Tag: job creation

Who Could Have Seen That Coming?

Several recent news stories report information that was hardly surprising to anyone who has studied economics or read Cato at Liberty. We talk a lot about unintended or unanticipated consequences around here, but in these cases the consequences were anticipated and even predicted by a lot of people.

First, consider this front-page story from the Washington Post on Monday:

The [fast-food] industry could be ready for another jolt as a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour nears in the District and as other campaigns to boost wages gain traction around the country. About 30 percent of the restaurant industry’s costs come from salaries, so burger-flipping robots — or at least super-fast ovens that expedite the process — become that much more cost-competitive if the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is doubled….

Many chains are already at work looking for ingenious ways to take humans out of the picture, threatening workers in an industry that employs 2.4 million wait staffers, nearly 3 million cooks and food preparers and many of the nation’s 3.3 million cashiers….

The labor-saving technology that has so far been rolled out most extensively — kiosk and ­tablet-based ordering — could be used to replace cashiers and the part of the wait staff’s job that involves taking orders and bringing checks. 

Who could have predicted that? Well, Cato vice president Jim Dorn in his 2014 testimony to the Maryland legislature. Or Bill Gates around the same time.

Then there’s this all-too-typical AP story out of California:

The Fed: ObamaCare “Leading to Layoffs”

The Hill has the story:

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday released an edition of its so-called “beige book,” that said the 2010 healthcare law is being cited as a reason for layoffs and a slowdown in hiring.

“Employers in several Districts cited the unknown effects of the Affordable Care Act as reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff,” said the March 6 beige book, which examines economic conditions across various Federal Reserve districts across the country.

Or in other words, yes, ObamaCare will eliminate some 800,000 jobs.

How Firms Will Adapt to Avoid ObamaCare’s Mandates (and Drive up Its Cost)

An oped in today’s Wall Street Journal explains:

How big can a company get with just 50 employees? We’re about to find out.

Thousands of small businesses across the U.S. are desperately looking for a way to escape their own fiscal cliff. That’s because ObamaCare is forcing them to cover their employees’ health care or pay a fine—either of which will cut into profits and stymie future investment and growth…

“Going protean” offers a better strategy for many businesses. Owners of protean companies create a core of strategic employees who manage the big-picture elements of the enterprise—the culture, business model, product mix, vision, strategy, etc. This core then outsources the business tasks to other corporations…

Non-core tasks could include things like accounting, marketing, product development, manufacturing, IT, PR, legal, finance, etc. There is almost nothing that cannot be outsourced…

These new contracts will be a mix of large corporations, small businesses, micro-corporations and even nano-corporations (an individual doing business as a corporation). But to be a protean solution, it must involve a corporation-to-corporation relationship…

In the context of ObamaCare, a small business could go protean by offering current employees contracts for doing their current work as a corporate entity instead of as an employee…

[A]s government continues to impose itself into the marketplace and reduce the freedom of the commercial sector through statist programs like ObamaCare, businesses will have to look for creative solutions to survive. Going protean is only one way, and others will emerge.

Keeping the core company below 50 full-time employees will allow such companies to avoid the employer mandate. But it will also drive up ObamaCare’s cost, because most of the workers in the new corporate entity will be eligible for government subsidies through ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges.” This will drive up the cost of ObamaCare wherever those subsidies exist.

Coburn Report on Federal Job Training Programs

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn released a report today on federal job training programs in his state. Here’s what Coburn’s intrepid staff found: duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and stupidity. In short, the report is another example of how Washington is better at creating problems than solving them.

The report’s most important takeaway is that providing job training assistance is not a proper function of the federal government:

The convoluted mess of job training programs exists, not because of any well-meaning Oklahoman, but because Congress created a system that is doomed to fail. Employers and communities know best what skills are needed for a successful workforce, not bureaucrats—despite good intent.

What part of this scenario makes sense: Congress taxes Oklahoma employers at record rates, to fund job training programs created by politicians in Washington, only to send taxpayer money back to Oklahoma with rules and regulations that tie the hands of state and local governmental and business and ignore the unique economic and demographic factors of their communities. This scenario is the reality of the employment programs operated by federal government.

The first step Congress took in the wrong direction was a step out of the Constitutional boundaries set forth by our founders. Providing employment and training services is not a role for federal government at all, according to the enumerated powers listed in the U.S. Constitution. [Emphasis in original.]

