One can build a very good predictive model of government agency behavior if one assumes the main purpose of the agency is to maximize its budget and staff count. Yes, many in the organization are there because they support the agency’s public mission (e.g. protecting the environment at the EPA), but I can tell you from long experience that preservation of their staff and budget will almost always come ahead of their public mission if push comes to shove.
The way, then, to punish an agency is to take away some staff and budget. Nothing else will get their attention. Unfortunately, in most scandals where an agency proves itself to be incompetent or corrupt or both (e.g. IRS, the VA, more recently with OPM and their data breaches) the tendency is to believe the “fix” involves sending the agency more resources. Certainly the agency and its supporters will scream “lack of resources” as an excuse for any problem.
And that is how nearly every failing government agency is rewarded for their failure, rather than punished. Which is why our agencies fail so much.
Warren Meyer, “Congress Almost Always Rewards Failed Government Agencies. Here is Why”, Coyote Blog, 2015-06-17.
February 23, 2017
January 25, 2017
Mark Perry provides some context to the claim that protectionist policies can save American jobs:
According to Team Trump’s website, we’re told that “blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close and good-paying jobs move overseas, while Americans face a mounting trade deficit and a devastated manufacturing base. By fighting for fair but tough trade deals, we can bring jobs back to America’s shores, increase wages, and support U.S. manufacturing.”
Actually, it’s been capital investments in labor-saving technologies like robotics and increasing worker productivity that have led to the large majority of US factory job losses, not trade or outsourcing, as I documented recently here. And there’s been no devastation of America’s manufacturing base; to the contrary, real US manufacturing output has reached all-time high levels in recent quarters.
What’s Trump’s solution to the loss of US manufacturing jobs? America’s “first authentic protectionist to win the White House since the 1920s” has outlined a series of protectionist trade measures including tariffs (30-40-50%), “tougher trade deals” (likely trade deals to protect US manufacturers from foreign competition), “Buy American” policies, and border adjustment taxes, among other strategies to “save American jobs.”
Here’s a relevant question to ask: How have protectionist trade policies in the past worked out for the US economy and how expensive is it to save American jobs with the protectionist trade policies Trump is proposing? We can find some answers to those questions in a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis research article published in 1988 by three economists “Protectionist Trade Policies: A Survey of Theory, Evidence and Rationale,” which presented a summary of the empirical evidence on trade protectionism from the 1986 book published by the Institute for International Economics Trade Protection in the United States: 31 Case Studies. Even though the research and empirical results are from the 1980s, this article and book provide useful empirical evidence on the costs of protectionism to bring some much-needed sanity to the debate on trade policy to counterbalance the favorable treatment being given to protectionism these days.
January 16, 2017
Tim Worstall explains why we shouldn’t be up in arms about the reported shortfall in millennial earnings compared to their parents’ generation at the same stage:
Part of the explanation here is that the millennials are better educated. We could take that to be some dig at what the snowflakes are learning in college these days but that’s not quite what I mean. Rather, they’re measuring the incomes of millennials in their late 20s. The four year college completion or graduation rate has gone up by some 50% since the boomers were similarly measured. Thus, among the boomers at that age there would be more people with a decade of work experience under their belt and fewer people in just the first few years of a professional career.
And here’s one of the things we know about blue collar and professional wages. Yes, the lifetime income as a professional is likely higher (that college wage premium and all that) but blue collar wages actually start out better and then don’t rise so much. Thus if we measure a society at the late 20s age and a society which has moved to a more professional wage structure we might well find just this result. The professionals making less at that age, but not over lifetimes, than the blue collar ones.
We’ve also got a wealth effect being demonstrated here. The millennials have lower net wealth than the boomers. Part of that is just happenstance of course. We’ve just had the mother of all recessions and housing wealth was the hardest hit part of it. And thus, given that housing equity is the major component of household wealth until the pension is fully topped up late in life, that wealth is obviously going to take a hit in the aftermath. There is another effect too, student debt. This is net wealth we’re talking about so if more of the generation is going to college more of the generation will have that negative wealth in the form of student debt. And don’t forget, it’s entirely possible to have negative net wealth here. For we don’t count the degree as having a wealth value but we do count the loans to pay for it as negative wealth.
January 9, 2017
When the minimum wage goes up, owners do not en masse shut down their restaurants or lay off their staff. What is more likely to happen is that prices will rise, sales will fall off somewhat, and owner profits will be somewhat reduced. People who were looking at opening a fast food or retail or low-wage manufacturing concern will run the numbers and decide that the potential profits can’t justify the risk of some operations. Some folks who have been in the business for a while will conclude that with reduced profits, it’s no longer worth putting their hours into the business, so they’ll close the business and retire or do something else. Businesses that were not very profitable with the earlier minimum wage will slip into the red, and they will miss their franchise payments or loan installments and be forced out of business. Many owners who stay in business will look to invest in labor saving technology that can reduce their headcount, like touch-screen ordering or soda stations that let you fill your own drinks.
