Tag Archives: aggregate demand

Thinking Minimum and Waiting For Yes

The minimum wage in Nevada is $7.25 per hour if the employer sponsors group health insurance policies, or $8.25 if health insurance is not part of the compensation package.  This doesn’t mean a person will automatically receive those wages because some employers are taking advantage of loopholes in current statutes [LVRJ] There are other elements which are the subject of FAQs on the Labor Commissioner’s web site. 

However, the bottom line is still that the minimum wage in Nevada is not a living wage.  The point is driven home in the realm of fast food operations, and there is talk of a bill in the upcoming session of the state legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.   Because minimum wage levels are a topic inserted in the state constitution, the raise would have to pass in two sessions and go to the voters. [LVRJ]  The second important point is that Nevada job growth is showing in sectors which employ a high number of minimum wage workers – in the sector we are pleased to call “leisure and hospitality.”

Nevada Job Growth 2014

The median wage for a fast food cook in Nevada is $18,890 per year.  [DETR]  A counter attendant can expect median annual wages of $20,990. [DETR]   Now, look at the 2014 Federal poverty guidelines:

Federal Poverty lines 2014

Obviously, there’s ample evidence from the charts above to support the contention that if employers pay sub-living level wages, then the state and local governments must make up the difference in the form of social safety net programs. In short, the taxpayers are subsidizing the businesses. 

But, but, but…  Spare me the noble story of How I Started Mowing Lawns in the 7th Grade And Worked Up To….  Only about 7% of the low wage work force in this country is composed of teenagers.  This means 93% of low wage workers are adults.  Women make up about 60% of the low wage work force, and a growing number of low wage workers are men. [LWW]

But, but, butgranted that wages are low in retail and fast food sectors but this is insufficient to raise the minimum for everyone… yes, fast food work considered nationally makes up about 5% of low wage employment.  However, we’re forgetting about data entry operators, bank tellers, child care workers, teachers’ aides, home health care providers, maids, cooks, porters, cashiers, pharmacy assistants, parking lot attendants, ambulance drivers, dry-cleaning workers, hotel receptionists, and a plethora of other low wage occupations.   The median annual wage for a home health care provider is $26,170; for a bank teller $24,940; for a grocery cashier about $21,370.  None of these jobs would get a person with a family of four above the federal poverty line.

But, but, butif we raise the minimum wage that will actually destroy jobs… this bit of mythology has been around since time out of mind.  It’s purely theoretical, rising from the minds of well paid lobbyists from the United State Chamber of Commerce, and at least five academic studies have debunked it:

“A significant body of academic research has found that raising the minimum wage does not result in job losses even during hard economic times. There are at least five different academic studies focusing on increases to the minimum wage—including increases ranging from 7 percent to 12.3 percent made during periods of high unemployment—that find an increase in the minimum wage has no significant effect on employment levels. The results are likely because the boost in demand and reduction in turnover provided by a minimum wage counteracts the higher wage costs.

Similarly, a simple analysis of increases to the minimum wage on the state level, even during periods of state unemployment rates above 8 percent, shows that the minimum wage does not kill jobs. Indeed the states in our simple analysis had job growth slightly above the national average. [...]

All the studies came to the same conclusion—that raising the minimum wage had no effect on employment.” [emphasis in original] [TProg]

But, but, butthink of the Mom and Pop store… which we would except for the fact that 2/3rds of low wage workers don’t work at the corner bodega. 2/3rds of our low wage workers labor for large corporations.  For example, WalMart has seen profits grow by 23% since the Recession, Yum! Brands by 45%, and McDonalds by a hefty 130%, with help from U.S. taxpayers supporting their personnel.  [TP]  From the April 15th edition of Forbes we learn that WalMart workers cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $6.2 billion in public assistance.  One certainly wouldn’t want to disparage the efforts of the Walton’s to create a successful business – but on the other hand there’s no reason to give the ultra-rich family gifts from the taxpayers.  McDonald’s cost the U.S. taxpayers some $1.2 billion in public assistance. [HuffPo]  A billion here, a billion there, and soon, as the late Senator Everett Dirksen opined, it starts to add up to real money.  That would be real money Mom and Pop are paying in taxation to support their competition.

And then there’s the concept – repeated to the point of redundancy – that increasing wages increases aggregate demand, and increased demand produces increased sales, and increased sales yield increased profits – for any business, large or small.

