March 25, 2015

The juggling act of mothers in the workforce

Filed under: Business,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Federalist, Nichole Russell agrees that it is nearly impossible to “have it all” (a real career and a family) … at the same time, anyway:

The conversation about mothers in the workforce seems to be at once continuous and clamoring. Rarely does a working mother nail the problem and solution without sounding too whiny or too arrogant. Yet a recent commentary in Forbes comes as close to any as I have seen recently, complete with some eyebrow-raising admissions. If more men and women — parents and CEOs — viewed this exhausting issue with such clarity, perhaps we could finally work towards a solution.

In the piece, succinctly titled, “Female Company President: I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with,” Katharine Zaleski recounts how, while employed in high-powered editorial positions at The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, she regularly scoffed at the work ethic of other women just because they were mothers, either mentally or by failing to support the decisions they made related to work and family.

She reveals this penitent anecdote: “I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her ‘commitment’ even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day.”

What’s just as surprising as her admission that she evaluated a mother’s work-related achievements on a different scale than she did other employees is the equally important truth that the workforce isn’t just a tough place for moms because of their male bosses. “For mothers in the workplace, it’s death by a thousand cuts – and sometimes it’s other women holding the knives. I didn’t realize this – or how horrible I’d been – until five years later, when I gave birth to a daughter of my own.”

Zaleski goes on to discuss how she lamented her status as a new mom and employee only briefly before she determined to find a solution, both for her daughter so she wouldn’t feel “trapped” and other moms facing the same struggle. She wound up co-founding a startup called PowertoFly that matches women in technical positions they can do from home.

While many conservatives and liberals alike might call this an abandonment of the feminist theory, I think it actually expresses the heart of feminism — not radical left-wing feminism, but one of the few Oprah gems I agree with: “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”

March 24, 2015

Tim Worstall on the economic emancipation of women

Filed under: Economics,History,Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In his Forbes column last week, Tim Worstall made the point that perhaps the biggest economic story of the last century has been the economic emancipation of women:

There’s an interesting little rumpus going on over the new book by Robert Putnam on the class divide in American lifestyles. Put very simply, the middle and upper classes seem to take marriage and child rearing seriously and the poor have a more, umm, chaotic approach. Looking at the various think pieces that have been done on this book I find myself astonished by the way that the most important salient and relevant fact is simply not being mentioned. Marriage is many things but among them is that it is an economic contract. And the terms of that contract have changed: thus it’s not even remotely surprising that behaviour has changed too.


Which brings me to that headline: that the economic emancipation of women is the most important single fact of the past century. That past really was a different place. We can argue if we want to about whether that economic emancipation is complete (the famous womens’ 77 cents to mens’ dollar, or is it a motherhood pay gap and so on) but let’s leave that for another time. What is obviously and glaringly true is that women are much freer economically than they were a century ago. Wages for women back then were distinctly lower than they were for men. And no, this wasn’t particularly discrimination: some large part of what most people were hired for was physical muscle. Men have more of this so they got paid more. There were also strong social norms: I’m not quite sure of pre-WWI America but in my native UK the only respectable jobs for an adult woman (ie, something that the bourgeois would be happy to see their daughters go into) were nursing or teaching. And as a result of this paucity of choice the wages were low in both professions (there’s a strong truth to the point that the rising wages of both teachers and nurses in recent decades are the result of their being free to work in other sectors these days).

The result of both of these things was that the wages of a female worker were not, except at the most basic, basic, level, sufficient to raise a child let alone support a family. I’m not saying that being a single parent these days is easy but it is at least possible as tens of millions of people are showing us.

Which brings us to marriage: yes, this is many things. Love, sex, companionship and so on. But it is also an economic contract (the only proof we need of this is to read some divorce settlements)
and marriage always has been an economic contract. Pretty much since humans arrived as a species it has been necessary to have two parents around in order for a child to have a reasonable chance of survival to an age where it would have its own children. This was true of hunter gatherer societies, of agricultural ones, of industrial ones, feudal and so on. It really is only in this past century, more so in the past 50 years, that it’s been possible for one person to both earn a living and raise a child or children. Yes, obviously people did do so as a result of having to do so but it wasn’t something that anyone did by choice simply because of the penury that resulted from their doing so. And yes, all of this is much more true of women than men.

