The Rise and Fall of the American Textile Industry

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 2nd, 2013

History 101

Inventions and Innovation gave the United States a Burgeoning Textile Industry

The American textile industry was founded by businessmen.  And inventors and their inventions.  Not by any labor movement.  For before there could be a labor movement there first had to be industry to employ laborers.  And laborers weren’t creating these industries.  They were just selfishly waiting for others to do this so they could get a job in them one day.

We may never know which came first.  The chicken or the egg.  But we do know which came first when it comes to industries and laborers.  The mind came first then the muscle.  Rich people with a keen eye to judge a good investment.  Businessmen and entrepreneurs unafraid to take a risk.  And who will throw their body and soul into their business.  Then the non-risk taking people come along.  The laborers.  Who have no skin in the game.  Who wait until the minds come together to create something in which they can apply their labor.  And get a paycheck.

Samuel Slater built cotton mills in New England (1800ish).  Slatersville Rhode Island, the town he established, bears his name.  Francis Cabot Lowell and Paul Moody created a more efficient power loom and a spinning apparatus (early 1800s).  Elias Howe invented the sewing machine (mid 1800s).  And the lock-stitch.  Throw in a few more inventions, some improvements on past inventions and some innovation and you have a burgeoning U.S. textile industry.

The Luddites went about England smashing the Machines of the Mechanized Textile Industry

Cloth-making used to be a labor-intensive activity of highly skilled artisans.  For those who had the money to afford the costly clothing they made.  Many could not.  And made their own clothing in the home.  Women would spin fiber into yarn.  And weave the yarn into cloth.  Which was very labor intensive.  Allowing only a meager production of clothing for the family to wear.  Which meant a lot of darning for worn out clothing.  Hand-sewing patches to cover holes.  Sewing ripped seams back together.  And sewing together rips and tears.  Until the clothing was so worn that it couldn’t be darned anymore.

It is hard to fathom how important this was during early America.  A time of a mini ice age.  In the north the winters were long and they were cold.  This homemade clothing may not have been pretty.  But it could keep you from dying of exposure in those brutally cold winters.  The mechanization of the textile industry changed all of that.  Smart inventors and business owners used machines to automate the cloth-making process.  Allowing less skilled people to operate smart machines.  Producing more clothes for less.  Bringing the cost of clothing down.  So anyone could afford to buy clothing.

Of course, this did not make everyone happy.  As those machines replaced the need for highly skilled artisans.  Who demanded high prices for their craft.  Allowing only the rich to afford their wares.  They didn’t like these machines cutting into their high wages.  And did something about it.  A group of people called ‘Luddites’ went about England smashing the machines of the mechanized textile industry (1811-1817).  Hoping to force a return to the old ways of making clothing.  By skilled artisan.  Where only the rich could afford to buy clothing.

Unions have Exported Entire Industries to Emerging Economies to Escape Soaring Labor and Regulatory Costs

Just as the textile industry was modernizing and mechanizing two seamstresses formed the first all-women’s labor union in 1825.  The United Tailoresses of New York.  Protesting 16-hour workdays.  And the lack of a living wage.  Strikes followed.  The Lowell, Massachusetts, mill women’s strike in 1834.  The Manayunk, Pennsylvania, textile strike in 1834.  The Paterson, New Jersey, textile strike in 1835.  And the Llowell, Massachusetts, mill women’s strike in 1836.  In 1844 women formed and ran the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.  Then more strikes.  The Cohoes, New York, cotton mill strike in 1882.  The Fall River, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1884.  The Augusta, Georgia, textile strike in 1886.  The Fall River, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1889.  In 1890 New York garment workers won the right to unionize.  Close their shops to nonunion workers.  And fire any nonunion workers on the payroll.  In 1900 the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was founded.  In 1901 the United Textile Workers was founded.  Then came the New York shirtwaist strike in 1909.  Massachusetts passed the first minimum wage law for women and minors in 1912.  Then came the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1912.  Giving us the walking picket line.  Then the Paterson, New Jersey, textile strike in 1913.  The Amalgamated Clothing Workers union was founded in 1914.  Then the Fulton bag and cotton mill strike in 1914.  The Passaic, New Jersey, Textile Strike in 1926.  And so on.

The Luddites hated the machinery of the modern textile industry.  As they didn’t like the idea of replacing many highly skilled and well-paid artisans with automated machinery operated by fewer low-skilled laborers.  So they tried to smash the automated machinery.  To try and save their jobs.  Which the labor movement was happy to see go away.  For they would rather pack as many low-skilled laborers into those Dickensian factories as possible.  For the more members they had in their unions the more powerful they were.  And the more they could demand from the business owners.  They demanded a lot, too.  Higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions.  So much so that the cost of labor rose while productivity fell.  Throwing the door open to foreign competition.