We should be asking Nevada politicians who are out seeking our votes this season: Do you support raising the minimum wage in Nevada to $15.00 per hour?  If what comes back is a “No” qualified by the standard talking points – it’s just kids, or it’s just a few jobs, or it’ll kill employment – then the politician in question is simply regurgitating the corporate line, the big corporate line.  The big corporate lie.

We’re waiting for Yes.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

Fourth Down: Senate GOP continues filibuster of Paycheck Fairness Act

September 15, 2014 … the fourth time the Republicans in the United States Senate have voted to continue their filibuster of S. 2199, the Paycheck Fairness Act.  The vote was 52 yes, 40 no, and 8 not voting.

Every one of the 40 “no” votes on the cloture motion were Republicans, including Senator Dean Heller (R-NV).  [rc 262]

“The legislation punishes employers for retaliating against workers who share wage information, puts the justification burden on employers as to why someone is paid less and allows workers to sue for punitive damages of wage discrimination.” [TheHill]

There’s a little trick in here.  On September 10, 2014 the Republicans voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, agreeing to a cloture motion [260] in a 73-25 vote during which Senator Heller voted “yes.”  However, that was insufficient to prevent the Republicans from voting down a September 15th cloture motion on the same measure.  Watch out for mailings suggesting Republican Incumbent X voted “in favor” of the Equal Pay Act, especially if vote number 260 is referenced.

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) complained the Democrats were taking up time with “political show votes.”  Additionally, the GOP objects to the bill as a “giveaway to trial lawyers,” a constant complaint whenever worker’s rights are under consideration, and would remove caps on punitive damages for businesses found in violation of the law.  [TheHill]  

Ladies are free to cite the EEOC regarding the number of filings alleging pay discrimination.  Such filings constituted 1.0% of all EEOC charges in FY 2010, 0.9% in FY 2011, 1.1% in FY 2012, and 1.1% in FY 2013.  This is hardly a situation in which anyone could reasonably contend there is a Giveaway to Trial lawyers involved.

Nor is this some form of Show Vote, unless, of course, we want to show precisely how adamant the GOP is in its opposition to requiring equal pay for equal work.

S. 2199 may also be considered a bill to protect middle class working families in which both spouses are employed.  For example, the median annual wage in Nevada for an accountant working in the financial services sector is $61,710.  Assume for the sake of this example that both spouses are accountants, doing the same work, during the same year.  If they both earn $61,710 then the family has annual resources of $123,420.  If she is only earning 75% of his salary, then she’s making $46,282, and that would add up to a total family income of $107,992.  In other words the family is missing out on  $15,428 annually.  That’s $15,428 not being spent on household goods, clothing, groceries, transportation, or being saved for health related issues, education, or retirement.  Not to put too fine a point to it, but the Republicans seem satisfied with a system in which family incomes are reduced by the differential between pay for men and women, without regard to the economic impact this has on aggregate demand for goods and services.

For a party claiming to be “pro-business” this is certainly not evidence of even a modicum of basic economic comprehension.  Senator Heller may offer excuses – like the phantom litigation specter – but his vote on September 15, 2014 is actually one which removes spending capacity from consumers, and that’s not “pro-business” in a consumer driven national economy.

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Filed under equal pay, family issues, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Can’t Sleep In The Beds They Make, May Not Be Able To Sleep In Their Own Either

The median hourly wage of a housekeeper or maid in Nevada’s “traveler accommodation” sector is $15.71.  [DETR] We know what medians are — half the wage earners are above this level, the other half below.  So, if our median wage earning housekeeper works 40 hours per week, for 50 weeks per year the gross earnings would be $31,420.  The actual median annual income is reported as $32,680. [DETR] Again, we know that half are earning below this amount.  Let’s compare these numbers to the living wage required in the community most likely to employ housekeepers — Las Vegas.

A single person with no dependents would need to earn $20,036 to make the living wage level in Las Vegas.  A person supporting one child would need annual earnings of $43,001. [MITedu] The median annual earnings of a housekeeper in Las Vegas obviously don’t reach this level.  Why are we looking at these numbers?

Because — the Economic Policy Institute released a report yesterday demonstrating that people working in the accommodations sector can’t afford to sleep in the beds they’re making.  At one point, back in the 1960′s and 1970′s a housekeeper could afford a room, but the current wage stagnation in the sector now means that the housekeeper can only afford 78% of the average room cost ($106/day).   Once more, why does this matter?