March 17, 2015

QotD: Subjective economic value

Filed under: Economics,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Properly understood, all economic values are subjective. Some items have useful applications, but the relative value of those applications is itself subjective; there’s nutritional value in a pound of cauliflower, and there’s nutritional value to an ounce of Beluga caviar, and the difference in the price between the two is based on no objective criterion. Even scarcity does not explain the difference: There are more diamonds in this world than there are autographed photos of Anthony Weiner, but try giving your wife the latter for your anniversary and you’ll get a short and possibly violent lesson in the subjectivity of value. In fact, it is the subjectivity of value that makes exchange possible — if our values and preferences were perfectly aligned, we’d never trade anything for anything else, because we’d all value every item and service at precisely the same level, and there would therefore be no incentive to engage in commerce. That our preferences should be non-uniform ought not be surprising — our lives are non-uniform, too. If I operate an apple orchard, I am probably not going to buy apples from you at any price, unless perhaps they are a different sort of apple than the ones I grow. The rancher and the fisherman each assigns a different value to beef and fish than does his opposite number. Disagreement is fundamental.

The crude version of exchange — which is, unhappily, the common version — is inclined to suspect that there is an objectively correct price for a good, and that profit comes from duping somebody into paying more than the correct price for it. That error is fundamental to Marxism and other anti-capitalist philosophies, and it is implicit in such social phenomena as the anti-advertising movement, “Buy Nothing Day,” and similar political tendencies. But that bias does relatively little harm in the heads of greying Marxists, peddlers of “profit is a crime” banalities, and Occupy riff-raff. Where it is truly destructive is in the disorganized thoughts of the large majority of ordinary people with no particularly strong political commitments or economic orientation. Consider these phrases: “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay,” “just wages,” “fair price,” “obscene profits,” “price gouging,” “excessive executive compensation.” For any of those phrases to have any intellectual content, then there must be a price that is in some non-subjective sense the correct one. But if economic values are subjective — and they are — then “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” can only mean one thing, that being the payment of an agreed-upon wage for an agreed-upon performance of labor, with “honest” referring only to the fulfillment of the agreement and saying nothing substantive about the terms of the agreement itself.

Kevin D. Williamson, “The Profit Police”, National Review, 2014-06-30.

March 11, 2015

China’s “Catch up” growth

Filed under: China,Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Forbes, Tim Worstall looks at last week’s announcement that China is (slightly) lowering their economic growth forecast.

On that larger scale though what people are worrying about is this. Catch up growth is easier than growth from the technological frontier. What is meant by this is that it’s a great deal easier to generate economic growth if you have an example in front of you of how to do things. To take a trivial example, if you can go and buy a mobile phone, take it apart to see how it works, it’s a lot easier to copy that technology than it is to invent it for the first time. And this is true of how you make cement, how you put up buildings, how you farm a field and so on. And at root that’s what economic growth is: becoming more efficient at doing all of these things as well as everything else. Each time you become more efficient at doing one task you free up resources to be doing something else. Thus you get both the original thing plus the new one from the same resources: this is the very definition of economic growth.

However, there’s a limit to such catch up growth. In certain areas China is right at that technological frontier (in some areas ahead of the rest of the world in fact). Which is where things become more difficult: there’s no one to copy. Therefore that invention has to happen domestically. This is obviously more difficult. But also it rather requires a certain set of institutions. The rule of law, property rights and so on. These aren’t things that China notably has (although things are very much better than they were decades ago). It’s those headwinds that need to be beaten. Bringing in these new institutions, embedding them in the society and the economy, without causing so much disruption as to slow down growth while they are done.