These sorts of decisions take a while to make. They still add up, in the end, to deadweight loss — that is, along with a net transfer of money from owners and customers to employees, there will also simply be fewer employees in some businesses. The workers who are dropped have effectively gone from $9 an hour to $0 an hour. This hardly benefits those employees. Or the employee’s landlord, grocer, etc.
There are secondary effects beyond the employment market too. Proponents of a higher wage are claiming that this will boost the local economy by putting more money into the pockets of workers. This is the same sort of argument you frequently hear for the construction of massive new sports complexes. But of course, the money has to come from someone else’s pocket — the customer and the employer. What were those people doing with it? If the answer is “buying stuff from Amazon,” then maybe diverting more money to wages is a net gain for the Los Angeles economy. But if the answer is mostly “buying stuff produced in LA” — for example, paying rent, or buying services performed by low-wage workers — then this is like trying to get rich by picking your own pocket.
There’s no question that the wage increase will transfer money around within the economy — out of the pockets of commercial landlords, for example, and into the pockets of folks who own real estate in low-rent districts. But little evidence has so far been offered that any boost in local spending will cancel out the deadweight loss, much less exceed it.
Megan McArdle, “$15 Minimum Wage Will Hurt Workers”, Bloomberg View, 2015-05-20.
November 14, 2016
… this is also known as “licensure”. And the rate in the 50s, at that peak of union power, was around 5% of workers needed such a licence to go to work. And union membership was, at that peak, 35% and is now around 10% or a little above, and licensure has gone from 5% to 30%.
For my point to work we have to consider unionisation and licensure as being the same thing. And they’re obviously not exactly the same thing. But they are sorta, kinda, the same thing. For all the claims that the requirement for a licence is in order to protect consumers (a theory for which the technical economic term is “codswallop”) it’s really a way to protect the wages of the ingroup against competition. As, of course, is being in a union a method of protecting those economic interests of the ingroup.
Actually, licensure is most akin to the medieval and early modern guilds system, out of which the union movement itself grew. So it’s really not surprising at all that they share certain attributes. That aim and desire of protecting the incomes of members of the group against the economic interests of everyone else.
So, my argument is that we’ve not in fact had a fall in the power of organised labour over these recent decades. We’ve just seen a change in the form of it, from unionisation to licensure. The point being that this is absolutely and definitely true in part and may or may not be true entirely. I tend towards the entirely end of that spectrum and I’d be absolutely fascinated to see if there’s been any academic comparisons made of the strengths of the two systems in protecting workers’ wages and conditions. I’d even be willing to believe that licensure works better than unionisation, given that the first is a conspiracy against the consumer, something easier to carry off than the unions’ conspiracy against the employer.
Tim Worstall, “More Union Power Won’t Raise Wages Or Reduce Inequality”, Forbes, 2015-03-07.
July 13, 2016
Amy Alkon on the not-very-surprising discovery of a recent US government Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study that after three decades of corporate anti-harassment training, no discernable difference in workplace harassment can be detected:
Anti-Harassment Training Doesn’t Work
But let’s keep it up so we can feel like we’re doing something. (More on that below.)
By the way, as I’ve written before, referencing the work of evolutionarily-driven law professor Kingsley Browne, men give each other shit — in the workplace and as a way of competing with each other.
Sure, there’s a point at which this can become toxic, but if you can’t take a joke or a bit of teasing, maybe you need to strengthen up so you can make it in the work world, as opposed to demanding that the work world conform to nursery school niceness standards.
Then again, you can always stay home and just care for the kiddies while your spouse braves those, “Hey, nice pants, dude!” jokes.
By the way, men’s competitiveness comes out of evolved sex differences — how men are the warriors (and competitors) of the species and are comfortable in competition with each other and with hierarchies in a way women are not.
Sex differences research Joyce Benenson explains that women group in “dyads” — twos — and are covert competitors, engaging in sniping and casting out any women who seem to stand out as better than the rest. (Women seem to have evolved to show vulnerabilities rather than strengths to other women in order to show they are trustworthy — which may be why women tend to be apologizers and put themselves down.)
June 30, 2016
Published on 7 Apr 2015
Do unions raise wages for workers as a whole? If not, can unions raise the wages of some workers? The answer is, well, it depends. Unions have the ability to restrict the supply of labor to a job, which can increase wages for some workers. However, unions can also lower wages. For example, work stoppages and strikes supported by unions can slow down economic growth, lowering real wages. To illustrate this, we take a look at what happened to Great Britain’s economy during the 1970’s union strikes.
It’s important to note that unions are not just about wages — they can be helpful in protecting workers from arbitrary abuses and maintaining positive workplace relationships.
Finally, we ask — are there differences between professional associations and unions? How are they similar? Watch to learn more about how unions affect the economy.
June 27, 2016
Published on 7 Apr 2015
Firms have an incentive to increase job safety, because then they can lower wages. In this video, we explore this surprising claim in much greater depth. Bear in mind that wages adjust until jobs requiring a similar level of skill have similar compensation practices. Why do riskier jobs often pay more? Why has job safety increased over the years? How does a firm’s profit motive play a role?