It’s not like the Department of Labor hasn’t been trying to tell us, ” A review of 64 studies on minimum wage increases found no discernible effect on employment,” but the myth remains that raising minimum wages cuts jobs is still recited like a mantra among business interests in spite of every solid study to the contrary — and there’s another study rejecting the mythology this morning.

“In April, the Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington — the state with the highest minimum wage in the nation, $9.32 an hour. The metropolitan area with the highest percentage of annual job growth was San Francisco — the city with the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $10.74.” [WaPo]

Harold Meyerson’s analysis repeats what advocates of increasing minimum wages have been saying all along:

“What critics of a higher minimum wage ignore is that, by putting more money into the pockets of the working poor — a group that necessarily spends nearly all its income on such locally provided basics as rent, food, transport and child care — an adequate minimum wage increases a community’s level of sales and thereby creates more jobs.” [WaPo]

But, but, but… sputter the opponents of any increase in the minimum wage, Singapore has no minimum wage and look how well those people are doing.  Easy now. That evidence comes with some significant caveats.  First, their budget provides public funds to subsidize private company worker’s pay, and secondly the Singapore government is the largest shareholder in Singaporean companies, to the tune of some 54% ownership. [AXW]  I’m not at all assured that U.S. companies would be eager to adopt a system in which in exchange for wage subsidies the company would agree to make the government a major shareholder.

Another reason for looking at minimum wage and living wage issues is the recent action by the House Appropriations Committee which would slash HUD funding for housing assistance.

“The House Appropriations Committee this week approved a fiscal year 2015 funding bill covering the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that makes disproportionately deep cuts in housing assistance for low-income families.” [CBPP]

Here’s a graphic representation of what this would mean for low income families.

Housing cutsNot to put too fine a point to it, but the House appears determined to cut programs for low income families while they are singularly unresponsive to any and all calls for closing tax loopholes and gimmicks for the upper 0.01% or eliminating subsidies for the Oil and Gas Giants.

Meanwhile, the housekeepers cleaning up after the Memorial Day weekend revelers in Nevada, continue to try to make financial ends meet, as the House of Representatives pursues more ways to make life even more difficult for struggling American families.  If this pursuit continues our housekeepers may not only be unable to rent a motel room — they may not be able to sleep in their own beds.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy

One man’s expense is another man’s revenue

It’s difficult to fault them for their effort, but the right wing think tank, NPRI, toes the Friedman Line on minimum wage theory and embraced it wholeheartedly in 2010. [NPRI]

“Nevada voters don’t escape responsibility, either. They put a thoroughly destructive minimum-wage law in the state constitution by a voter initiative in 2006. Thus on July 1 of this year the state minimum wage increased to $8.25 an hour for laborers without health insurance.

Siding with demagogues and ignoring wiser counsel, voters no doubt believed they were helping low-income workers earn a higher wage. But in reality, minimum-wage laws mandate fewer job opportunities for low-skilled workers. Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman nailed it when he called the minimum wage “a law that is most properly described as: employers must discriminate against people with low skills.” [NPRI]

Unfortunately, there’s no There here.  Leaving the loaded language (demagogues) aside, this has been the corporate complaint since June 25, 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  In 1973 Friedman gave an interview with Playboy magazine (the one all the guys bought for the articles) in which he opined “I’ve often said the minimum-wage rate is the most anti-Negro law on the books.” [HuffPo]  Huh? Worse than the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?   However, herein we have the origins of the mythology so ardently adopted by the radical right.

The mantra, to be recited ad nauseam, is “Minimum wage laws damage the prospects of young, minority, and unskilled workers.” That there is no substantial evidence to support this contention is dismissed because at some ethereal theoretical level the assertion is held to be “common sense.”

Yes, minimum wage level workers tend to be young, under 25, but as noted previously, they certainly aren’t all teens.  A 2012 EPI report debunks this but of ideology concisely:

“One common misconception about minimum-wage workers is that they are mostly teenagers, working part time. In fact, of the roughly 1.4 million low-wage workers who will benefit from Jan. 1 minimum wage increases in eight states, roughly 80 percent are at least 20 years old and 78 percent work at least 20 hours per week. The percentage of affected workers who fit the false stereotype of teenage, part-time workers is a mere 12 percent.”