The standard jargon for this is “middle income trap”. To be crude about it the general feeling is that it’s pretty easy to go from dirt poor to middling income. The essence is really just to stop doing stupid things that hold economic development back. China’s done that very well even though they did start from a very low level of an immense number of very stupid things that Maoism did to hold economic growth back. The middle income trap is where the transition over to those institutions that promote technological frontier growth don’t appear (or are not imposed). And thus the stunning growth peters out.

March 10, 2015

In the Service of Men – Women of World War One I THE GREAT WAR

Filed under: Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 9 Mar 2015

When you think about World War One, you think of men fighting to death in the mud. All to often the immense contribution of women as nurses, medics, ammunition workers and so many more has been forgotten. This special episode salutes all the women who served in the Great War.

March 3, 2015

“Residual” racism and the breakdown of the African-American family

Filed under: Business,Law,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Reason, Steve Chapman looks at the tangle of issues still causing problems for African-Americans in the United States:

The breakdown of the black family is a sensitive topic, though it’s not new and it’s not in dispute. President Barack Obama, who grew up with an absent father, often urges black men to be responsible parents.

Nor is there any doubt that African-American children would be better off living with their married parents. Kids who grow up in households headed by a single mother are far more likely than others to be poor, quit school, get pregnant as teens and end up in jail.


It’s true that whites don’t force blacks to have children out of wedlock. But it’s wrong to suggest that whites bear no responsibility. Poverty is often the result of lack of access to good jobs or any jobs, and discrimination by employers didn’t stop in 1965 — and hasn’t stopped yet.

The impact of drug laws, and the harsher treatment black men get from the criminal justice system, means that many have records that scare employers away. But research indicates that white applicants with criminal records are more likely to get interviews than blacks without criminal records.

A lot of the well-paid blue-collar jobs once abundant in cities have vanished. Moynihan lamented that unemployment had long been much higher for black men than for whites, and the gap is bigger today.

Without decent jobs, these men are not likely to be able to find wives or support families. They are not likely to get married or stay married. If family breakdown causes poverty, poverty also causes family breakdown.

African-Americans often find it hard to leave blighted neighborhoods. They can find themselves steered away from white communities by real estate agents or rejected by landlords. The Urban Institute reports a fact that ought to shock: “The average high-income black person lives in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than the average low-income white person” (my emphasis).

February 11, 2015

Sure, we’ve all heard jokes about “wage-slaves”…

Filed under: Business,History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

…but Jerry Toner says that modern employers can learn from the management techniques of Romans. Roman slave-owners, that is:

Most Romans, like Augustus, thought cruelty to slaves was shocking. They understood that slaves could not simply be terrified into being good at their job. Instead, the Romans used various techniques to encourage their slaves to work productively and willingly, from bonuses and long-term inducements, to acts designed to boost morale and generate team spirit. All of these say more than we might imagine about how employers manage people successfully in the modern world.

Above all, the story shows how comfortable the Romans were with leadership and command. They believed that there is a world of difference between having the organisational skills to run a unit and actually being able to lead it. By contrast modern managers are often uncomfortable with being promoted above their staff. I worked in a large corporation for a decade and I had numerous bosses who tried to be my friend. Raising yourself over others sits uneasily with democratic ideals of equality. Today’s managers have to pretend to be one of the team.

The Romans would have scoffed at such weakness. Did Julius Caesar take his legions off-site to get them to buy-in to his invasion of Gaul? Successful leaders had to stand out from the crowd and use their superior skills to inspire, cajole and sometimes force people to do what was necessary. Perhaps we would do well to learn from their blunt honesty.

February 8, 2015

The mismatch between the jobs Millennials want and the jobs on offer

Filed under: Business,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle on the discomfort many young entrants to the workforce feel at the unpalatable career options they face:

Millennials don’t want to work in sales, reports the Wall Street Journal. They think it’s exploitative. They also hate the idea of variable compensation; they want a nice, steady job where the company takes the risk, not the worker.