The big labor movements used their friends in government to protect their generous union contracts.  By passing pro-union legislation.  And placing tariffs on imported textile goods.  Keeping clothing prices high.  So business could earn enough to pay those generous union pay and benefits.  But this left these businesses uncompetitive in the world’s markets.  Which they wanted to sell in.  For it wasn’t only Americans that wore clothes.  Those union contracts increased labor costs so much that businesses found it hard to remain in business let alone remain profitable.  So they started leaving the United States during the 20th century.  Which is why today there is no U.S. textile industry.  Because of the high cost of labor.  And costly regulatory policies.  Where is the textile industry today?  In the emerging economies.  Where labor and regulatory costs are lower than in America.  While the standard of living for those employed in these factories are often higher than their fellow countrymen.  Which is what unions have often done in the United States.  Create good jobs in emerging economies.  By exporting entire industries from the United States to these emerging economies.  Where they can escape soaring labor and regulatory costs.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

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

Labor and Energy Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 1st, 2013

Economics 101

If you want to Destroy an Industry and Kill Jobs all you have to do is Raise the Cost of Labor

What happened to American manufacturing?  The Industrial Revolution swept through the United States and made America an industrial superpower.  By the beginning of the 20th century the United States became the world’s number one economic power.  Immigrants poured into this country for those manufacturing jobs.  Even though some of these jobs may have come out of a Dickens novel.  Because being able to eat had it all over starving to death.  And in America, with a good factory job, you could put food on your family’s table.

Most of those manufacturing jobs are gone now.  Why?  What happened to the once booming textile industry?  The once booming steel industry?  The once booming automotive industry?  Unions happened to them.  That’s what.  These jobs were so horrible and unfit for humans that unions stepped in and organized them.  But the jobs never got better.  Based on the ever more generous union contracts they kept demanding.  Increasing the cost of labor more and more.  Which chased the textile industry out of the country.  And much of the steel and automotive industries as well.

Is there anything we can learn from this?  Yes.  If you want to destroy an industry, if you want to kill jobs, if you want to damage the economy, all you have to do is raise the cost of labor.  The largest cost to most businesses.  Which is why many businesses have been replacing people with machines.  Advanced machines.  Computer-controlled machines.  Robots.  Because they can work 24/7.  They’re never late.  Never hung over.  Never out sick.  They don’t take lunch.  And they will work as fast as possible without ever complaining.  This is why businesses like machines.  For they let them lower their costs.  Making them competitive.  So they can sell at prices lower than their competitors.  Allowing them to remain in business.

Uncompetitive American Manufacturers go to Emerging Economies where they can be Competitive

Labor is a big cost of business.  Especially in an advanced economy.  With a high standard of living.  Where people own houses and cars.  Where those houses have central heat, air conditioning, televisions, sound systems, kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, etc.  These things cost money.  Requiring paychecks that can afford these things.  As well as pay for clothes, groceries, gasoline, utilities, etc.  Common things in an advanced economies.  But not all that common in an emerging economy.  Where factory workers aren’t accustomed to those things yet.  And don’t demand paychecks that can pay for those things.  Yet.

Still, people in developing economies flock to the new factories.  For even though they are paid far less than their counterparts in advanced economies these factory jobs are often the highest paying jobs in their countries.  And those who have these jobs have a higher standard of living than those who don’t.  Even when the occasional factory burns to the ground or collapses killing everyone inside.  As sad as that is.  But if you want to eat and provide for your family these factories often offer the best opportunity.

So this is where American manufacturing jobs go to.  Where labor costs are lower.  Allowing business to stay competitive.  Because if they can’t be competitive no one will buy what they are selling.  And without any revenue they won’t be able to pay their suppliers.  Their employees.  Or their energy costs.  Another large cost of business.  Especially for manufacturers.

Unions and Regulatory Costs haven’t made Emerging Economies Uncompetitive Yet

A lot of houses today come with a 200-amp electric service.  Assuming a house uses about 100 amps on average that comes to 24,000 watts (100 amps X 240 volts).  Now consider a large manufacturing plant.  Like an automotive assembly plant.  That can have anywhere around 8 double-ended unit substations.  Which are pieces of electrical distribution equipment to feed all of the electrical loads inside the plant.  Each substation has two 13,800 volt 3-phase primary electrical services.  If you’re looking at one you will see the following from left to right.  A 600-amp, 15,000 volt switch, a transformer to step down the 13,800 voltage to 480 voltage, a 480-volt main switch, a bunch of 480-volt switches to feed the electrical loads in the plant, a ‘tie’ switch, another bunch of 480-volt switches, another 480-volt main switch another transformer and another 600-amp switch.

