begs the question why do people want more choice at lower prices?  Are they greedy?  Materialistic?  No.  They’re just not rich.  More and more of their income is taxed away at the local, state and federal level.  And prices keep rising thanks to Keynesian monetary policy.  Which continuously expands the money supply to ‘stimulate’ the economy.  Higher taxes and permanent inflation is why two-income households have become the norm and not the exception today.  And why shoppers love stores like Wal-Mart.  Because stores like Wal-Mart are the people’s hedge against bad fiscal and monetary policy.  Which is the true destroyer of mom and pop stores everywhere.

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Free Market Competition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 2nd, 2012

Economics 101

Competition makes Everything Better for Consumers

Let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the railroads were making their way west.  Through barren and unforgiving country.  Where a depot is built in the middle of nowhere.  One day it will become a city but now is just a shack or two.  And a water tower along the tracks to replenish the steam locomotives.  This is the closest thing to civilization for hundreds of miles.  Railroad building supplies head west on the new track to continue the track further west.  And the trains stop to fill their locomotives with water.  You look at all that traffic passing that depot and decide to open up a diner/saloon to replenish all those people.  Who are earning wages.  But have nothing to spend them on for hundreds of miles around.

There’s no electricity yet.  Or ice.  So the meat shipped to the diner may not be the freshest.  But you can cook it with a lot of spices to hide any bad taste in case the meat is rancid.  Liquor comes out without any spoilage.  It’ll last so long that you can keep watering it down to make more money per bottle.  Your diner/saloon can be dirty and overrun with bugs.  You can just throw the bugs into the pot to make the meat go further.  It doesn’t matter.  Because for most of your customers this is the only place to come to eat and drink.  Even if they get ill from eating bad meat they’ll keep coming back.  Because where else are they going to go?

Your costs are low.  And your prices are high.  You’re doing very well.  It’s nice being the only diner/saloon at this depot.  But then a town starts growing around the depot.  And another diner/saloon opens.  It’s cleaner.  They serve fewer bugs in their food.  Their meat is less rancid.  Their liquor is less watered down.  And their prices are lower.  Everyone who eats and drinks at this depot-town eats and drinks there.  Not at your filthy shack.  You quickly go from making a lot of money to making nothing at all.  Because this new competition in town took away all of your business.  For competition makes everything better for consumers. 

When the Government Interferes with the Free Market there is no Incentive to Please their Customers

Competition is key to the free market economy.  And it’s the most important thing.  Even more important than government regulation.  Because with competition you don’t need regulations.  You don’t need inspectors.  You don’t have to file complaints.  You don’t have to wait for corrective action.  Because if you have competition you have something that works better.  And faster.  Pleasing customers.  If you don’t please them more than your competition then you will lose your customers to your competition.  This is a powerful incentive to lower your prices.  Improve the cleanliness of your establishment.  And to improve your quality.  Competition makes businesses try harder to please their customers.  On their own.  Without compulsion.

In the above example the first diner/saloon owner could have appealed to the government.  Asked the government to prohibit the second establishment from opening.  Saying that it was destructive competition.  That they were dumping lower-priced food and drink onto the market to put the first establishment out of business.  So they could raise their prices higher and lower their quality when they do.  That the market wasn’t large enough to support two businesses.  That their lower prices mean they will pay their employees less.  And a whole host of other bad things that will follow if this second business opens.  Of course the second business has none of these complaints.  Because they offer better quality at lower prices.  They don’t need the help of government.  Just a competitive free market.

If the first business should prevail in their request for government help the government will take action.  Force the second business to shut down.  Make them sell their food and drinks at higher prices.  Charge them a special excise tax on all their sales to raise money to transfer to and help the first business.  Or some other action to make the market ‘fair’ again.  Which means allowing the first establishment to continue to sell lower quality at higher prices.  Which they would.  For with the power of government helping them they have no incentive to please their customers.  So they don’t.  So people with no choice have to pay more for lower quality.  And this is what happens when the government interferes with the free market.

Free Market Competition delivers High Quality at Low Prices with the Most Efficient Allocation of Resources 

Competitive free markets also guarantee that businesses use resources in the most efficient manner.   As they try to sell the highest quality at the lowest price they will buy very carefully.  They will buy only the things they can sell.  And only enough of them to meet their demand.  For if they buy more than they can sell it will only raise their prices.  As those prices have to pay for the things they sell.  And the things they can’t sell.  So there is a very strong incentive to buy only what they absolutely need.  Leaving things for others to buy.  Which is much better than having some government bureaucrat allocate resources.