June 20, 2016
This is the season of college Commencement speeches — an art form that has seldom been memorable, but has increasingly become toxic in recent times.
Two themes seem to dominate Commencement speeches. One is shameless self-advertising by people in government, or in related organizations supported by the taxpayers or donors, saying how nobler it is to be in “public service” than working in business or other “selfish” activities.
In other words, the message is that it is morally superior to be in organizations consuming output produced by others than to be in organizations which produce that output. Moreover, being morally one-up is where it’s at.
The second theme of many Commencement speakers, besides flattering themselves that they are in morally superior careers, is to flatter the graduates that they are now equipped to go out into the world as “leaders” who can prescribe how other people should live.
In other words, young people, who in most cases have never had either the sobering responsibility and experience of being self-supporting adults, are to tell other people — who have had that responsibility and that experience for years — how they should live their lives.
In so far as the graduates go into “public service” in government, whether as bureaucrats or as aides to politicians or judges, they are to help order other people around.
It might never occur to many Commencement speakers, or to their audiences, that what the speakers are suggesting is that inexperienced young graduates are to prescribe, or help to dictate, to vast numbers of other people who have the real world experience that the graduates themselves lack.
To the extent that such graduates remain in government — “public service” — they can progress from aides to becoming career politicians, bureaucrats and judges, never acquiring the experience of being on the receiving end of their prescriptions or dictates. That can mean a lifetime of people with ignorance presuming to prescribe to people with personal knowledge.
Thomas Sowell, “Commencement Season”, Townhall.com, 2016-05-24.
June 13, 2016
In 2012, the Institute for Justice — a public-interest law firm advocating libertarian causes — looked at the number of occupations that require licensing. Specifically, the institute looked at occupations typically filled by lower- and middle-income workers. These are not your airline pilots, your certified public accountants and your neurosurgeons; they’re the nations interior decorators, auctioneers and florists. (Yes, you read that right: In at least one state, these occupations cannot be practiced without a license.)
Why, you might ask, is the state requiring a license to decorate an interior? Are customers at risk of death from collapsing piles of pillow shams? Must we fear that they will be blinded by the decorator’s decision to pair fuchsia chiffon drapes with a chartreuse brocade sofa? Do we worry that without the threat of losing their license to keep them on the straight and narrow, these fly-by-night operators might be tempted into purchasing furniture from unlicensed auctioneers, and sourcing their floral arrangements from black-market florists?
Well, no. Mostly, these regulations benefit folks who are already plying the trade. They get helpful state legislators to protect them from competition by instituting tough licensing requirements. Their income goes up; the consumer’s wallet suffers. And people who want to follow their dreams into the industry get shut out if they lack the time to study for the licensing exams, the capital to pay the licensing exam fees (which can run in to the hundreds of dollars), or the social capital to know how to work the system.
Megan McArdle, “You’re Gonna Need a License for That”, Bloomberg View, 2016-05-17.
June 1, 2016
Published on 7 Apr 2015
If you had to choose, would you rather be a sewer inspector spending your days underground or a lifeguard on the beach? Most would say that being a lifeguard is a more fun job, but a sewer inspector has higher wages to compensate for the less-fun aspects of the job. In this video, we discuss the tradeoff between fun and wages and show how this illustrates that “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!”
May 31, 2016
In truth, there is only one way to regard a minimum wage law: it is compulsory unemployment, period. The law says: it is illegal, and therefore criminal, for anyone to hire anyone else below the level of X dollars an hour. This means, plainly and simply, that a large number of free and voluntary wage contracts are now outlawed and hence that there will be a large amount of unemployment. Remember that the minimum wage law provides no jobs; it only outlaws them; and outlawed jobs are the inevitable result.
Murray Rothbard, “Outlawing Jobs: The Minimum Wage”, 1998.
May 18, 2016
Published on 7 Apr 2015
Wages in America differ greatly among workers. Why is that? One reason includes differences in human capital — tools of the mind. Education is one of the biggest investments people make to increase their human capital. Which college majors offer the greatest returns? And are all returns on education due to human capital? A college degree can “signal” other factors as well, and we discuss what is commonly known as the “sheepskin effect.” In this video, we also discuss how globalization has affected wages in the U.S.
May 13, 2016
April 23, 2016
Published on 7 Apr 2015
In this video on the marginal product of labor, we discuss some commons questions such as: How are wages determined? Why do most Americans earn so much by global standards? What exactly is meant by ‘human capital’? Do labor unions help workers, and if so, by how much? How does discrimination affect labor markets? How is the demand for labor different than the demand for a good? We’ll discuss how to derive the demand for labor based on the marginal product of labor, and use real-world examples — such as the demand for janitors in a fast food restaurant — to illustrate this calculation. We’ll also cover an individual’s labor supply curve vs. market supply of labor.