The key to a double-ended unit substation are the two 480-volt main switches and the tie switch.  Which normally distributes the connected electric load over the two primary services.  With both 480-volt main switches closed.  And the tie switch open.  If one service fails because a car knocks down a cable pole these switches will sense the loss of that service.  The 480-volt switch on the side of the failed service will open.  And the tie switch will close.  Feeding both sides of the unit substation on the one live primary service.  So each primary service carries half of the connected load.  Or one primary service carries the full connected load.  Assuming each unit substation uses 600 amps on average (2 services at 300 amps or 1 service at X 600 amps) that comes to approximately 13,194,070 watts (600 amps X 13,800 volts X √3 X .92 PF).  Where we multiply by the square-root of 3 because it is three phase.  And assume a 0.92 power factor.  If a plant has 8 unit substations that comes to 105,552,562 watts.  Which equals approximately 4,398 houses with a 200 amp service.  Now to further our crude mathematical approximations let’s take a typical electric bill for a house.  Say $175 on average per month.  If we multiply this by 4,398 that comes to a monthly electric bill for this manufacturer of about $769,654.  Or $9,235,849 per year.

So here is another way to destroy an industry, kill jobs and damage the economy.  By increasing the cost of electric power.  Which is already a very large cost of business.  And ‘going green’ will make it even more costly.  As the Obama administration wants to do.  With their war on coal.  The cheapest source of electric power we have.  By increasing regulations on coal-fired power plants.  Even implementing some kind of a carbon tax.  To punish these carbon emitters.  And to subsidize far more costly green energies.  Such as solar.  And wind.  Going from the least costly to the most costly electric power will greatly increase a business’ electric utility costs.  Easily adding 15%.  30%.  40%.  Or more.  A 40% increase in our example would increase the electric utility cost by $3,694,340 each year.  If a plant has 1,200 workers that’s like adding another $3,000 per worker.  And we’ve seen what higher labor costs have done to companies like General Motors.  Chrysler.  And the textile industry.  By the time you add up all of these new regulatory costs (Obamacare, green energy, etc.) businesses will be so uncompetitive that they will have to follow the textile industry.  Out of the country.  To a country that will let them be competitive.  Such as an emerging economy.  Where unions and regulatory costs haven’t made them uncompetitive.  Yet.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

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

Slavery, the Cotton Gin, the Jacquard Loom, Punch Cards and Computers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 12th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published December 7th, 2011)

African Slaves came to the New World because the Colonists needed Laborers

The Europeans didn’t invent slavery when they introduced it to the New World.  It’d been around since the dawn of civilization.  And it’s been a way of life in many civilizations for thousands of years.  Where no one was safe from the slave traders.  Some were born into slavery.  Some were simply soldiers captured in battle.  Even children were bought and sold.  Perhaps the saddest story is the Children’s Crusade of 1212.  When about 50,000 poor Christian kids walked from Central Europe to free Palestine from Muslim control and return it to the Christians.  They got as far as boarding ships in Italian ports.  But those ships did not deliver them to Palestine.  They delivered them instead into the Muslim slave markets of Northern Africa and the Middle East.  Where they were never heard from again.

African slaves came to the New World because the colonists needed laborers.  They tried enslaving the Native Americans.  But it was too easy for them to escape back into friendly territory.  And blend in with the indigenous population.  Not the case with black Africans.  Who didn’t know the surrounding country.  Or the languages.  What they knew was an ocean away.  Also, the locals had a tendency of dying from European diseases.  Especially smallpox.  Whereas the Africans were long exposed to smallpox.  And built up some resistance to this scourge of European colonialism.

So the New World colonies began with slaves harvesting their crops.  Slaves that the Europeans bought from African slave traders.  Who had long been selling captured Africans to the Arabs.  And had no problem selling them to the Europeans.  And so began the problem of slavery in America.

With the Cotton Gin Separating the Seed from the Cotton Fiber became not so Labor Intensive

When the British American colonists started talking about liberty the slavery problem was the elephant in the room that they were reluctant to talk about.  When Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal they knew that meant those enslaved against their will, too.  Yet here they were.  These liberty-seeking people were enslaving people themselves.  But there was a problem.  To form a united country the Founding Fathers needed the southern states.  Who used slaves as the basis for their economy.  And they weren’t going to join a union without their slaves.  So they wouldn’t talk about the elephant.  Instead they tabled that discussion for 20 years.  With the population growing they didn’t need slaves anymore.  There were few in the North.  And the South should follow suit.  It was inevitable.  Leaving just one problem to solve.  What to do with their slaves as they transitioned to paid laborers.  Which the Founding Fathers were sure the southern slave owners could solve within those 20 years.