The feeling that sales is exploitative is not new; people have always been uncomfortable with the idea of selling something or being sold. And, of course, many people have always been uncomfortable with the idea of variable compensation. But if companies are having a harder time finding people to take sales jobs and reworking compensation packages to decrease the commission component, that is worth noting.

It’s not entirely surprising, of course. I’ve heard people who worked in New York City’s government during the 1970s noting that there was an unusually high number of very competent senior staff at the time — refugees from the Great Depression who ended up there because it was the only place where you could get a steady paycheck. That generation was risk-averse in ways that their children were not, with a high savings rate and a permanent aversion to equity investments. It would be natural for the millennial generation to have had a similar reaction to such a brutal formative experience.

Unfortunately, as Farhad Manjoo noted last week, they may be coming of age at a moment when the economy is moving toward more variable work, not less. Uber and similar services are making it relatively easy to employ people in a high-tech version of piecework: discrete tasks that are parceled out moment by moment, entirely contingent on demand. Robert Reich thinks this is terrible. If the Journal‘s article is any guide, it’s not what the new generation of entering workers wants. But it may be what’s available.

January 28, 2015

Employment skills at the very basic level

Filed under: Business,Economics,Government,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Warren Meyer says what the US needs to do is to make changes to the structure of the working world to allow companies to profitably hire low-skilled workers:

A lot of head scratching goes on as to why, when the income premium is so high for gaining skills, there are not more people seeking to gain them. School systems are often blamed, which is fair in part (if I were to be given a second magic wand to wave, it would be to break up the senescent government school monopoly with some kind of school choice system). But a large portion of the population apparently does not take advantage of the educational opportunities that do exist. Why is that?

When one says “job skills,” people often think of things like programming machine tools or writing Java code. But for new or unskilled workers — the very workers we worry are trapped in poverty in our cities — even basic things we take for granted like showing up on-time reliably and working as a team with others represent skills that have to be learned. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, despite his Princeton education, still learned many of his first real-world job skills working at McDonald’s. In fact, back in the 1970’s, a survey found that 10% of Fortune 500 CEO’s had their first work experience at McDonald’s.

Part of what we call “the cycle of poverty” is due not just to a lack of skills, but to a lack of understanding of or appreciation for such skills that can cross generations. Children of parents with few skills or little education can go on to achieve great things — that is the American dream after all. But in most of these cases, kids who are successful have parents who were, if not educated, at least knowledgeable about the importance of education, reliability, and teamwork — understanding they often gained via what we call unskilled work. The experience gained from unskilled work is a bridge to future success, both in this generation and the next.

But this road to success breaks down without that initial unskilled job. Without a first, relatively simple job it is almost impossible to gain more sophisticated and lucrative work. And kids with parents who have little or no experience working are more likely to inherit their parent’s cynicism about the lack of opportunity than they are to get any push to do well in school, to work hard, or to learn to cooperate with others.

Unfortunately, there seem to be fewer and fewer opportunities for unskilled workers to find a job. As I mentioned earlier, economists scratch their heads and wonder why there are not more skilled workers despite high rewards for gaining such skills. I am not an economist, I am a business school grad. We don’t worry about explaining structural imbalances so much as look for the profitable opportunities they might present. So a question we business folks might ask instead is: If there are so many under-employed unskilled workers rattling around in the economy, why aren’t entrepreneurs crafting business models to exploit this fact?

Spending more money on education won’t guarantee better outcomes for students

Filed under: Economics,Government,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Not having gone to university myself, I can’t speak from direct personal experience, but my strong sense is that the university degree today fulfils almost exactly the role for job-seekers that a high school diploma did about a generation ago. Most of the “entry level” jobs that actually offer some sort of career progression require no more skill or preparation now than they did 25 or 30 years ago … but the combination of lowered standards in secondary school and the vast expansion of post-secondary education have encouraged employers to filter job applicants for such openings by education first. As a direct result, parents have been pushing their children toward university as the only way to ensure those kids have a fighting chance to get into jobs that might, eventually, lead somewhere both interesting and remunerative.

