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This Washington Post article is mostly decent:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

It covers the attempt to bring in 'card check' unionization.

I'm interested in it here for one quote:

Anne Layne-Farrar, an economist with the consulting firm LECG who produced a study predicting job losses if the bill passes, said in a conference call organized by employers that increased productivity had not resulted in larger wage gains in recent decades because the growth was mostly the result of technology. "If the productivity of labor went up, then the wages of labor would go up," she said.

To be sure, she is just one person and doesn't necessarily speak for all business, but the comment is astounding.  First of all, it's entirely meaningless. What does she expect, that workers would work faster and faster?

Workers get more productive primarily because of improvements in technology.  The deal is 'supposed' to be that investors supply the new technology and the workers learn how to use it properly and both share in the wealth produced by the productivity gains.

That an industry mouthpiece would attempt to justify workers not getting any of the gains of GDP growth is astounding to me.

I'm posting this diary so that hopefully writers like Dave Sirota will see that quote.  Corporate executives need to be asked if they share the sentiment that they deserve all the wealth derived from introducing new technology and that actually learning to use it isn't worth anything.

Originally posted to Adam T on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 10:29 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The reason (4+ / 0-)

    she went to the trouble to dig up a few old statistics from Canada to predict job losses if we allow union organizing has nothing to do with technology. She understands, as do her employers, that 50 years of reductions in the union work force have resulted in the ability of business to keep the money themselves instead of paying their workers middle class wages. She gets to be a faithful supporter of the super wealthy and hangs on to a disproportionate share of the wealth herself. If the 60% or 70% of working people who say they want a union actually get one, she and her employers will lose a lot of that advantage.

    "If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

    by johnmorris on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 10:43:36 AM PDT

  •  Hm, Worker Prod. Grew 4%/yr over 30 Yrs (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Adam T, howd, justCal, polar bear, fredlonsdale

    Over a longer period of time (1979-2007), American manufacturing workers had higher average annual gains in productivity (3.9%) than all countries except for Taiwan and Sweden during that period.

    Which means productivity basically tripled over those roughly 30 years.

    The 1979 minimum wage in 2007 dollars was $6.29 so I guess her argument neatly explains why today's minimum wage is $18.36.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 10:52:46 AM PDT

    •  For those who are confused or don't understand (0+ / 0-)

      iorny or sarcasm.

      FLSA Minimum Wage: The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour effective July 24, 2008; and $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Many states also have minimum wage laws. In cases where an employee is subject to both state and federal minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage.

      My sister worked in a plant that built guns and she was paid more than the 2009 minimum wage for years, then they started laying them off.

      They gave them a promised pension which has been destroyed by inflation.  She will get $70 a month from them.  In the 70s that would have bought a heck of a lot more than it will now.

  •  For workers who work with their hands, (0+ / 0-)

    how is technology not responsible for their increase in productivity?  

    •  Are you asking me or her? (0+ / 0-)

      I agree with you.  I said "Workers get more productive primarily because of improvements in technology." rather than 'only because of improvements in technology', because some gains come from 'working smarter'.  Improvements in techniques rather than improvements in technology.

      Usually, however, improvements in technique come from the discretion of management.  A worker can suggest changes, but if the managers don't agree, they won't occur.

      •  In my experience (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Adam T

        it is exactly the opposite. Most real improvements in technique and productivity that I have seen in 45 years in construction have started on the job by craftsmen and eventually been adopted by the industry. Some new tools are invented by researchers but most are some carpenter's or electricians secret weapon that everybody adopts.

        "If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

        by johnmorris on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 11:16:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Those are technological improvements. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jacob Bartle
          •  Yes they are (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Adam T

            and they are technological improvements by workers on their own jobs increasing their own productivity. For the last 30 years that increase in productivity has gone directly to ownership because of arguments that it is the technology not the worker being productive.

            "If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

            by johnmorris on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 11:23:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You've heard that for the past 30 years? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              doc2

              I've never heard that argument before until I read her quote.  It's unbelievable to me.

              The worker should say "Well, if I'm not going to earn more, why should I bother to learn how to use it?"

              Of course, they'd be looking for another job right after that...

            •  So pay that particular inventor/worker for what (0+ / 0-)

              they came up with. It makes no sense to pay all workers more just because one of them had a great idea.

              •  Are you saying that's what they argue? (0+ / 0-)

                Or is that what you're arguing?

                As I said in my response:
                My point is that everybody played a part in achieving the gains and everybody deserves a share.  How the gains get divided up is open to negotiations, of course.