Slave-labor was not efficient.  George Washington wanted to sell his slaves and replace them with paid laborers.  Because paid laborers cost less.  You only paid them for their labors.  And then they went away.  And if you changed your crops you could easily hire new laborers skilled in the new crop.  Not quite so easy with a large slave labor force.  So those in the North had good reason to believe that slavery would slowly give way to paid laborers.  Even in the South.  Or so they thought.  But one of the staple crops of the South started to shape events.  Cotton.

Cotton was a labor-intensive crop to harvest.  And separating the seed from the cotton was even more labor-intensive.  Until someone mechanized this process.  With a cotton engine.  The cotton gin.  Patented in America by Eli Whitney.  A hand-cranked device that used hooks to pull the cotton fiber through a screen.  The holes in the screen were small enough to let the cotton fiber through.  But not large enough for the seeds to pass.  With the cotton gin separating the seed from the cotton fiber became not so labor intensive.   In fact, these little machines could clean cotton faster than the slaves could harvest it.  Which meant, of course, there was a lot more cotton that could be grown and harvested.  Which created a new slavery boom.  And dashed all the hopes of the Founding Fathers.

Cheap Cloth Unleashed a lot of Economic Activity which Improved the Quality of Life

Many blame the cotton gin for extending the institution of slavery in America.  And the bloody American Civil War that ended it.  But apart from this the cotton gin was a fundamental step in modernizing economies everywhere.  And helped to spur the textile industry forward.   By creating an abundant source of material for weaving looms everywhere.

The textile industry was important because everyone wore clothes.  And we made clothes from cloth.  Once upon a time people made their own clothes.  Or spent a lot of money for store-bought clothes.  Leaving them with little time or money for other things.  So cheap cloth unleashed a lot of economic activity.  Which improved the quality of life.  The Chinese started this process.  By giving us an advanced loom that used foot-power to lift thread.  And the spinning wheel to make yarn.  All the weavers needed were abundant sources of fiber to feed these machines.  Such as American cotton.

The Chinese also made some beautiful silk tapestries with complex patterns.  Which were very difficult to reproduce by hand in the West.  Until the French automated this process.  When Joseph Marie Jacquard improved on the works of Basile Bouchon, Jean Baptiste Falcon and Jacques Vaucanson.  And created the Jacquard loom.  This automated the pattern process coming from those Chinese looms.  By using punch cards to automatically lift the proper threads to reproduce that complex pattern.  An impressive advance.  But one that did not impress the French.  Who were busier with revolution than fancy weaved patterns.  But the British were interested.  And they used the Jacquard loom in their booming textile industry.  Fed largely by that abundant American cotton.  Until the American Civil War, at least.

An Advanced Automated and Mechanized Economy has no Room for Slavery

The British also used this punch card idea to automate their shipbuilding industry.  To speed up the riveting process.  By automating riveting machines.  To make ships that carried immigrants to the new world.  Who swelled the American population.  Making the census taking more and more complex.  And another punch card system made counting these people simpler.  The tabulator.  Where an operator punched holes in a card to represent information for each person.  Age.  Marital status.  Country of origin.  Etc.  IBM would use this idea of punching information into a card later.  To program some of the first computers.  Machines that increased efficiencies further.  By replacing ever more people with machines.

So it is an interesting turn of events.  Eli Whitney created the cotton gin in America.  A machine that was part of a series of technological developments that increased efficiencies and reduced the number of workers needed to perform once labor intensive tasks.  All during this process fewer people were able to do more things.  Except one thing.  Planting and harvesting cotton.  That would take first a civil war.  And then steam-powered farming equipment.  To automate farming.  Which came later to the South than it did in the slavery-free North.  And other parts of the world.

Life got better for everyone the more advanced the economy became.  Sure, a lot of people lost jobs.  But that’s progress.  A few lost jobs is a small price to pay when the masses can enjoy a better life.  Thanks to automation and mechanization.  And that includes slaves.  Or, rather, former slaves.  For an advanced automated and mechanized economy has no room for slavery.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

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

China raises the Price of Cotton and Chases the Textile Industry out of China

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 9th, 2013

Week in Review

Communists think they are smarter than capitalists.  They think they can manage an economy better than market forces.  Despite the failure of the Soviet Union, China (under Mao), North Korea, Cuba, etc., there are many Western nations with activist governments.  Believing like the Chinese that smart bureaucrats can make the economy operate better than those market forces can.  But the problem is they can’t control all market forces.  So when they intervene there are always unintended consequences that usually make things worse after their intervention.  As this example in China shows (see China’s cotton procurement policy hurting textile industry by Staff Reporter posted 6/9/2013 on Want China Times).

China has jacked up the domestic price of cotton to 20,400 yuan (US$3,325) per tonne as of May 13, 4,500 yuan (US$730) higher than the international price, reports Shanghai’s First Financial Daily.