The second fly in the ideological ointment is that somehow the labor “market” is the best determinant of the value of an employee, without any guidance from government.   At worst, this is a call to return to those wonderful old days when a carpenter in New York could expect to earn $3.49 per day or a machinist in Maryland might expect to average between $2.32 and $2.55 per day. [NBER pdf]

Most of us have a memory of our first, usually minimum wage, job and the attitude of our initial employer — who would have paid us less, but surrendered to the mandate of having to pay us at least the minimum.  Chris Rock spoke for all of us: “I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boos was trying to say? “Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.” [GoodReads]

Lost in the rhetoric of the minimum wage dispute is the upward pressure on wage levels by having set a floor beneath which wages cannot be legally justified. Cut through the weeping and clothes rending of those decrying the employment state of minorities and teens, and we’d see the corporate agenda, one in which there is less pressure for higher wages for more experienced or better educated workers because there would be no minimum below which an employer could not retreat.

Further down the drain hole, the loss of a minimum wage level ultimately means that labor is solely an input into the calculation of product or service cost.  Pious speeches about the dignity of labor, the edification of work, or the ‘value’ of our employees are reduced to the simple insertion of an expense in a spread sheet.

Speaking of ad nauseum, how many times has this blog offered the First Law of Personnel Management?  There is NO reason to hire anyone unless the staffing level is such that the demand for goods or services cannot be met with an acceptable level of customer service.  The reduction of an employee to an expense on a spread sheet demonstrates a focus on only one side of the tally.  We could as easily argue that one man’s expense provides another man’s revenue.

The continuation of that thought is simple — and does make demonstrable sense — there can be little or no economic growth without consideration given to the Demand side of the equation.  That which depresses demand decreases the level of growth.  And, what decreases demand? Poverty.

Federal Poverty Guidelines 2014Now, let’s see what this means for some workers in Nevada.  The minimum wage in Nevada is $8.25 per hour, or $7.25 per hour if the employer provides, and the employee receives, health insurance benefits. [BL]

A fast food cook in Nevada, working in our accommodation and food service sector, has a median hourly wage of $9.27.  The median annual wage for this job is $19,280.  A glance at the chart above shows that the wage earner can’t support a family of three — he or she is below the official poverty line.  The average monthly rental lease for an apartment in Las Vegas now stands at $781 per month, or $9,372 or 48% of a fast food cook’s annual median wage.

A department store security guard position has an annual median wage of $24,950, or $12.00/per hour.  This level puts the wage earner on the cusp of the poverty line for a family of four.  A person working as a home health care aide can expect median wages of $12.33 per hour, or about $25,640, insufficient to escape poverty if there are three children to support.  Running the dishwasher in a retail operation? That will yield a median wage of $12.49 for some hot sweaty work, or approximately $25,990 per year. Again, the wage earner can barely support a family of four, and five sinks the ship.

Notice that none of these examples are necessarily of minimum wage paying jobs — the nature of the median being what it is — some are earning above the level reported, and the other half below.  Now, imagine a setting in which there was no floor beneath the wage levels for these common jobs.  If the median annual earnings of a salesperson in a Nevada clothing store stands at $22.430, or about $10.78 per hour — what happens if there is no minimum below which the “labor cost” cannot go?  Our “median salesperson” cannot support a family of four, and is on the edge for a family of three.  Basic utilities in Las Vegas will average $151.21 per month [Numbeo] add that to the average apartment/housing expense and there’s precious little to expend on groceries, transportation, medical, and other household budget items.

A person would have to be singularly obsessed with the expense side of the ledger not to notice that our median salespersons, dish washers, security guards, and fast food cooks, aren’t contributing as fully to the “one man’s expense is another man’s revenue” formula as much as they could were their wages increased.

Not only is the argument that minimum wages “hurt” workers regressive and foolish, but it’s also counter-productive in terms of overall economic growth.

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Filed under Economy, Politics

Gaps and Gaping Holes

You’d never believe it because of  all the noise  from the Something For Nothing Crowd, those “over-taxed, over regulated” denizens of the right wing wailers club on talk radio, and LTEs, BUT “Federal Income Taxes on Middle Income Families Remain Near Record Lows.”  For those who aren’t inclined to accept the proposition — there are numbers to back this up from the Brookings Institution in chart form.  Thus the “Taxed Enough Already” assemblage are essentially bellowing that they would prefer to have their public services like military protection and transportation systems paid for by someone else, anyone else, everyone else.

