Food Surplus, Artisan, Guilds, Industrial Revolution, Mechanized Looms and Luddites

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2013

History 101

As the Middle Class grew Artisans joined Guilds to Restrict Entry into their Trade

For most of our existence on this planet we were hunters and gatherers.  Like the animals in the wild.  Dependent on our environment for our food.  Which was often scarce.  Leaving our distant relatives with a chronic gnawing hunger in their bellies.  Sometimes the environment provided so little food that there wasn’t enough for everyone.  So a great many went hungry.  And a great many eventually died from that hunger.  Such was life for hunters and gatherers dependent on their environment for food.  Then we started thinking.  And figured out how to farm.

As farmers we took control of our environment.  Instead of eating only what the environment gave us we grew what we needed.  And grew even more to have a food surplus.  To get us through times when the environment did not provide a good growing season.  Having control over our food turned that chronic gnawing hunger into a rare and infrequent occurrence.  Which established us at the top of the food chain.  And made us master of the planet.  Where we shaped it to serve our needs.  Instead of living at its mercy.

With a stable food supply we were able to do something else.  Something other than grow food.  We could build things.  And an artisan class grew.  Potters.  Shoemakers.  Blacksmiths.  As time passed the artisan class grew.  Creating a middle class.  Markets where people met to trade their goods grew into cities.  The economy grew more complex.  The cities grew more crowded.  And the artisans became protective of their trades.  Joining guilds that restricted entry into their trade.  By maintaining a maximum number of artisans in each trade.  For though there was more food than ever the fear of hunger never went away.

In Medieval Europe Cloth Production was Second only to Food Production

Artisans joined guilds for one reason.  So they wouldn’t starve to death.  Basically.  By restricting entry into their trade they limited competition.  This allowed them to charge higher prices for their goods or services.  And that healthy income allowed them to buy all the food they desired.  Whereas if other artisans were allowed to set up shop in town they could offer their goods or services for less.  Forcing other artisans to lower their prices.  Which is good for the masses.  Allowing them to pay less for the artisans’ goods or services.  Helping them to push off hunger themselves.  But not good for the limited few who saw their wages fall with more artisans entering their trade.  Hence the guilds.

But artisans had more to fear than just people trying to take food off of their tables.  There was something else that was a far greater risk.  Technology.  Which led to increases in productivity.  That is, producing more with fewer people.  Replacing some highly-skilled artisans with lower-skilled and lower-paid people operating machines.  And without a job it was difficult to put food on the table.  With the specter of hunger haunting them some artisans did something about that new technology putting them out of a job.  They fought back against the machines.

Besides food there was another basic necessity the people needed.  Especially in England.  Where it got pretty cold during the winter.  To live in the northern climes you needed to wear clothes.  Or die of exposure.  In Medieval Europe food production was the number one occupation.  The number two occupation was cloth production.  To make the clothing people needed to wear to keep from dying of exposure.  Highly skilled weavers filled factories as they manually worked their looms.  Making the cloth that others would turn into clothing.

The most Infamous Neo-Luddite was the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski

Their meager production rate kept clothing prices high.  Then came the Industrial Revolution.  First they mechanized spinning.  Creating more thread than a weaver could ever use.  Then they mechanized weaving.  Turning that thread into cloth at an incredible rate.  Turning cloth-making from a skilled trade into an automated process.  Producing more with fewer people.  Lowering the price of clothing.  And reducing the need for skilled artisans.  Making the people happy.  For they could buy more clothing.  And still be able to afford enough food to ward off that gnawing hunger.  Everyone was happy except, of course, those artisans put out of a job thanks to those new machines.

Britain was at War with Napoleon’s France in 1811.  During war the home economy typically suffers.  And machines replacing people didn’t help.  Highly skilled weavers either lost their jobs.  Or had to take steep pay cuts to compete with other unskilled laborers working the new mechanized looms.  Lower incomes made it difficult to buy food when prices were rising.  As they typically do during war.  Pushing some people to the breaking point.  And some people rebelled against the machines.  Smashing them.  And burning them.  These people were Luddites.  Their rebellion against technology was so great that at times more British Red Coats were in England putting down their rebellion than were fighting Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

But in the end the Luddites loss their struggle.  By 1817 the British had put down the rebellion.  And the Industrial Revolution carried on.  Making life better for the masses.  The modern economy flooding us with new must-have products at reasonable prices.  And creating scores of new jobs the Luddites never could have imagined.  Still, their anti-technology philosophy lives on.  Perhaps the most infamous neo-Luddite being Theodore Kaczynski.  The Unabomber.  Who fought against technology by planting or mailing bombs.  Killing three.  And hurting 23 others.  Who they finally found holed up in a primitive cabin in the Montana wilderness.  Where he rejected all technology.  Living without any of the creature comforts technology gives us.  Like electricity, fresh water or personal hygiene.  Being a Luddite to the extreme.

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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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How can National Health Care lower Costs when they can’t even Buy Computer Equipment at Competitive Prices?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 13th, 2012

Week in Review

The problem with national health care?  There is only one buyer in the market.  The government.  And whenever you have only one buyer you’re never going to get the best price (see NHS pays ‘extortionate’ 328 per cent mark-up on printer parts by Christopher Williams posted 5/11/2012 on The Telegraph)

The NHS is paying “extortionate” prices for basic computer equipment and services, with dealers collecting profit margins of up to 328 per cent, a study has found…

On average, at central and regional levels, the NHS buys computer services and equipment at 28 per cent more than their wholesale price, compared to the best average in the private sector of only 3 per cent, said Mercato, a firm which tracks government and commercial IT procurement. As well as basic items this includes expensive equipment such as servers, and software.

These are things they know they are paying extortionate prices for.  Because there are other buyers for these things in the private sector.  And they can see what they are paying for these same things.  It didn’t stop the NHS from getting ripped off.  But they could tell they were being ripped off.  By the prices people were paying in the private sector.  Of course, these people aren’t buying hospital equipment, medicine, supplies, etc., that only the NHS uses.  And they buy these things in a market where there are no other buyers competing for these.  So there is no incentive to lower prices at all.  So if they’re paying 328% profit margins on computer equipment and services you know they are paying at least 328% profit margins on everything else they buy.  Or far, far more.  Because who’s going to know except the seller?

If this is happening in the NHS you know it will happen in Obamacare.  Every supplier in the Obamacare system will be looking to take advantage of some unaware bureaucrat.  Or bribing one to allow extortionate prices.  Because that’s the way government works.  It always has.  And it always will.  Only with Obamacare we’ll be sacrificing the quality of the U.S. health care system in the process.  For all the graft in the system will leave even less funding for health care services.  Because this graft will be new.  Unlike the private insurance companies that are now a pain in the ass to everyone that has to deal with them.  But you have to give the private insurance companies this.  They don’t pay extortionate prices.  Which has kept health care costs under control so far.  At least, as best as anyone can.  And far better than Obamacare will.  Just wait and see.

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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.

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