Posts tagged ‘Business Week’

The Ultimate End of Social-Democratic Labor Policy

When a country

  • Increases the minimum wage, and therefore the minimum skill / productivity needed for a job
  • Adds substantially to the costs of labor through required taxes, insurance premiums, pensions, etc
  • Makes employees virtually un-fireable, thus forcing companies to think twice about hiring young, unproven employees they may be saddled with, good or bad, for decades
  • Puts labor policy in the hands of people who already have jobs (ie unions)
  • Shift wealth via social security and medical programs from the young to the old

It gets this


The bitterly ironic part is that when these folks hit the streets in mass protests, it will likely be for more of the same that put them there in the first place.

Want to argue that such policies are hurting workers rather than helping?  Good luck, at least in Italy

Pietro Ichino, a professor of labor law at the University of Milan and a senator in the Italian legislature, is known as the author of several “neoliberal” books and studies recommending that the Italian government relax its extraordinarily stringent regulation of employers’ hiring and firing decisions. As Bloomberg Business Week reports, that means that Prof. Ichino must fear for his life: “For the past 10 years, the academic and parliamentarian has lived under armed escort, traveling exclusively by armored car, and almost never without the company of two plainclothes policemen. The protection is provided by the Italian government, which has reason to believe that people want to murder Ichino for his views.”

Memo to US:  Don't get cocky, you are going down the same path

 Update:  Interesting and sort of related from Megan McArdle

An apparent paradox that frequently puzzles journalists is that Europeans work fewer hours than workers in the United States, while in some countries, hourly productivity appears to be the same, or even higher, than that of American workers.
This is not actually a paradox at all.  Much of the decline in European hours worked per-capita came in the form of unemployment.  Rigid labor laws which make it hard to fire (and thus, risky to hire) shut less productive workers out of the market, particularly the young, and those who had been displaced due to disruptive industry change.  So does anything that raises the cost of labor, like, er, loads of mandatory vacation and leave.  When you exclude your least productive workers from the labor force, your measured hourly productivity will be higher, particularly if you use metrics like GDP per hours worked.

So Much For Another Conspiracy Theory

Remember all those media reports about the possible "political motivation" behind falling gas prices ahead of the election?  Supposedly oil companies were somehow manipulating gas prices ahead of the election to help Republicans win the election.  This was not a wacky Internet fringe thing -- network news anchors and newspapers like the WaPo and the NYT speculated about it, and not just on their editorial pages.

Well, you and I may remember, but apparently no major media outlet who ran this story remembers what they said.  Because I have not seen a single follow-up story after the election.  Surely, if gas and oil prices were being manipulated down before the election, they would quickly spike back up to their "natural" levels after the election.  But of course, the whole theory was insane to begin with.  To suppose that a few US oil companies, who for all their size are still small players in the world oil markets, could manipulate US commodity prices for any sustained period of time is absurd.  And even if they were successful, the cost would be astronomical (just ask the Hunt family who bankrupted themselves trying to manipulate the silver market).

So I will do the follow-up story.  It turns out that oil and gas prices were falling before the election because ... oil and gas prices are falling.  From the WSJ on Jan 9:

Oil prices dropped $1.69 to $54.40 a barrel early Tuesday as warm
weather in the Northeast continued to hurt demand for heating fuel. The
slide comes on top of last week's 7.8% pullback in crude, which briefly
took prices below $55 a barrel, their lowest level since June 2005.

From Business Week on Jan 8:

Wholesale gasoline prices have been falling for the past few weeks,
noted Jason Schenker, an economist with Wachovia Corp. He expects
retail gasoline prices to fall further; he forecasts a dime-sized
decline this week compared to last, with the per-gallon price dipping
to $2.25 from $2.35.

People often wonder why so many wild and weird conspiracy theories seem to thrive nowadays.  I am sure there are many social and psychological reasons.  But surely one reason is that the media seems incredibly willing to go front page with credulous stories of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories, and then never revisit them when they are proved absurd.  Its telling to me that it was left to Popular Mechanics, rather than the WaPo or the NYTimes, to publish to one authoritative debunking of 9/11 conspiracy silliness.