Industry insiders said that the current procurement policy does nothing to benefit cotton farmers and will have a serious effect on the domestic mid-stream textile industry, forcing many firms to move their operations overseas, the paper said…

The government has justified its cotton procurement at prices higher than international levels, by arguing that the policy can protect the interest of farmers and stabilize domestic cotton farm acreage and output, which assures the domestic supply…

The high cost has forced textile firms to abandon orders, with a growing number of firms relocating to Vietnam, Bangladesh, and India. Downstream firms, in dyeing and printing, have also been affected.

China expanded their cotton production when international cotton prices rose.  Then international prices fell.  Leaving them with a surplus of cotton selling at a price that did not recover the costs of that expanded production.  So these wise bureaucrats decided to raise the price of cotton.  And restrict imports.  Problem solved.  They forced the domestic textile industry to buy the higher priced domestic cotton.  Which, of course, raised the price of the textiles they sold.  Above the prevailing international price.  Pricing them out of the international markets.  So this economic reality forced them to relocate to a country that did not force them to purchase cotton above market prices.  Allowing them to produce textiles and sell them at prices the international markets would pay.

This is the same reason why the U.S. doesn’t have a domestic textile industry anymore.  Only it wasn’t government forcing textile manufacturers to buy cotton at above market prices.  It was the unions forcing them to pay labor at above market prices that increased the price of their textiles.  And priced them out of the international markets.  Because there are always unintended consequences whenever we interfere with market forces.  Always.  And the end result is always worse after the intervention.  Always.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

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

Bangladesh has about 4,500 Garment Factories because they have no Unions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 4th, 2013

Week in Review

The union workforce in the private sector has shrunk from its peak in the Fifties.  Falling from about 30% of all workers belonging to a union down to about 11%.  Why?  Well, consider the industries they once dominated.  Textiles.  Steel.  Automotive.  Ship building.  Industries that went from world dominance to being a shell of their former selves.  This is why union workforce has fallen so greatly in the private sector.  Because the high cost of union labor destroyed these industries.

Those on the left want to bring these jobs back.  Despite hating these jobs.  Which is why they unionized them.  They were dirty, dangerous, monotonous and inhuman.  Right out of a Dickens novel.  Or the worst of capitalism Karl Marx could rail against.  Now that we don’t have them they call these good manufacturing jobs.  Not those same jobs they went on strike from in order to get better pay and more humane working conditions.  And say it is a crime that someone else is now exploiting their workers doing these jobs Americans should be doing.  Only the labor costs and working conditions in these countries are such that they will never come back to America.  For as bad as they may be at times they have no problem staffing these factories.  As American workers would have done had it not been for the unions forcing these jobs offshore.  And the American factories no doubt would have been safer (see Shoppers face tough choices over Bangladesh by Emily Jane Fox posted 5/1/2013 on CNNMoney).

It is hard for American shoppers to avoid buying clothes made in unsafe factories abroad.

That’s because just about all, or 98%, of clothes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, according to the Apparel and Footwear Association. Also, companies don’t tell consumers if any of their suppliers violate safety standards.

The recent spate of deadly accidents in garment factories in Bangladesh has caught international attention. Last week, more than 400 workers were killed when a garment factory building collapsed. The tragedy follows two more factory fires in November that killed and injured more than 100 workers.

A very large portion of U.S. apparel imports comes from Bangladesh. Many companies have been shifting orders there, because labor costs in the country are so low. Bangladesh is on track to surpass China within the next seven years as the largest apparel manufacturer in the world…

Bangladesh has about 4,500 garment factories that make clothes for global retailers…

“Companies don’t want consumers to understand the reality of what’s going on — the labor abuses, the low wages — that make products for the U.S. market,” Nova said. “Customers do care, but they don’t have enough information about where and how products are made to react.”

The United States used to have a booming textile industry.  And because of that they had a booming garment industry.  But they don’t have either any more.  Why?  These industries unionized.  Labor costs went up.  Which raised their selling prices.  This, of course, reduced sales volume.  For lower-income people could not afford to buy the same amount of clothes they once did at these higher prices.  Rich people could.  But not lower-income people.  The vast majority of the buying public.  Unable to make clothing average working Americans could afford U.S. garment manufacturers closed down.  Or moved offshore.  Killing the U.S. garment industry.  As well as the U.S. textile industry.

This is why Bangladesh has about 4,500 garment factories.  Because they can make clothing lower-income people can afford.

Customers care?  And if they had enough information they would…what?  Say, “That’s it.  I’m done buying affordable clothing.  For now on I will pay for only the clothing that I cannot afford.”  Yes, of course that’s what they will say.  But they won’t be able to afford to do that.