Of course the scenario doesn’t make any sense, but as a Cato essay on federal employment and training programs notes, federal policymakers are fixated on “doing something”:

More fundamentally, federal employment and training programs don’t fill any critical economic need that private markets don’t already fill. Instead, the federal programs provide an opportunity for policymakers to show that they are “doing something” to help the labor market. To policymakers, federal job training sounds like something that should boost the economy, but five decades of experience indicate otherwise.

Agriculture Is Doing So Well (ergo We Must Subsidize It)

Farmer-friendly members of Congress are such a target-rich environment for ridicule when it comes to poor agriculture policy that it would be a full-time job just blogging about their utterances. So I try to spare you, most of the time. (You’re welcome.) But occasionally a quote passes my desk that is so ridiculous that I just have to share.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a Democrat (not that that matters) from Michican, yesterday made a statement that contains a pretty obvious logical fallacy:

“American agriculture represents a bright spot in our economy,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “Agricultural exports are reaching record highs and American farmers and ranchers are continuing to outpace the rest of the world in productivity and efficiency. Sixteen million American jobs are supported by American agriculture, so it’s critical we pass the Farm Bill this year. We must provide farmers and small businesses the certainty they need to continue growing and helping the country’s economy recover.” [emphasis mine]

Which of course raises the question: If U.S. agriculture is doing so well, why do we need to subsidize it? To maintain those sixteen million jobs the Senator claims are supported by U.S. agriculture? Please. Research has shown a negative link between farm subsidies and rural development, including jobs creation (more here, including on rural subsidies more broadly). And the money for farm programs is extracted from the productive sector of the economy, at ensuing cost.

In the meantime, a non-subsidized sector of the U.S. farm sector is faring very well indeed. The popcorn industry is booming thanks to sales to Colombia following the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which came into effect last month. That hasn’t stopped Nebraska’s senators from asking for hand-outs on behalf of the industry, of course, but the lesson to me seems clear: freer trade, fewer subsidies. [HT: Andy Roth at the Club for Growth]

For more on Cato’s work on agriculture subsidies see here, here, here, here and here. And a whole lot more here.

Should the Government Ban ATMs and Create “Spoon-ready” Projects?

At the Britannica Blog today I note President Obama’s concern over ATMs, Hillary Clinton’s support for the candlemakers’ petition, John Maynard Keynes’s simple solution to the problem of unemployment—and how Bastiat refuted all their arguments more than 150 years ago:

And there’s your question for President Obama: Do you really think the United States would be better off if we didn’t have ATMs and check-in kiosks? …  And do you think we’d be better off if we mandated that all these “shovel-ready projects” be performed with spoons?

In his 1988 book The American Job Machine, the economist Richard B. McKenzie pointed out an easy way to create 60 million jobs: “Outlaw farm machinery.” The goal of economic policy should not be job creation per se; it should be a growing economy that continually satisfies more consumer demand. And such an economy will be marked by creative destruction. Some businesses will be created, others will fail. Some jobs will no longer be needed, but in a growing economy more will be created… .

Finding new and more efficient ways to deliver goods and services to consumers is called economic progress. We should not seek to impede that process, whether through protectionism, breaking windows, throwing towels on the floor, or fretting about automation.

More here.

On Government Spending and Job Creation

The standard Keynesian policy proposal for a weak economy is to have the government spend more money, and run deficits to do so.  Clearly much of current government spending is being financed by borrowing.  So current conditions are not subject to the New Deal critique that it was mostly paid for by taxes, as during the Great Depression. Current federal expenditures have increased about 41% since the housing market peaked in 2006.  Has all this government spending generated many jobs?  While keeping in mind that correlation is not the same as causality, it is interesting that the trend in government spending and total non-farm employees mirror one another, but not in the way you’d like.  The more the government has spent, the more people have lost their jobs.  The simple correlation between government spending and jobs has been a negative 0.9.   Also worth noting is that both the decline in jobs and increase in government spending began well before the financial crisis of Sept 2008.  In fact, almost 2 million jobs were lost between the beginning of the recession in Dec 2007 and the financial crisis in Sept 2008.  Again, I won’t pretend this proves anything, however, it does suggest to me that continued massive government spending is not going to turn around the job market.