But with more demand for places at university, the government is under pressure to provide funding — both to the universities to create more spaces, and to the students themselves to allow them to pay their tuition and other costs. Megan McArdle worries that pouring more money into the system isn’t the right answer:

The other day, I argued that maybe we should rethink our current policy of endlessly dumping more money into college education. It’s completely true that there is a big wage premium for having a college degree — but it does not therefore follow that we will make everyone better off by trying to shove every American through post-secondary (aka tertiary) education. We may simply be setting up college as a substitute for a high school diploma: a signal to employers that you can read and write, and are able to turn in scheduled assignments within a reasonable time frame. And in the process, excluding people who aren’t college-educated from access to decent jobs.

Predictably, this was not met with shouts of joy and universal admiration in all quarters. I was accused of just wanting to stick it to President Barack Obama, and also of wishing to deny the dream of college education that should be the birthright of every single American. I was also accused of being unfamiliar with the known fact that America woefully underinvests in education compared to other advanced nations.

It is true that I am unfamiliar with America’s woeful underinvestment in education, in the same way that I am unfamiliar with the tooth fairy, because both are legends with no basis in fact. American spending on education is in line with that of our peers in the developed world — a little higher than some, a little lower than others, but not really remarkable either way:

School expenditure per student


You can argue that there’s an inequality problem in our schools. In fact, I think there is obviously an inequality problem in our schools, but that the big problem is not at the college level, but rather in the primary and secondary schools that are overwhelmingly government-funded. And those disparities are also not primarily about the dollar amounts going into schools — Detroit spends well above the U.S. average per pupil, and yet one study found that half the population of the city was “functionally illiterate.”

Should we fix the issues with those schools? Absolutely — and doing so might mean spending more money. But that doesn’t mean that we need to increase the overall level of educational funding. It means that we need to identify ways to improve those underperforming schools, then find out how much more it would cost to implement those programs. It is just as likely that improvements will come from changing methods and reallocating resources as that they will require us to pour more money into failing institutions.

January 11, 2015

Is more immigration the answer? It depends on how you frame the question

Filed under: Business,Cancon,Politics,Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Jay Currie looks at one of the traditional way of looking at the benefits of immigration — as providing society with workers who will “do the jobs Canadians/Americans won’t do” and wonders if that’s actually true in today’s increasingly technological world:

The elite refrain seems to be that if we want to maintain our welfare system, pensions, healthcare and the like we have simply no choice but to import drafts of tax serfs to make up our declining numbers. Is that true?

Here are a few ideas to extend the independence of the Boomers and reduce the need for immigrants at any cost.

  • Postpone retirement to 70 or even 75: the boomers parents are extending life expectancy rapidly. 90 is the new 70. Greater activity, a keener sense of healthy life style choices and, as Doug Coupland put it, “Vitamin D and baby aspirin and (mum’s) going to live forever.” Boomers are nuts to be thinking of retirement at 60 unless they really are too sick to work. So don’t. Pushing back the retirement and pension ages saves a lot of pension money and reduces the need to bring in more people.
  • Have more children. Not something the boomers can do but our kids can and should. But to do this we need a lot of very family friendly policy. Income splitting is a cute idea but hardly a huge incentive to family formation. Big tax deductions for kids number three, four and five could help a bit. But those are governmental changes.
  • […]

  • Where possible transfer wealth early. There are a lot of older boomers whose parents have died and left good big whacks of dough. And those same boomers are coming to the end of their mortgages. Here is a hint: offer your kids some money. And not, ideally, as a loan. An outright gift is more useful. Don’t tie it to real estate either. There is going to be a massive correction in Canadian real estate but even if there wasn’t tying a gift to what is usually a debt and endless expense is a poor idea.
  • […]

  • Build houses and condos which can adapt to the changing needs and means of families. Everything from in-law suites to legally easy house splitting needs to be done to drive down the price of housing in Canada. Yes there is a correction coming but that does not change the fact there are many cities where housing is unaffordable. Build rental housing for families. Build up market rental housing. Encourage density. Make it possible to rent with a 1/5 of your average income rather than 1/2.