              •  Most kinds of (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Adam T

                incremental improvements in productivity are a combination of technology and process. Occasionally there is an invention that is patentable but more often a couple of simple ideas make a big change and no one knows where they come from. This:

                http://www.ktool.net/...

                is so subtle its hard to explain. See the little stub next to the shaft? It instantly forms a wire into the circular joint for attaching to a switch or outlet. It replaces a pair of needle nose pliers for the purpose and means the electrician does two repititive jobs with one tool in his hand.  This:

                http://www.ktool.net/...

                Puts in a 16 penny nail in one stroke. The first one I had, a guy taught me how to make myself. We took a rig axe:

                http://tinyurl.com/...

                cut the axe blade off and welded on the rip claws from a 20 Oz hammer. It was a California tool, no one in Dallas had ever seen one when I got here in 1979. Now they are made by several manufacturers.

                Every trade on a construction job has these things and almost none of them are patented. They all increase productivity. We used to get paid for that.

                "If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

                by johnmorris on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 02:43:16 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  And she would argue (0+ / 0-)

          "The business paid to mass produce the technology, therefore they make the profit off of it"

          Your point is also entirely valid in rebutting her argument that 'productivity gains from technology' have nothing to do with the workers.

          In some ways it's even a stronger argument than mine, however it builds up her point that the owner or creator of the technology deserves all the rewards from it.  My point is that everybody played a part in achieving the gains and everybody deserves a share.  How the gains get divided up is open to negotiations, of course.

  •  And it goes even further than this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    relentless

    Corporate executives need to be asked if they share the sentiment that they deserve all the wealth derived from introducing new technology and that actually learning to use it isn't worth anything.

      Much of recent wealth has been created in money markets...in money making money.  This, too, the top 1% wants to claim for themselves and consider any attempt to force them to share with the rest of the country through tax increases class warfare.
      Yet, if you think about it, all money is produced at least in half by labor.  There would be no financial markets if it were not for labor producing more than what it was paid.  Think of every dollar as composed of 50 cents that was not paid to some worker at some point in time.
      The idea that the investment community does not owe a part of its gains to the greater community is about as silly as a man claiming total rights to his children, as though their mother had no part in the deal.

    ...testing the waters to take on Pete.

    by Steve Love on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 11:09:23 AM PDT

    •  Not totally sure if I agree with that (0+ / 0-)

      By increase in wealth I'm referring to increases in GDP.  Financial exchanges aren't including in GDP stats as 'buying' say a mutual fund is just considered an exchange of one asset (cash) for another asset.  It isn't a 'real' good.

      If you are referring to investors making money from trading in foreign exchange, then they've taken all the risk and deserve all the reward (provided it's all investments of their own money.)

      If you are referring to venture capital earning money by investing in startups, the underlying wealth is the gained by the startup being a success, and that depends in part from the workers learning to use the technology.

      Absolutely the venture capitalists deserve a fair share for their risk capital, but the workers deserve a fair share as well.

      •  I am not sure that in increase in the GDP (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Adam T

        By increase in wealth I'm referring to increases in GDP.

        is a practical measure of wealth.  A funeral shows up as something measured in the GDP but I would hardly consider that as a gain in wealth, unless a person's life is worthless.  The rebuilding costs in Galveston or New Orleans shows up on the GDP but I hardly think THEY are measures of wealth, unless we start reducing the GDP everytime a hurricane or death hits the U.S.  The GDP is like voltage compared to amperage: a measure of activity NOT quantity.
          There are all kinds of wealth, but since we have abandoned barter and made the dollar legal tender for all of our economic activities, money is the best measure of wealth.  
          My observation is that if I hire you to make a widget for me, at my plant and, when I sell that widget I make only what I  have paid you, what has happened?  I have invested my capital and you your labor but only one of us got reimbursed. When I sold the widget, if I only got back what your labor was worth, I got nothing for my investment.  
           Now, let's say I get double the price.  What does that represent?  Well, we could say that I got what your labor cost me AND what my investment cost, and I broke even.
          The problem is that I get to set the value of my capital but you do not get to set your wages...I get to do BOTH.  I get to say what my capital is worth and what your labor is worth...and that makes me the god of the marketplace!
          So, it is entirely possible that I can set the value of my capital way higher than the value of your labor, in which case, I make out like a bandit, because, in a BALANCED OR FAIR EVALUATION OF OUR RELATIVE INVESTMENTS, we should come out relatively even...but that doesn't happen, does it?  Is there any economic process that runs without the addition of labor?  I don't think so.
          The history of our form of government is that since colonial days wealth has flowed increasingly from the masses to the few.  Yet, that capital would not have been worth anything without labor...why we had slavery...and sweatshops...and bracero programs...because plantation owners did not plow and pick cotton and the Robber Barons did not hammer in spikes on the railroads.
         None of those institutions existed to make working class people wealthy?  They existed because the laws were such that owners of capital could control the value of everything in the production process.
           That is why I say, that the feed stock of dollars on Wall Street is at least half owned by working people who were deprived of those dollars because the folks with the capital made the rules!  
          NOTE:  It is precisely the rise of organized labor that threatens the existing unbalanced system and why the fight over the card check will make the battle with the insurance companies over healthcare costs look like dodge ball compared to WWII.