Buying clothes is a lot like eating meat.  We like it.  We enjoy it.  But we don’t want to think about the slaughterhouse.  And so it is with our affordable clothing.  We like it.  We enjoy being able to send our kids to school in something nice and clean every day.  But we don’t want to think about the working conditions in those factories.  And trust our retailers that they do everything within their power to make those working conditions meet acceptable standards.  When they don’t they will be the first to raise their moral outrage.  While no doubt wearing something from those factories.  Because like those factory workers there just isn’t a better alternative.

If a country can staff 4,500 garment factories these must be the best jobs available.  Or the only ones.  Like in China in those export factories.  Which attract people from the rural interior regions.  Who are trying to escape their chronic hunger.  And occasional famine.  So while organized labor bemoans the loss of the high pay and generous benefit packages of those manufacturing jobs the people working in these factories are probably living better than they ever have.  Despite the occasional collapsed factory.  Or factory fire.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

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

Slavery, the Cotton Gin, the Jacquard Loom, Punch Cards and Computers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2011

Technology 101

African Slaves came to the New World because the Colonists needed Laborers

The Europeans didn’t invent slavery when they introduced it to the New World.  It’d been around since the dawn of civilization.  And it’s been a way of life in many civilizations for thousands of years.  Where no one was safe from the slave traders.  Some were born into slavery.  Some were simply soldiers captured in battle.  Even children were bought and sold.  Perhaps the saddest story is the Children’s Crusade of 1212.  When about 50,000 poor Christian kids walked from Central Europe to free Palestine from Muslim control and return it to the Christians.  They got as far as boarding ships in Italian ports.  But those ships did not deliver them to Palestine.  They delivered them instead into the Muslim slave markets of Northern Africa and the Middle East.  Where they were never heard from again.

African slaves came to the New World because the colonists needed laborers.  They tried enslaving the Native Americans.  But it was too easy for them to escape back into friendly territory.  And blend in with the indigenous population.  Not the case with black Africans.  Who didn’t know the surrounding country.  Or the languages.  What they knew was an ocean away.  Also, the locals had a tendency of dying from European diseases.  Especially smallpox.  Whereas the Africans were long exposed to smallpox.  And built up some resistance to this scourge of European colonialism.

So the New World colonies began with slaves harvesting their crops.  Slaves that the Europeans bought from African slave traders.  Who had long been selling captured Africans to the Arabs.  And had no problem selling them to the Europeans.  And so began the problem of slavery in America.

With the Cotton Gin Separating the Seed from the Cotton Fiber became not so Labor Intensive

When the British American colonists started talking about liberty the slavery problem was the elephant in the room that they were reluctant to talk about.  When Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal they knew that meant those enslaved against their will, too.  Yet here they were.  These liberty-seeking people were enslaving people themselves.  But there was a problem.  To form a united country the Founding Fathers needed the southern states.  Who used slaves as the basis for their economy.  And they weren’t going to join a union without their slaves.  So they wouldn’t talk about the elephant.  Instead they tabled that discussion for 20 years.  With the population growing they didn’t need slaves anymore.  There were few in the North.  And the South should follow suit.  It was inevitable.  Leaving just one problem to solve.  What to do with their slaves as they transitioned to paid laborers.  Which the Founding Fathers were sure the southern slave owners could solve within those 20 years.

Slave-labor was not efficient.  George Washington wanted to sell his slaves and replace them with paid laborers.  Because paid laborers cost less.  You only paid them for their labors.  And then they went away.  And if you changed your crops you could easily hire new laborers skilled in the new crop.  Not quite so easy with a large slave labor force.  So those in the North had good reason to believe that slavery would slowly give way to paid laborers.  Even in the South.  Or so they thought.  But one of the staple crops of the South started to shape events.  Cotton.

Cotton was a labor-intensive crop to harvest.  And separating the seed from the cotton was even more labor-intensive.  Until someone mechanized this process.  With a cotton engine.  The cotton gin.  Patented in America by Eli Whitney.  A hand-cranked device that used hooks to pull the cotton fiber through a screen.  The holes in the screen were small enough to let the cotton fiber through.  But not large enough for the seeds to pass.  With the cotton gin separating the seed from the cotton fiber became not so labor intensive.   In fact, these little machines could clean cotton faster than the slaves could harvest it.  Which meant, of course, there was a lot more cotton that could be grown and harvested.  Which created a new slavery boom.  And dashed all the hopes of the Founding Fathers.

Cheap Cloth Unleashed a lot of Economic Activity which Improved the Quality of Life

Many blame the cotton gin for extending the institution of slavery in America.  And the bloody American Civil War that ended it.  But apart from this the cotton gin was a fundamental step in modernizing economies everywhere.  And helped to spur the textile industry forward.   By creating an abundant source of material for weaving looms everywhere.