  • Use technology in place of people. A lot of the jobs “Canadians just will not do” should not be done at all by anyone. From self cleaning toilets – already done in Japan – to robotic floor cleaners and fast food “servers” there are lots of jobs which can and will be done by robots. Pushing that sort of technology will reduce the need for more immigrants.
  • […]

If you actually look at those numbers seriously and, instead of 10% use 5%, you’ll see that 900,000 low skill jobs are going to get eaten by robots and IT over the next decade. 90,000 a year. Now, look at the naturalized Canadian number for 2014 again 260,000. If half our new citizens are entering the labour force that is 130,000 new workers per year in an economy which will be shedding 90,000 jobs per year. Does that make any sense at all?

January 4, 2015

When companies bought into the open plan workspace model

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Lindsey Kaufman recounts her experience when her workplace changed to the “open-office model”:

A year ago, my boss announced that our large New York ad agency would be moving to an open office. After nine years as a senior writer, I was forced to trade in my private office for a seat at a long, shared table. It felt like my boss had ripped off my clothes and left me standing in my skivvies.

Our new, modern Tribeca office was beautifully airy, and yet remarkably oppressive. Nothing was private. On the first day, I took my seat at the table assigned to our creative department, next to a nice woman who I suspect was an air horn in a former life. All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing, along with loud music piped through a PA system. As an excessive water drinker, I feared my co-workers were tallying my frequent bathroom trips. At day’s end, I bid adieu to the 12 pairs of eyes I felt judging my 5:04 p.m. departure time. I beelined to the Beats store to purchase their best noise-cancelling headphones in an unmistakably visible neon blue.

Despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country. Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley has been the leader in bringing down the dividers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express are all adherents. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers. And as a businessman, Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. He famously carried the model into city hall when he became mayor of New York, making “the Bullpen” a symbol of open communication and accessibility to the city’s chief.

These new floor plans are ideal for maximizing a company’s space while minimizing costs. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn’t occupying billing hours. But employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity. A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Meanwhile, “ease of interaction” with colleagues — the problem that open offices profess to fix — was cited as a problem by fewer than 10 percent of workers in any type of office setting. In fact, those with private offices were least likely to identify their ability to communicate with colleagues as an issue. In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”

I work in the software industry and it’s been nearly 20 years since I last had a private office. Every company I’ve worked for since then has either consciously been moving in the open office direction, or unwilling to spend money to partition open space in whatever office space they had. Sometimes, I even get nostalgic for cube farms…

January 3, 2015

Urban Canada – where China’s one-child policy has been religiously observed

Filed under: Cancon,Humour,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I can’t imagine what has gotten into David Warren to distract him from posts on the inner spirituality of the Catholic Church to suddenly turn to a bit of Canadian Ethnography:

… in a DINK household (“double income, no kids”) the rules subtly change, or rather change overtly, and no need remains for any sort of manliness. Indeed, should the woman make a substantial income, perhaps the man should consider living off her. She can claim him for a little break on her taxes, after all. Consider: housework, without kids, is a snip. And when his “partner” gets home, physically and emotionally exhausted from work, burning with the little humiliations she has suffered out there in the “real world,” and seriously hungry into the bargain — he can remind her that they are a “modern” couple. Tasks such as cooking should be shared equally.

This is old hat, of course. For the most part it also applies where the Red Chinese “one child policy” is obeyed, as across most of urban Canada.

I became exceptionally aware of the new arrangements in a visionary experience, twenty years ago. It consisted of attending a “bake sale” for the public school in which my sons were enrolled (temporarily, I assure you). I got to meet the whole “sorority” in my new liberal neighbourhood. (Kingston, Ontario: never go there.) This was mostly an “audio” vision, I should explain, though it had a video component. I’d never seen nor heard before so many whole-earth, left-wing, squeaky-voiced “house husbands,” all in one place. The immediate revelation was that spiritual emasculation actually changes a man’s voice in the same way physical emasculation does.