Suppose the government owned the railroad and all the depot-towns along the line.  And each depot has a diner/saloon.  Each depot-town is about the same size.  So the government bureaucrat ships the same supplies to each depot.  One barrel of flour.  One barrel of cornmeal.  One barrel of salted pork.  Two sacks of beans.  Four sacks of coffee.  Five cases of whisky.  And so on.  But the people don’t eat and drink the same in each of these depot-towns.  Some drink more liquor than others.  Some drink more coffee than others.  Some eat more meat than others.  Some eat more beans than others.  Depending on the season.  The cattle drives.  Whether the farmers are sowing or reaping.  The religious pilgrimages.  The weather.  Etc.  The local diner/saloon owners are in tune with the rise and fall of demand.  But the government bureaucrat 2,000 miles away isn’t.  So some receive more than they can use.  Others run out before the next shipment.  Making the allocation of resources inefficient.  Leading to waste.  And higher prices to pay for all of that waste.

Free market competition always works best.  And the more problems that we solve by creating more competition the better the solutions are for the people ultimately paying the prices.  The consumers.  As free market competition delivers high quality at low prices with the most efficient allocation of resources.  Giving us things like the high-definition television.  The smartphone.  The tablet computer.  And our morning coffee.  Where quality just keeps getting better while prices keep falling.  When we don’t use free market competition we get high prices, poor quality and inefficient resource allocation.  From cable television that increases rates while lowering quality (we’ll be at your house either sometime in the morning or sometime in the afternoon tomorrow or the day after.  Please have someone available at your home to meet our technician).  To waiting in line to renew your driver’s license.  Which is about as enjoyable as a root canal.

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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.

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Opportunity Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 4th, 2012

Economics 101

Those on the Left are all for Choice as long as you Choose what they want you to Choose

Choice.  It’s what life is.  Every day we make hundreds of choices in our life.  The communists called that a burden.  And that their way removed all that stress from our lives.  The stress of constantly having to choose.  They came up with a new freedom.  Freedom from choice.  To live under oppression.  Like a slave.  Where you no longer had the burden of making a choice every waking hour of your day.  You simply took what the government gave you.  And relaxed.  Truly free.

It turned out the people living under communism preferred having that burden of choice.  And took every opportunity to escape the communist ‘freedom’.  To a freedom where you were free to choose whatever you wanted.  Instead of taking what central planners gave you.  Those on the Left always had a soft spot in their hearts for communism.  And Soviet central planners.  For they never cared that much for free markets.  Laissez faire capitalism.  Freedom of choice.  Because people so often chose poorly in their opinion.  For they weren’t as educated and enlightened as they were on the Left.  And therefore chose the wrong kind of foods to eat.  The wrong kind of beverages to drink.  The wrong kind of cars to drive.  The wrong kind of power to generate.  And the wrong people to vote for.

No.  Those on the Left are no fans of choice.  Except, of course, when it comes to abortion.  When it comes to abortion then they are big fans of choice.  But not so much when it comes to us choosing what to eat, drink and drive.  Or how we generate our energy.  So when it comes to choice those on the Left are like the Soviet central planners.  They are all for choice.  As long as you choose what they want you to choose.

When making any Economic Decisions we make our Choice based on Opportunity Costs 

But we choose.  Because we can.  At least with most things.  But how do we choose?  Does price determine what we choose?  Sometimes.  Quality?  Sometimes.  Loyalty?  Sometimes.  Sometimes it’s one of these things.  Sometimes a combination of all of these things.  Sometimes it’s none of these things.  So what is it that makes up your mind when confronted with a choice?  Do you know?  You do.  For obviously you’re making the choice.  But the ‘why’ we may have to coax out of you.  For you will probably not be able to explain why.  At least not as well an economist can.

The study of economics is all about choice.  And trying to determine what influences people’s choices.  So economists can offer economic policies to maximize economic activity.  By maximizing that thing we ultimately trade for.  Which is what?  Happiness.  We choose to increase our happiness.  Or utility in the parlance of economics.  The things we choose are the things that will give us the greatest happiness.  Or the greatest utility.  But if you’re like me you never saw ‘utility’ or ‘happiness’ expressed as units on a price tag in a store.  Price tags show only price.  Which tells us little how happy something will make us.  So how do we choose the things that will maximize our happiness?  Especially if you’re looking at two different things that have the same price?