Broken Window Fallacy, On Steroids

Economics have a concept called the "broken window fallacy" that many of the media to this day do not understand.  Here is an example:  Every hurricane season, the media always writes a "silver lining" story about how recovery from a devastating hurricane spurred the local economy.  One might assume from this reasoning that it is good to go around breaking windows, since one will make a lot of work for glaziers and boost the economy.  The problem is what is not measured.  What would the money that was spent on window replacement have been spent on instead?  It is a safe presumption that had they not had to repair storm damage, they would have spent the money on something more productive  (test:  if this were not true, everyone would be breaking their own windows).  Advocating the broken window fallacy is a bit like saying that stealing money from banks would increase the savings rate, since people would have to deposit even more money to replace that which was stolen.

Anyway, I bring this example up because today I saw the most amazing example of the broken window fallacy I have ever seen, via Kevin Drum and Business Week:

 Business Week's cover story in their current issue tells us that healthcare inefficiency is what's keeping the American economy afloat:

very real problems with the health-care system mask a simple fact:
Without it the nation's labor market would be in a deep coma.  Since 2001, 1.7 million new jobs have been added in the health-care sector, which includes related
industries such as pharmaceuticals and health insurance. Meanwhile, the
number of private-sector jobs outside of health care is no higher than
it was five years ago.

.... The U.S. unemployment rate is 4.7%, compared with 8.2% and
8.9%, respectively, in Germany and France. But the health-care systems
of those two countries added very few jobs from 1997 to 2004, according
to new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation &
Development, while U.S. hospitals and physician offices never stopped
growing. Take away health-care hiring in the U.S., and quicker than you
can say cardiac bypass, the U.S. unemployment rate would be 1 to 2
percentage points higher.

....Both sides can agree that more spending on information
technology could reduce the need for so many health-care workers. It's
a truism in economics that investment boosts productivity, and the U.S.
lags behind other countries in this area. One reason: "Every other
country has the payers paying for IT," says Johns Hopkins' Gerard
Anderson, an expert on the economics of health care. "In the U.S. we're
asking the providers to pay for IT" "” and they're not the ones who

Let's go back to slow-motion instant replay.  What was that first line?

Business Week's cover story in their current issue tells us that healthcare inefficiency is what's keeping the American economy afloat

I am not seeing things, am I?  Did he really write that it is the inefficiency of one of the largest and most ubiquitous and perhaps most important industries in the country that is propelling the economy?  Do I really have to state the obvious?  Do you really think that if all those people were not hired to push paper around in health care they would be sitting unemployed today?  What about all the money either consumers or corporations would be saving from more efficiency -- would that really not have been spent on something else?

In a way, I guess this is sort of consistent with Drum's position on Wal-Mart.  If Wal-Mart is detroying the economy (according to him) by bringing increased productivity to retail, I guess this argument that health care inefficiency helps the economy is at least consistent.  Maybe if we could get our state drivers' license agency folks to take over the whole economy, we would have a boom! And the old Soviet Union must have been an economic powerhouse!

This is some of the worst economics I have seen in a while.  Lefties like Drum often rail against conservatives for being anti-scientific in their opposition to teaching evolution or approving the morning-after pill, but for God sakes the most fundamentalist Bible-belt home schooled conservative Christian probably knows more about the science of evolution than journalists understand about the science of economics.

Oops, I Missed Myself In Print

One of the modern world's newest guilty pleasures is Googling yourself.  One of the unsung virtues of blogging is that it tends to help you dominate the Google rankings for, uh, yourself.  Anyway, I Googled myself tonight (Everybody does it.  Really.) and found that I missed a mention entirely in Business Week online, in this article about "blooks", the cutesie name for making a book out of blog content.  My logic for doing so is in the last section.  I will save you the click:

Another benefit of publishing blooks on paper? Archiving. Warren Meyer,
of Paradise Valley, Ariz., first printed out the two volumes -- 400
pages each -- of his blog entries last November as a Christmas gift for
his dad, who is 83.