        ...testing the waters to take on Pete.

        by Steve Love on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 02:28:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I knew a woman that was pushed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Adam T

    to get more productivity.  She was so tired that she had to spend most of her time in bed when she wasn't working. This was during the Reagan reign.

    About 4 years ago everyone that worked there was laid off. I don't know if the work went overseas or went to high technology.

  •  Productivity gains belong to who? (0+ / 0-)

    Suppose a company decides to buy a machine that allows a worker to produce twice as much product, widgets say. I assume the company thinks it can either sell more widgets or can cut their labor costs in half while selling the same number of widgets. Why should the company pay the worker more? After all the company used its money to buy the new machine.

    My God, the company could even cut the worker's pay. I mean, they just fired half their workforce, so there are a lot more workers looking for a job. The laws of supply and demand almost mandate the company to cut wages.

    What is wrong with this simplistic analysis?

    •  Well, you sound like a Republican troll (0+ / 0-)

      So, it's not surprising you'd engage in 'simplistic analysis'.

      However, I can do better than ad hom attacks.

      1.As I said above, the workers have to learn how to use the machines.  Working with technology isn't exactly 'unskilled labor', most of it requires a good deal of expertise.  The workers have to gain new skills.  They deserve a share of the gains for learning and applying new skills.

      2.It's actually not certain the firm would lay off anybody.  Standard economic theory suggests that when a firm cuts costs it will increase production rather than keep production static.  Therefore, the employees won't tend to be laid off.  I realize that is textbook theory and in reality firms have laid off employees as productivity has increased on many occasions.  

      Whether that creates an ability to lower wages is another matter.  The workers that remain, as I said in point 1, learn how to use the new technologies and, therefore, gain a competitive advantage over the laid off employees.  Worker skills aren't necessarily fungible, so the company can't simply threaten to fire their workers to keep labor costs down.

      •  <chuckle> (0+ / 0-)

        Actually, I am a Liberal. I am also a registered democrat. I have been a registered democrat since 1966. I have never voted for a Republican candidate for any Federal, State or Local office. (I do admit that I have withheld my vote on several occasions.)

        In all fairness, I reread my comment from Sunday and said to myself, what could have I been thinking! The only exculpatory reason I can come up with is that I zoned out on too much C SPAN. One of the segments was a rerun of an old interview with Milton Friedman in which he talked about his "pencil" example.

        You see, I spent Sunday paling around with terrorists.

        •  It's all good (0+ / 0-)

          You do make a point that workers do need a reason other than 'fairness' to argue why they deserve to receive some of the benefits derived from productivity gains.

          •  There was one BookTV segment on C SPAN that (0+ / 0-)

            did address the issue of who deserved the productivity gain.

            It was recently announced that a new Lithium battery was developed that would recharge in 10 minutes instead of the usual 12 or 13 hours. It has something to do with "tunnels" in the battery substance. It should come to the market in 3 to 5 years. That innovation would be worth nothing if someone had not created the lithium battery, or if someone had not developed an alkaline battery and so forth.

            Also, if no one had invented the wheel, we would not have cars today, or new machines that double production.

            Thus, an innovator and/or an investor, who build on past innovations and investments, owe something to the society that brought us to where we are now. It is sort of way to socialize productivity gains. After all, we all are related to each other in some way.