Easy.  We don’t make our decision by looking at what we’re buying.  We make our decision based on what we’re not buying.  What we are giving up by buying this thing or that service?  What might have been had it not been for this purchase?  What opportunity we’re passing on to make this purchase?  What cost are we paying in lost opportunity by committing to this purchase?  In other words, when making any economic decisions we make our choice based on opportunity costs.  On an amount of happiness we’re giving up to acquire some other amount of happiness.  And whatever the number of our choices the end result is the same.  What we choose gives us more happiness than all other possible alternatives.  Regardless of price, quality or loyalty.  Though they could influence us when there is a tie.

Liberals make us Buy not what Increases our Happiness but what Increases their Happiness

You can’t put a price on happiness.  That’s what they say.  And they are right.  Whoever they are.  For example, luxury cars are nice.  But they are expensive.  Subcompacts are not as nice as luxury cars.  But they are not as expensive either.  So if you were choosing between these two cars which one would you choose?  I can’t tell because I don’t know your income.  But I can guess at your decision process.  You’re going to compare opportunity costs.  Driving a luxury car gives you enormous amounts of happiness.  For the limited time you spend driving it.  Enormous happiness for a limited amount of time.  Okay.  But what are the opportunity costs?

Let’s say your daily commute to and from work is one hour.  But when you get home you enjoy 4 hours between surfing the Internet and watching cable television.  When you’re not at work or home you like to use social media on your smartphone interacting with your friends.  And using your smart phone apps to maximize your fun in the evenings and on the weekend.  You like to spend your Sunday mornings at the coffee shop with you tablet reading the online Sunday papers.  The hours of driving happiness come to 10 hours a week.  And the hours of online/watching cable happiness comes to 32 hours a week.  Now being that you spend more time online or watching cable than driving then it’s safe to say that driving brings you less happiness than those other activities.  Because luxury cars are expensive they come with a high monthly payment and a high insurance premium.  Which means you will have to cut back on other spending to afford the luxury car.  So to afford the luxury car you have to give up your cable and home Internet access.  And cut back on your minutes on your smartphone.

The opportunity cost of the luxury car is giving up cable TV and cutting back on Internet access and smartphone minutes.  The opportunity cost of keeping those things is getting a subcompact car instead of a luxury car.  This is the ultimate decision we make in all of our economic decisions.  Which will cost us more in sacrificed happiness in the long run?  Which makes those decisions easy.  In the above example you would probably have never given the luxury car any serious thought.  This is why free markets work so well.  Why laissez faire capitalism works so well.  Because the economy is full of individuals making these decisions quickly.  Far quicker than any Soviet state planner.  And with far more insight into our own wants and desires than any Soviet state planner.  And in the aggregate this drives economic activity.  Bringing the things we want to market.  The things that give us the greatest amount of happiness.  The things that have the lowest opportunity costs.  Unlike Soviet central planning.  Or American liberal Democrat central planning. 

No.  These people try to change our purchasing decisions.  Making us buy not what increases our happiness.  But what increases their happiness.  Which is why when liberal Democrats are in power there is a general economic decline.  Because they do alter our purchasing decisions.  By increasing the opportunity costs of the things that increase our happiness.  So that we buy fewer of them.  But we don’t buy more of the things they want us to buy.  Because those things don’t increase our happiness.  When they subsidize hybrid cars (paid for with higher taxes from us) to get us to buy them it doesn’t make the hybrid cars give us any more happiness.  It just leaves us with less money because of the higher taxes.  So we buy less of everything else.  And in the aggregate this lowers economic activity.  Leaving us all less happy.

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Comparative Advantage and Free Trade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 21st, 2012

Economics 101

Mercantilism benefited only Protected Industries which Profited Handsomely from Higher Consumer Prices  

The Age of Discovery ushered in the era of mercantilism.  An era of trade.  But protected trade.  Tariffs, quotas, protectionism, restrictions, subsidies, etc.  You name it they used it.  To favor their trade position and their domestic industries.  And to restrict that of everyone else.  For mercantilism was a zero-sum game.  You only did well if others did not.  A thought that still has traction today.  Especially in older, inefficient industries.  That cannot compete with international competition that provides better quality at lower prices.  Such as textiles.  Steel.  Automobiles.  The Americans protected these industries in the face of better foreign competition.  Which only hastened their decline.