The textile industry was important because everyone wore clothes.  And we made clothes from cloth.  Once upon a time people made their own clothes.  Or spent a lot of money for store-bought clothes.  Leaving them with little time or money for other things.  So cheap cloth unleashed a lot of economic activity.  Which improved the quality of life.  The Chinese started this process.  By giving us an advanced loom that used foot-power to lift thread.  And the spinning wheel to make yarn.  All the weavers needed were abundant sources of fiber to feed these machines.  Such as American cotton.

The Chinese also made some beautiful silk tapestries with complex patterns.  Which were very difficult to reproduce by hand in the West.  Until the French automated this process.  When Joseph Marie Jacquard improved on the works of Basile Bouchon, Jean Baptiste Falcon and Jacques Vaucanson.  And created the Jacquard loom.  This automated the pattern process coming from those Chinese looms.  By using punch cards to automatically lift the proper threads to reproduce that complex pattern.  An impressive advance.  But one that did not impress the French.  Who were busier with revolution than fancy weaved patterns.  But the British were interested.  And they used the Jacquard loom in their booming textile industry.  Fed largely by that abundant American cotton.  Until the American Civil War, at least.

An Advanced Automated and Mechanized Economy has no Room for Slavery

The British also used this punch card idea to automate their shipbuilding industry.  To speed up the riveting process.  By automating riveting machines.  To make ships that carried immigrants to the new world.  Who swelled the American population.  Making the census taking more and more complex.  And another punch card system made counting these people simpler.  The tabulator.  Where an operator punched holes in a card to represent information for each person.  Age.  Marital status.  Country of origin.  Etc.  IBM would use this idea of punching information into a card later.  To program some of the first computers.  Machines that increased efficiencies further.  By replacing ever more people with machines.

So it is an interesting turn of events.  Eli Whitney created the cotton gin in America.  A machine that was part of a series of technological developments that increased efficiencies and reduced the number of workers needed to perform once labor intensive tasks.  All during this process fewer people were able to do more things.  Except one thing.  Planting and harvesting cotton.  That would take first a civil war.  And then steam-powered farming equipment.  To automate farming.  Which came later to the South than it did in the slavery-free North.  And other parts of the world.

Life got better for everyone the more advanced the economy became.  Sure, a lot of people lost jobs.  But that’s progress.  A few lost jobs is a small price to pay when the masses can enjoy a better life.  Thanks to automation and mechanization.  And that includes slaves.  Or, rather, former slaves.  For an advanced automated and mechanized economy has no room for slavery.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

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

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 29th, 2010

LOW PRICES.  GOD help me, I do hate them so.  I hate them with every fiber of my body.

Who says this?  Do you?  I don’t.  Of all the times I’ve spent shopping, I have never heard anyone bitch about low prices.  I’ve heard people bitch about high prices.  But never about low prices.  When gas approached $3/gallon, people bitched about that being too high and drove 10 miles to find ‘cheap’ gas to save a few pennies per gallon.  Let it approach $4/gallon and they’ll want Congress to take action.  To attack Big Oil.  To seize their oil and their profits and give us cheap gasoline in return.  But when gas was cheap, no one ever bitched about it being ‘too’ cheap.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  People bitch about high prices.  Not low prices.

So who bitches about low prices?  Competitors.  There’s a saying that competition makes everything better.  And it does.  It lowers prices.  And raises quality.  And who is looking for lower prices and higher quality?  Consumers.  Who isn’t?  Competitors.  Especially competitors with political connections.

WHEN THE BIG 3 were putting out crap in the 1970s, they did so because they could.  I mean, who else were you going to buy a car from?  So what if your car breaks down and the fenders and quarter panels rust away?  That just means you gotta buy another car sooner rather than later.  A pretty sweet deal.  Especially when there are only three places to go to buy a car.  And each of the Big 3 is selling the same crap.

Then the Japanese had to go and ruin a good thing.  They started selling cars in America.  These cars were smaller than your typical American car.  But there were other differences.  They didn’t rust like the American cars.  They didn’t break down as much.  And the imports were cheaper than the American cars.  Lower price and higher quality.  More bang for the buck.  Exactly what consumers were demanding.

So what was the response of the Big 3?  Did they rise to the level of their new competitors and deliver what the consumer wanted?  No.  They ran to government for help.  For protection.  And they got it.  Voluntary Export Restraints (VER).  The government negotiated with the Japanese to ‘voluntarily’ limit the number of cars they exported to the United States.  Or else.  So they did.  To avoid worse protectionist policies.  Problem solved.  Competition was limited.  And the Big 3 were very profitable in the short run.  Everyone lived happily ever after.  Until the Japanese refused to play nice.