  •  Anne Layne-Farrar is an idiot... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Adam T, howd

    I am always amazed when someone calls him/herself an economist and yet does not even understand the most rudimentary elements of how an economy operates.  Business leaders tout "growth" but where do they think the "growth" that they desire so devoutly comes from?  It comes from ordinary people being able to earn enough to be able to buy the products that industry creates.  Even Henry Ford (hardly a socialist) understood that unless his workers earned enough to be able to buy a "Model T" that his market would be confined to a much smaller segment of the population.  For that reason, Ford Motor paid some of the highest wages anywhere.  Ford put in automation so that he could pay his workers higher wages!  That's why he developed the assembly line!  That is the way that true laissez-faire capitalism operates.  Layne-Farrar is expressing a benighted form of early primitive capitalism called mercantilism.  Mercantilists were of different stripes but one thing they all agreed on was that it was prudent to keep the laborers at subsistence wages.  Adam Smith, a devout Christian, felt that mercantilism was immoral and developed his theories of laissez-faire capitalism in response.  He felt that everyone would benefit if workers were paid a living wage.  Laissez-faire capitalism and progressive reforms were responsible for the huge gains in living standards of the people during the 20th century.  Apparently, people like Layne-Farrar and the masters she reports to would love to go back to the horrible conditions prevalent before modern times.

    •  earnings, productivity (0+ / 0-)

      On the contrary, I am seldom amazed when someone calls him/herself an economist and yet does not even understand the most rudimentary elements of how an economy operates. I am not amazed, because the "trained incapacity" of economists first noted by Veblen is the standard outcome of the deep study and acceptance of neoclassical economic theory. Acceptance into the tribe requires testing out on that theory; advancement requires virtuoso mathematical extension of it. The profession does not reward people who study how businesses actually operate.

      Anne Layne-Farrar is indeed an economist, by virtue of her PhD from the University of Chicago. All elements of her resume would lead me to believe that she firmly believes in the world of Milton Friedman; a Chicago graduate who does not hold that belief is most rare.  So, what is insufficiently understood by non-economists is that the Friedman world is definitionally the world of neoclassical economic theory. This system has few components based on observation of actual processes in the real world. It begins and ends with graphs and equations that describe imaginary, perfectly competitive behavior. For examples relevant to wages and productivity, see the entry on productivity at

      http://en.wikipedia.org/...

      to encounter the vast abstractness of the discussion.  Follow other links therein to confirm that the data for the mathematical function are, at best, problematic (the Cambridge Controversy, for example.)

      Then see Mankiw’s blog at

      http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/...

      (Mankiw was Chair of W’s Council of Economic Advisors). His blog piece reveals the reasoning about wages and productivity, and admits several of the conceptual difficulties in using the theory. Note his use of standard neoclassical terminology, e.g., marginal cost. Adam T, use your accounting expertise to shed light on my belief that marginal cost has no observable content, because businesses do not routinely keep track of marginal cost.  (Last time I looked at a Cost Accounting textbook, the index contained one entry, a definition comporting with that of elementary economics, but no guidance about using it in a real accounting system.) If my belief is solid, there is no good reason to pay any attention to statements about productivity because of its unmeasurability.

      •  productivity, wages (0+ / 0-)

        The Mankiw link above is broken.  Google Mankiw for his blog site, then scroll to August 29, 2006 for the wage/productivity entry.

        •  In some respects, I think that economists... (0+ / 0-)

          (and social scientists in general) suffer from the same inferiority complexes that many of those in the life sciences experience.  The disciplines of the social sciences and life sciences are not like the physical sciences or mathematics and why should their practitioners feel it necessary to jazz up their theories with "scientific" models and mathematics?  When I was a graduate student in clinical psychology, I had several "discussions" with experimentalists who were quite convinced that the days of "armchair psychologizing are over".  

          Anything that involves the behavior of living things, whether human or animal can be messy and chaotic and trying to nail it down with "scientific" models and mathematics is frankly unimpressive.  One of my favorite professors was my first economics professor when I was an undergraduate.  He said that economics will never be a scientific discipline--that it will always be as much of an art and an exercise in reasoning than any other thing.  He felt that charts and graphs were important ways to organize data but that economics was primarily the observation and study of economic behavior and hopefully lead to predictions of that behavior.  I guess the "quants" forgot to check on the basics.

          Economics is a social science and all the mathematics and "scientific" language in the world will not make it anything else.  If the boys of the Chicago School were so brilliant, their theories and ideology would not have precipitated such an unmitigated disaster as they have since adoption by the neocons.

      •  What you describe here: (0+ / 0-)

        the "trained incapacity" of economists first noted by Veblen is the standard outcome of the deep study and acceptance of neoclassical economic theory. Acceptance into the tribe requires testing out on that theory; advancement requires virtuoso mathematical extension of it. The profession does not reward people who study how businesses actually operate.