A protected industry has no incentive to improve.  When protective tariffs raise prices of lower-priced and higher-quality imports consumers buy the inferior domestic goods.  Because the tariffs make the better goods more costly.  So when a business has a captive audience their only focus is in maintaining that protectionism giving them that advantage.  Not improving their quality.  Or improving their productivity to lower their prices.  Why?  Because they don’t have to.  So prices continue to rise to pay for inefficient labor and management.  And quality continues to decline due to the lack of real competition forcing them to continually provide a better product.  By improving designs.  Production methods.  And making capital investments in new machinery and equipment.

This is the cost of protectionism.  Poorer quality and higher prices.  Because of the misguided belief in the zero-sum game of mercantilism.  There was a reason why mercantilism was abandoned for free trade.  Because free trade was better.  For consumers.  Giving them lower prices and higher quality.  Whereas mercantilism benefited only those protected industries which profited handsomely from those higher consumer prices.  And the government officials who granted those favorable protectionist policies.

The Consumer gets Lower Prices AND Higher Quality thanks to the Division of Labor, Specialization and Comparative Advantage

As civilization advanced so did the division of labor.  People began to specialize.  Instead of growing our own food, making our own tools, spinning our own pottery, etc., we did only one thing.  And did it well.  Then we traded the things we made for the things we didn’t make.  This division of labor created a middle class.  And this middle class would take their goods to market to trade with other middle class artisans.  At first bartering with each other.  Trading good for good.  Then they introduced a temporary storage of value into the economy.  Money.  Making those trades easier by reducing search times.  Trading your goods for money.  And your money for goods.  Making life a lot simpler at the market.

Let’s take a closer look at the division of labor.  Let’s consider two artisans.  A toolmaker.   And a potter.  Both are skilled craftspeople.  And can make an assortment of goods.  But each excels at one particular skill.  The toolmaker can make 10 plows a day.  But if he makes 2 pottery bowls he can only make 4 plows in that same day.  The potter can make 12 pottery bowls in a day.  But if he makes 3 plows he can only make 5 pottery bowls in that same day.  Each can make more of their specialty.  But when they try to make other things in addition to their specialty they can’t make as much of their specialty as before.  So there is a cost to the toolmaker to make pottery.  To make 2 bowls cost the toolmaker 6 plows.  And there is a cost to the potter to make tools.  To make 3 plows cost the potter 7 bowls.  So the economy as a whole is better off when the toolmaker and the potter focus all of their energies in their own specialty.  When they do we get 10 plows and 12 bowls in one day.  When they don’t we only get 7 plows and 7 bowls.

We call this economic principle comparative advantage.  Where we look at economic output.  Which is what matters.  The more we bring to market the better it is for consumers.  Because greater quantities mean lower prices.  And when these skilled craftspeople focus on their specialty they improve the overall quality of the goods they bring to market.  So the consumer gets lower prices AND higher quality.  Thanks to the division of labor.  Specialization.  And comparative advantage.

We will always Have Jobs regardless the Size of our Imports for Having a Job is the Only Way to Buy those Imported Goods

If you multiply this over and over again to represent all the individual economic exchanges throughout the world you see why free trade is better than the protectionist policies of mercantilism.  Because it provides consumers with greater economic output at lower prices and higher quality.  This is why nations practicing free trade have the highest standards of living.  Because their people can walk into large department stores and fill their carts with inexpensive, high quality goods on a moderate paycheck.  Which could never happen if the mercantilists had their way.

The old inefficient industries want tariffs to increase the costs of those goods we fill our shopping carts with.  Including the food we eat.  And the cars we drive.  They use lofty arguments about protecting American jobs.  But those protectionist policies destroy jobs by increasing costs for businesses throughout the supply chain.  Raising consumer prices everywhere.  Reducing the amount of things we can buy.  Meaning businesses can’t grow and create new jobs.  Or they have to cut back production and eliminate existing jobs.

There’s also a lot of talk about the balance of payments.  Which actually meant something during the days of the gold standard.  For any trade deficits had to be paid for with gold.  But we don’t have the gold standard anymore.  Governments everywhere abandoned it in favor of irresponsible government spending.  So we don’t have to pay for trade deficits with gold.  Most money today is just electronic entries in a computer.  International capital flows have never been greater.  There are currency markets where people actively trade the world’s currencies.  So trade deficits don’t mean the same thing they once did in the mercantile world.  Then there’s the argument that if all our manufacturing jobs go overseas there will be no jobs for Americans.  If we import everything and export nothing there will be jobs everywhere but here.  Sounds like a problem.  But can that happen?  Not unless we get those imports for free.  So we will always have jobs regardless the size of our imports.  For having a job is the only way to buy the imported goods in those department stores.

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