OK, if Burdensome Income Taxes aren’t holding back the recovery from the 2007-8 Recession back, how come the economy feels sluggish? There’s an interactive map which shows which states are still struggling, hint — Nevada’s in a deep green, and in this instance that’s not a good sign.

Nevada’s down 6.4% in terms of employment since December 2007, Arizona is down 4.8% in the same time period, New Mexico is off 4.6%, Mississippi is down 4%, and Alabama is down by 5%.  Nevada and Arizona have the dubious distinction of being a member of the Sand States which experienced a housing bubble. which also serves to explain why Florida’s employment is 2.4% off of December 2007 levels.

Let’s assume, once again, that capitalism works, and we might further agree on the notion that making things matters.  Manufacturing creates the goods which we exchange with one another; someone is paid to make the products, someone is paid to transport the goods, someone else is paid for wholesaling them, and someone is paid to sell them.  There is a glimmer of hope in this sector given the last report from FRED.

Future Capital ExpendituresThe line represents the percentage of manufacturers who expect to make capital expenditures (read expand) their capacity, and as of now the number stands at 31.63%.

Of course, all this depends on the pesky little intrusive concept of Aggregate Demand.  How many people need or want ‘stuff’ and are willing and able to pay for it to keep this merry-go-round moving? One of the factors which may very well be keeping the situation sluggish is the Aggregate Demand Gap.  What we do know is that demand lines track with the unemployment rate.

We can play with numbers related to regulation levels, or to taxation, or to labor quality concerns until B0ssie comes home to be milked, but the most consistent tracking between aggregate demand and sales figures is, was, and will be, employment and wage levels.

Here’s where the economic inequality factor comes into play.  Income inequality isn’t a left wing conspiracy theory about the rich getting so rich the other 99% need income redistribution to reduce the inequities.  It’s about generating the aggregate demand necessary to sustain and grow our economy.

For example, in Nevada the average income between 1979 and 2007 grew by 8.6%.   Income for those categorized in the top 1% increased by 164% while the incomes for those in the lesser brackets actually declined by 11.6%.  What we’ve ended up with is a state economy in which the average income of the top 1% is some 29.5 times greater than the remaining 99%. [EPI]  In fact, Nevada is among the top five states in which the income gap has widened, joining Alaska, Wyoming, Michigan, and Arizona. [MSN]  These facts would be meaningless without some context that serves to describe what they mean in terms of aggregate demand.

The last year for which online data is available by state (pdf) from the IRS is 2007.  During that filing year there were 1,280,234 tax returns filed by Nevadans.  Of those returns 841,451 or 65.7% were filed by people reporting $50,000 annual income or less.  189,079 were filed by those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 (14%), and another 105,870 reported earnings between $75,000 and $100,000 (8.27%). 108,548 reported income between $100,000 and $200,000 annually (8.48%) and 35,339 reported income over $200,000 (2.76%).   Here’s where the income gap rubber meets the aggregate demand road.

Some 79% of Nevadans were earning $75,000 annually or less.  If we add in those making between $75,000 and $100,000 the percentage is 87.97%.  When between 79% and 88% of the income earners in a state are looking at potential income declines the aggregate demand drops accordingly.  If income for the majority of earners can be expected to decline by about 2.41% each year over a 28 year period, then the aggregate demand gap should come as no surprise.

The generalized “1%” becomes 2.76% of Nevada’s income earning population.  Their income increased to almost 30 times the income of the remainder, by about 164%.  It’s a fine thing they are doing well, but there aren’t enough of them to sustain and grow the commerce necessary for long term, state wide, economic growth.

Thus we have a situation in which middle income earners in the Silver State are paying less in federal income taxes, but are hardly in a position to expect significant economic growth in a state in which income increases are being siphoned off to the top 2.76%.  How much more elevated might the line in the capital expenditures graph be if more people could afford more goods? Especially in those ‘sand states’ which were hardest hit in the last Great Recession?

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Filed under Economy, Politics, tax revenue, Taxation

Marching Down The Aisle With Capitalism

The Nevada Progressive nails it in Marco’s Masquerade.  We should have seen this coming, the Republican answer to poverty in America is (drum roll please) Marriage.  Not necessarily marriage for members of the LBGT community, but that good old fashioned march to the altar for the right people.

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

First, if we buy into the Republican stereotypical person in poverty the individual in question would be a single mother and member of an ethnic minority community, which goes absolutely nowhere toward explaining that of the 20% of Nevadan adults who have earnings below the poverty line the gender categories are almost identical. [Kaiser FF] There’s 1% difference.