Among other discoveries was that the men had done most of the baking — which was good, for men often make better bakers. And we turn to the castrati to hit the highest notes.

The women, on the other hand, I could hear roar. The tone in which they addressed their squeakers was beyond instructive. I reflected that if a man spoke to his wife like that, in public, he’d be courting arrest. The feminists had now got exactly what they wanted.

There was more. The “gender” stereotypes had reversed at every other level. These women were now the sexual aggressors. I recall one in particular — an executive in a local “arts” operation — who had previously called me “fascist” as well as “sexist” in reference to something I had written in a newspaper. That she hated me still, I could take for granted. But right in front of her lamentable house-husband she was, unbelievably, “flirting” (although the term seemed over-refined). The wee fellow looked harmlessly outraged. He made sounds such as I imagine a gerbil makes when his mate shoves him aside. On his fidelity, I’m sure she could rely, for no other woman could want him. But she was trawling for something more masculine, herself.

Feminism alone could account for the collapse of the birth rate (which does, incidentally, have economic repercussions); for it operates at so many levels, from the neutering of males, to making females so extremely unattractive. But it cannot account for the rise of feminism. On that, I’m with Marx: it has a chiefly economic causation.

January 1, 2015

QotD: Henry Ford and the doubled wages – the real story

Filed under: Business,History,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In 1913, turnover reached an unbelievable 370 percent, and Ford hired more than 50,000 people to maintain an average labor force of about 13,600. When profits swelled, he paid well for labor, creating an uproar when he doubled the basic wage to $5.00 a day, which triggered a virtual stampede of job seekers. Paying higher wages for labor was not altruistic in Ford’s eyes. Moreover, it wasn’t simply that Ford was trying to pay his workers “enough to buy back the product,” although he did preach a high-wage doctrine after the stock market crash in 1929. Rather, paying relatively high wages was, for Ford, a matter of smart business. He regarded well-paid skilled workers as important as high-grade material. By paying workers well, he effectively lowered his costs because higher wages reduced turnover and the need for constant training of new hires. (At the time, the newspapers saw Ford’s wage increase as an extraordinary gesture of goodwill.)

Mark Spitznagel, The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World, 2013.

December 19, 2014

QotD: The twin rise and fall of unions and manufacturing

Filed under: Business,Economics,History,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Unions only help if the underlying economic situation is that the employer is able to charge a great deal more for the amount of product generated per worker-hour than the worker is getting — there is headroom for the worker’s wage to expand into while the manufacturer still makes a net profit. (If the manufacturer doesn’t make a net profit the business collapses and nobody gets paid.)

During the age that manufacturing nostalgisists remember nostalgically, this was true. For most of that period (roughly 1870-1970), the capital goods required to manufacture in a way price-competitive with the U.S. were so expensive that almost nobody outside the U.S. could afford them, and in the few places that could they were mainly preoccupied with supplying their domestic markets rather than the U.S. World War II prolonged this period by hammering those “few places” rather badly.

In that environment, U.S. firms could profit-take hugely, benefited by being scarce suppliers not just to the U.S. but (later on) to the whole world. And unions could pry loose enough of that margin to make manufacturing jobs comfortably middle-class.

All that ended in the early 1970s. A good marker for the change is the ability of the Japanese to make cheap cars for export and sell them for the U.S.

In the new world, the profit margins on manufactured goods narrowed dramatically. The manufacturing firms could no longer effectively ignore overseas competition in the U.S. domestic market. U.S. consumers no longer had to to pay the large price premiums required to sustain domestic manufacturing wages at pre-1970 levels, and they jumped right on that option.

In this environment, unions don’t help because they have almost no negotiating room. If they bid up workers’ wages, the jobs will evaporate or move overseas – not because corporations are being “greedy” but because they can no longer charge the prices that would allow such high wages to be sustained. Too much foreign labor and capital is ready to pounce on the first hint of price-taking.

Eric S. Raymond, “Why labor unions have lost their moxie”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-11-29.

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