        Anne Layne-Farrar is indeed an economist, by virtue of her PhD from the University of Chicago. All elements of her resume would lead me to believe that she firmly believes in the world of Milton Friedman; a Chicago graduate who does not hold that belief is most rare.  So, what is insufficiently understood by non-economists is that the Friedman world is definitionally the world of neoclassical economic theory. This system has few components based on observation of actual processes in the real world. It begins and ends with graphs and equations that describe imaginary, perfectly competitive behavior. For examples relevant to wages and productivity, see the entry on productivity at

        http://en.wikipedia.org/...

        to encounter the vast abstractness of the discussion.  Follow other links therein to confirm that the data for the mathematical function are, at best, problematic (the Cambridge Controversy, for example.)

        ...sounds a lot more like indoctrination of religious dogma rather than a study of a vital element of the socio-political milieu of us all (or even an academic discipline for that matter).

      •  Actually (0+ / 0-)

        I'm an economist now and having been an accountant for a number of years.  As a former accountant though, I don't think what you say about marginal costs is correct.

        Marginal costs are pretty similar (though there are differences) to variable costs and big businesses definately track them.

        Basic economics theory suggests that businesses track marginal costs because profit maximization requires the point of production to be where declining marginal benefit matches increasing marginal cost.

        Given that most corporate strategists have MBAs and the like, I'd think they'd learn to track marginal costs for those reasons.  There is an argument that, contrary to standard economic theory, marginal costs actually don't rise (former Fed economist Alan Binder wrote a book on this).  However, the MBAs still learn the theory and they, no date, still want to see if they can apply it.

        It would be a huge mistake to think that all economists think the same.  For instance, most economists recognize that if gains from free trade aren't shared among all people, that due to the losses from free trade, most people will turn against it (as has happened in the last decade).

        That isn't all that different as what happens when the benefits from productivity gains go just to the investor class.

        •  productivity (0+ / 0-)

          My point concerns the data that are available for decision making. If accounting systems do not call for tabulating and tracking marginal cost, it is not possible for decision makers to equate the marginal cost of an additional unit of input with the marginal benefit obtained from its use. If marginal cost data do not exist, one cannot discuss productivity as a basis for determining compensation.

          •  Well yeah that was my point (0+ / 0-)

            Firms do track marginal cost data (at least larger firms) because that's how partly how they make decisions on how much to produce.

            The reason, as I said, why most firms maybe don't track it very closely, or not as close as the economists and the MBA students get taught to track it, could be because, as Alan Binder's study showed, most firms don't actually face rising marginal production costs.  

            The typical real firm according to Binder has very high fixed costs and steady marginal costs.

            •  productivity (0+ / 0-)

              We need to think about factor markets here, for in the theory that is where compensation is determined. Marginal resource cost is supposedly compared with marginal revenue product of the last unit of a resource hired. At equality, the compensation, say the wage, is determined (MRP is the demand curve for the input, MRC the supply curve). This is the meaning of the notion that productivity (monetized, as MRP) and the wage rate are intertwined. I'll concede for the moment that some firms may use some MC data to decide on output levels. I must dissent from the proposition that they also determine factor prices from the analagous marginal data in factor markets. Here, the measurement problem is insurmountable: the last unit of an input, the marginal one, does not by itself produce anything, but in collaboration with all units of all factors generates an output. While one might tweak the employment of an input and observe the change in output, that change in output cannot be isolated as the contribution of that last unit of input. This is a flaw in the theory, and is compounded by the (shall I say significant) likelihood that real firms' accounting systems do not support the routine recording of MRP and MRC.  This is meat for another diary, of course, and I may take it up sometime.  Thanks for the conversation.

  •  For an insightful and revealing article (0+ / 0-)

    on the REAL cause of the financial crisis and all its progeny, read Thomas Geoghegan's "Infinite Interest -- How Unlimited Interest Rates Destroyed the Economy" in the latest Harper's.  Derivatives, hedge funds, and all the Jim Cramer mea culpa stuff are only the manifestation of the real problem. The financial services industry, rather than the manufacturing sector, became the driver of the economy -- as unions did nothing to maintain their former power as that driver -- which, without durable "products" that could be sold, exported, etc., the US became a nation of debtors, as 50% of all workers became, in one way or another, employees dependent upon the financial sector (which includes insurance and real estate), and the only "products" being produced were ultimately bets upon money.  The elimination of usury laws -- laws fundamental to every economy going back to Babylon -- have driven America and its work force into a hole which will be impossible to climb out of, unless Congress is able to effect revolutionary changes in laws affecting the regulation of the financial sector.

    Kick apart the structures.

    by ceebee7 on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 01:00:11 PM PDT

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