Secondly, 22% of Nevada citizens living in poverty do not have children, while 17% do.   There is something to the ethnic minority figures.  Of the people in Nevada living with below poverty line earnings 15% are white, 34% are African American, and 29% are Hispanic. [KFF]  However, a better correlation might be established if we were to consider educational attainment levels.   The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma stands at 12.4%,  High School diploma 8.5%, and a professional degree at 2.1%. [BLS]

And the unwed mother mythology?  In 1990, unmarried white women accounted for 57.5% of the births to unmarried women, and unmarried African American women accounted for 39.1%.  By 2008 the numbers had changed with the rate for white women increasing to 67.7% and the number for African American women dropping to 27.9%.  [Census pdf]

Finally, when we look at the numbers, a hard cold fact sets in.  “There are more married parents with incomes below the poverty line than there are never-married ones, and more food-insecure adults live in households with children headed by married couples than in ones headed by just a man or woman.” [CPER]

In short it is more common for adults caring for children on incomes below the poverty line to be married (43% married, 6% separated) than in the homes of 40% of adults earning poverty level wages who have never been married.

Married PovertyNoticing the Obvious — the major cause of poverty is not having enough money.

Yes, young people do tend to be well represented among those paid minimum wages.  Those under 25 years of age make up about 20% of our workforce, but constitute about 50% of those earning minimum wages.  However, that information is only 50% of the story.

49.4% of our hourly wage earners over the age of 25 are working for minimum wages. [BLS]  15% of men over 25 years of age are working for minimum wages, compared to 30% of women in the same age group.  [BLS Table 1]

The cherished myth is that people who start out earning minimum wages in their teens go on by dint of Horatio Alger-like effort (remembering, of course, that he married the boss’s daughter) to Do Great Things.   This is such a good story one hates to diminish it, however reality kicks in all too quickly.  The Council of Economic Advisers (pdf) cautions:

“While the United States is often seen as the land of economic opportunity, only about half of low- income Americans make it out of the lowest income distribution quintile over a 20-year period. About 40 percent of the differences in parents’ income are reflected in children’s income as they become adults, pointing to strong lingering effects from growing up in poverty.”

Capitalism Works, and We Should Let It

The corporate think tanks and their media cohorts are fond of repeating the mantra that raising the minimum wage would be a Disaster, A Disaster I Say, for American capitalism.  Employment will decline! [Forbes]  Except for one nitpicky litte detail — there’s no hard evidence this happens.    The Forbes article cited above goes to great length to offer gloom and doom predicated on the assumption that the corporation must recoup any and all losses to its bottom line (read profitability) by adjustments in productivity.  Interestingly enough nowhere in the article does its author mention the bloated executive compensation packages which somehow do not need to be adjusted to improve corporate profitability.

Forbes opines: ” The Law of Demand always works:  the higher the price of anything, the less that will be taken, and this includes labor.”  Yes, it does. However, a person should be careful here to differentiate between micro and macro economics.   If our hypothetical worker, and that seems to be the main form workers take in financialist-land, works for the Acme Widget Company, and the “cost of her labor increases,” Acme may have to adjust, but Acme isn’t where she shops for groceries.  Or, where she purchases her car. Or, where she buys clothing and furniture.   The increased wages (or, increased labor costs) become part of our old friend Aggregate Demand.

Firms cannot pay a worker more than the value the worker brings to the firm.  Raising the minimum denies more low skilled workers the opportunity to get a job and receive “on the job” training.” [Forbes]  Yes they can, and they do.   One of the prime reasons employers are anxious NOT to have high levels of employee turnover is that training is relatively expensive.   No worker, from the bottom to the top, is worth on day 365 what he was worth on day 1.  If the firm is managed rationally, then it is assumed that experienced personnel are more valuable than the rookies, and therefore more valuable — and they all started out as rookies.   Interesting, this “worker value” argument never seems to emerge when Wall Streeters speak of executive retention bonuses?

If it did, we might hear some business pundit say the unimaginable, “We can’t give more executive retention bonuses because this will deny less experienced or skilled people the opportunity to receive on the job training.” I’m not holding my breath waiting to hear that one on some business cable channel.

Capitalism could work very nicely.  If we’d let it.