"He refuses to do anything online," says Meyer, who has been blogging for more than two years. Meyer
has also kept a copy of his blook, based on, discussing
environmental problems, for himself: "Everything I've ever written is
online," he says. "I wanted to archive my writing, and I don't trust
that electronic media is a good archiving tool, because standards and
technology change so much." While few people now use floppy disks,
paper is here to stay.

I have tried to explain this to younger folks without much success.  But for those of you who have used computers for a while, where are your old Compuserve emails?  How about those old files from your Apple II?  Does your current computer have a 5-1/4" floppy drive?  Beware keeping data only in digital form.  It may still be there in 20 years, but will you be able to read it?

Update: Forgot the link.  Added it.

Massachusetts Insurance Fiasco

Insurance legislation passed in Massachusetts:

The bill requires that, as of July 1, 2007, all residents of the Commonwealth must obtain flood insurance coverage, even if they don't live in a flood plain.... The purpose of this "Individual Mandate" is to strengthen and stabilize the functioning of flood insurance risk pools by making sure they include people outside of flood plains with no flood risk as well as people who know they live in a flood plain.

What?  We have to get insurance, even if we think there is no risk and the insurance is just wasted money?  Yes indeed, that is correct.  Well, almost correct.  I changed a few words.  The actual wording of the bill, sent to me by reader L Cole, mandates unwanted health insurance rather than unwanted flood insurance:

The bill requires that, as of July 1, 2007, all residents of the
Commonwealth must obtain health insurance coverage.... The purpose of
this "Individual Mandate" is to strengthen and stabilize the
functioning of health insurance risk pools by making sure they include
healthy people (who, if not offered employer-sponsored and -paid
insurance, are more likely to take the risk of not having insurance) as
well as people who know they need regular health care services.

More from Bloomberg.

For years I have criticized the argument which says that the problem with the health care system is that there are too many uninsured people.  My argument was always that there were many people who choose to self-insure, and that the real "problem," if there is one, is how many people there are who need care but can't get it (a much much smaller number that is never discussed). Just look at the attached bill - the justification is that there are people uninsured, not that there are people unserved.  Now we can see the end result:  Instead of fixing the actual problem, which is people who need care not getting it, they fix the problem as it was discussed:  they literally forced people to get health insurance, even if they don't want or need it.  Now some elected weenie can say "in Massachusetts, we have licked the problem of people without health insurance."  Reminds me of this Rush song.

Like many parallel bills proposed in other states, this one requires businesses to provide health insurance or to pay into a state fund if they don't.  But the bill also has this scary provision:

The Free Rider surcharge will be imposed on employers who do not provide health insurance and whose employees use free care. Imposition of the surcharge will be triggered when an employee receives free care more than three times, or a company has five or more instances of employees receiving free care in a year.

First, as an employer, why am I a free rider?  It is not me that received any free services or care.  My employees medical problem is not my fault (or else it would be workers comp).  If I hire someone that takes advantage of government loans to send their kids to college, am I a free rider?  If my employees choose subsidized mass transportation over driving their own cars, am I a free rider? 

Second, I sure hope all you poorer folks with health problems understand that it is now going to be really hard to find a job in Massachusetts.  No employer in their right mind is going to hire someone who may trigger this liability.  This provision would be a disaster for our company, since we tend to hire older retired people (with lots of health problems) for seasonal work (for which it is impossible to structure a health insurance plan).  Fortunately, I guess, Massachusetts is one of the states our company red-lined years ago as a place we will never do business, so this does not change our strategy much.

I have no idea what this will cost taxpayers and businesses in Mass.,
but I am positive it is substantially more than the bill's sponsors have
let on.  And there is a lot of hand-waving going on by supporters who insist that this bill will drive premium costs way down that strikes me as bullshit as well.

Update:  This article in Business Week provides some insight into the 500,000 uninsured in Mass.  Supporters of the bill claim that 100,000 of these are poor people who qualify for Medicare but haven't bothered to sign up.  200,000 are higher income folks who could afford insurance but choose not to buy it.  The other 200,000 are people they claim can't afford it, but surely even if they could, some portion would choose not to buy it.  So by the admission of the bill's supporters, at least 60% and probably more of the uninsured are that way because they choose to be.   Lets come up with a costly socialization of the medical industry in order to force on people something they don't necessarily want or need.