The problem was what the Big 3 did with those profits.  Or, rather, what they didn’t do with them.  They didn’t reinvest them to raise themselves up to the level of the Japanese.  Protected, they saw no incentive to change.  Not when you have Big Government on your side.  And how did that work for them?  Not good. 

So look, the Japanese said, the Americans like our cars.  If the American manufacturers won’t give them what they want, we will.  While honoring the VER.  We won’t export more cars.  We’ll just build bigger and better cars to export.  And they did.  The Big 3 were no longer up against inexpensive, higher quality subcompacts on the fringe of their market share.  Now their mid-size and large-size cars had competition.  And this wasn’t on the fringe of their market share.  This was their bread and butter.  What to do?  Build better cars and give Americans more bang for their buck?  Or run to government again?  What do you think?

The Big 3 assaulted the Japanese under the guise of ‘fair trade’.  The cry went out that unless the Japanese opened up their markets to American imports (in particular auto parts), we should restrict Japanese imports.  To protect American jobs.  To protect the American worker.  To protect the children.  This was code for please make the Japanese cars more unattractive to purchasers so they will settle for the more costly and lower quality cars we’re making.  (Let’s not forget the reason Americans were buying the Japanese cars in the first place).

The Japanese response?  They took it up a notch.  They entered the luxury markets.  They launched Acura, Lexus and Infiniti.  They competed against Cadillac and Lincoln.  And well.  The quality was so good they even affected the European luxury imports.  More attacks followed.  Americans were losing their jobs.  Soon there would be no more American manufacturing left in the country.  So the Japanese built plants in America.  And Americans were now building the Japanese cars.  The Japanese actually created American jobs.

SON OF A BITCH!  So much for the loss of American jobs.  The Japanese threw a wrench in that argument.  So now the argument became about the loss of ‘high paying’ American jobs.  For the Japanese plants were non-union.  Didn’t matter that their workers were making better pay and benefits than many in their region.  No.  What mattered was that they were building a better product.  And they didn’t want THESE jobs in America.  But if they couldn’t get rid of these new workers, they should at least unionize them so their cars cost more.  To make them a little less appealing to the American consumer.  So far they have been unsuccessful in this endeavor.  The workers are happy as they are.

Well, these cars just weren’t going away.  So the Americans surrendered car manufacturing to the Japanese.  They couldn’t beat them.  (Of course, it’s hard to do that when you don’t even try).  They, instead, focused on the higher profit truck and SUV markets.  Then the Japanese entered those markets.  And at every level they competed with the Americans, the Japanese gave more bang for the buck.  And the consumers responded.  With their hard-earned wages.  It just wasn’t fair.  The Japanese kept giving the American consumer a better product.  No matter what political action the Big 3 took or demanded.

And there’s the problem.  They sought their answers from government.  Instead of making a better car.  They wanted to stop the Japanese from giving the American consumer what they wanted so they could force Americans to pay more for less.  All the while the economy was forcing the majority of consumers to get by on less (the majority of consumers do not have the wage and benefit package the ‘select’ few had in the Big 3). 

Fast forward to 2008 and we see the ultimate consequence of their actions.  Bankruptcy.  GM and Chrysler had to grovel for a federal bailout and in the process become Washington’s bitch.  Ford survived on her own.  As did the Japanese.  You can bitch all you want about costs, but if you have the revenue you can pay your costs.  And the Americans just couldn’t sell enough cars to maintain the revenue they needed for their cost structure.  By refusing to address the core problem (they weren’t making cars Americans wanted to buy), they only made their competition stronger and more entrenched in the U.S. market.

IT’S ALL POLITICS.  Political cronyism.  And crony capitalism.  It all comes down to political spoils and patronage.  That’s what happens when politics enter capitalism.  Big Business partners with Big Government and they enter into relationships.  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back.  But when government protects a business for political expediency, the industry suffers in the long run.  As the U.S. automobile industry has.  Ditto for the U.S. textile industry.  And the U.S. steel industry.

So what goes wrong?  When you protect an industry you insulate it from market forces.  You can build crap.  The problem is, consumers don’t buy crap.  So, for awhile, politics intervene and makes the crap more favorable.  Whether it’s predatory pricing, monopolistic pricing or collusion, business can’t win.  Big Government is there.  If your prices are too low, government will intervene.  If prices are too high, government will intervene.  If prices are too similar, government will intervene.  To make things ‘fair’.  And by fair they mean to reward those who play the game and to punish those who don’t.  And the spoils go to those large voting blocs they need.  And in return for their votes, they can count on patronage.  Government jobs.  Political positions.  Favorable legislation and regulation.  If you got the vote out, you were rewarded quite nicely. 

And consumers be damned. .

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

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