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Filed under Economy, Politics, poverty

Back to Economic Basics

There are sane voices among economic writers, some even participate in Tweet-sanity: Click Here and you’ll see this:

Businesses Hire Tweet

Bingo! And, now we’re back to reality and that old favorite First Law of Rational Human Relations — There is no reason to ever hire anyone to do anything unless present staffing levels cannot provide an acceptable level of customer service.  Or -

“As another former CEO, Nick Hanauer, says: “Everyone who’s ever run a business knows, hiring more people is a course of last resort for capitalists. It’s what we do if and only if rising consumer demand requires it.” [Angry Bear]

But, but, but sputter the corporate apologists, if corporations make higher profits they’ll hire more people.  Once more, back to our Sane Tweeter:

“Repeat after Mike. And keep repeating it to anyone who will listen. The “higher-corporate-profits = jobs” meme is perhaps the most pernicious falsehood in political economics. [Angry Bear]

Sankowski supplies a real world example of how a highly profitable company decided to generate more profit and eschew getting bigger.   So, why doesn’t that falsehood fade away and disintegrate in a quiet corner of a landfill?  It isn’t even supported by some old classic concepts like “Marginal Revenue Product.”

“Marginal revenue product is an economic theory that helps a company determine the amount of money or value earned from producing an additional unit. Economically speaking, companies will set their production output where marginal revenue equals marginal cost. Past this point, the company will lose money on producing additional units. This theory also helps companies calculate the best use of limited economic resources. Using too many resources to produce units indicates high economic waste, driving down the marginal revenue product for goods produced.” [WiseGeek]

Simplified version: If you hire too many people production costs will go up and eventually become problematic when there isn’t enough demand for those “additional units” (widgets, tricycles, paper plates…whatever) being produced.  And yet the myth remains.

If we’d just let the rich (especially rich corporations) get richer then we’ll all be better off?  If this were true what would we infer from the following graph of after tax corporate profits?

Corporate Profits to 2013If corporate profitability were the prime mover in hiring more employees there should be few individuals attending job fairs these days.

Unemployment 1960 to 2013What do we have here?  Corporate profits are at record highs, but the unemployment rate is still at 7.3% and we are nowhere near the rates before the Housing Bubble collapsed, rates of 4.6% to 5% during 2007. [BLS]  While the graphs offer a superficial inverse relationship between unemployment and corporate profits, the problem with that over-simplified correlation is that we have to factor in elements like consumer confidence, aggregate demand, and household indebtedness into the mixture.  In short, we have to take DEMAND into consideration.

But, but, but what about the shareholders! Another sputtering point among corporate apologists.   The profit = hiring myth slides into the sanctimony of shareholders mythology espoused by the corner office crowd.  Hey, we have to have those high profits for our esteemed shareholders!  As is shareholders were the only “units” having a stake in the system.

Naked Capitalism explains this phenomena:

“Today, however, the dominant ideology is that a corporation should “maximize shareholder value.” At the most basic level, the rationale for this ideology is that shareholders own the company’s assets, and therefore have exclusive claim on its profits. A more sophisticated argument is that that among all stakeholders in the business corporation only shareholders bear the risk of getting a positive return from the firm, while all other participants receive guaranteed returns for their productive contributions. If society wants risk-bearing, so the argument goes, firms need to return value to shareholders.”

And then provides a succinct rejoinder:

This argument sounds logical – until you question its fundamental assumption. Innovation, defined as the process that generates goods or services that are higher quality and/or lower cost than those previously available, is an inherently uncertain process. Anyone who invests their labor or their capital in the innovation process is taking a risk that the investment may not generate a higher quality, lower cost product. Once you understand the collective and cumulative character of the innovation process, you can easily see that the assumption that shareholders are the only participants in the business enterprise who make investments in productive resources without a guaranteed return is just plain false.

In order to justify the “shareholders only” mythology one would have to assume a static economy, one without the innovation which by definition requires the efforts of an educated, or at least well informed labor force, with a stake in the action.  Speaking of innovation — there’s a looming problem for U.S. based research and development that’s related to the sequestration of federal funding given a full treatment by Brad Plumer in WaPo.

If we truly want free market capitalism to work, then cavalierly dismissing the underpinning of the structure — aggregate demand, and twisting the concept of investor risk into the pretzel logic of financialism is a counter-productive exercise.

So, let’s get back to basics — “Businesses hire when they are swamped with demand, not when they have high profits.”

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