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  • Capitalism's End Game  35 comments
    Apr 11, 2012 4:59 PM

    German Finance Minister, Schaeuble arrives at the Athens airport.

    An immigration officer asks him: "Nationality?" Schaeuble says: "German." The immigration officer asks: "Occupation?" To which Schaeuble responds: "Nein, I am here for a few days only."

    "Gallows humor" is popular during depressions. No one is looking for a belly laugh - just a little smirk to brighten up the never-ending string of despair people usually have to deal with. Films were a popular means of escape in the 1930s and we were very into IMAX when they were below $12.50 during the crash as we expected a similar move up in movies audiences as we moved through this century's Great Recession.

    (click to enlarge)However, it only cost a dime to go to the movies in 1930 and, to put it in perspective, the price of gas was .20 at the time. Now it costs $15 to see an IMAX film and gas is $4 a gallon this weekend and we're beginning to see a bit of blow-back from consumers - who simply can't afford to spend $30 for two tickets when they just spent $60 to fill up the car.

    Gasoline was also persistently high in the 30s (relative to inflation) but came down from a relative $3 per gallon in 1940 to $2 a gallon in the 70s as the US entered an age of prosperity and we built this nation around the idea of having an inexpensive and readily-available fuel source.

    After the initial price shock of the 70s, which pushed us into another recession, things were improving all the way through about 2002, when gasoline prices soared to inflation-adjusted records. While the supply is still plentiful, the prices are no longer affordable and 86M barrels of oil a day at 42 gallons a barrel x 365 days a year at $3.50 per gallon comes out to $4.6Tn a year. Of course, not all oil converts to gasoline but you get the idea. Also, our friends in Europe are reading this and saying "$3.50 a gallon - in your dreams!" as they pay roughly $9 at the pumps.

    (click to enlarge)

    Add in the effect the high price of oil has on food and other downstream products that rely on oil and you are looking at oil alone diverting 5% of our global GDP - in EXCESS of the realistic $70 per barrel price - away from more productive uses than buying a commodity that literally goes up in smoke as soon as we use it (see "Goldman's Global Oil Scam Passes the 50 Madoff Mark" for more details).

    (click to enlarge)This is why Capitalism is the enemy of mankind. Since rising oil prices had and have very little relationship to the cost of extraction - it is fantastically profitable for the oil companies when we have these little price spikes.

    It is also fantastically profitable for the speculators, who insert themselves between the commodity producers (who take the actual risks) and the consumers (who create the actual demand) and the goal of the speculator is, of course, to pay the producers of the commodities as little as possible while charging the consumers as much as possible.

    (click to enlarge)I have warned people for years that these same speculators are now, even as I warn you, circling their wagons and looking to insert themselves between you and your water as well. One day they will go after the air that you breathe but water is already on the table and will one day be as manipulated as gasoline if we don't stop them now.

    This isn't an article about that but I do think it's important to keep you alert for the signs to come as we move into the final phases of corporations controlling everything you need to live. As I was saying, Capitalism is the enemy of mankind because, as we saw in the early 2000s, when oil companies and commodity producers make a lot of money - then the "hot money" flows into them. In real Capitalism, that's a good thing as more people drill wells and plant corn, etc. and, ultimately, drive prices back down to a level that meets the demand curve properly.

    Unfortunately, we don't even have true Capitalism, we have a perversion of it that has spawned a Corporate Kleptocracy where companies are rewarded for monopolizing resources and delivering the lowest quality product for the highest possible price across the board. This is not a long-term benefit to anyone except for those few who end up making all the money. In fact, if you are in the top 10%, it's likely you often choose quality over price and for very good reason - but more and more that choice is denied to the masses and the lifestyle of Americans since the early 70s is very easily summarized as getting less for more - year after year.

    (click to enlarge)

    Corporations are rewarded for shipping our jobs overseas and, as the consumers get poorer and poorer, they are willing to sacrifice things like being able to try on clothes at an actual store or having knowledgeable salespeople answer their questions before they purchase durable goods and the lack of knowledgeable salespeople and closing of actual retail stores (that employed actual people) encourages more and more people to shop on-line, giving Corporations more and more profits and encouraging them to cut more staff and more stores - perpetuating the cycle.

    (click to enlarge)As I said, this is how Capitalism becomes the enemy of mankind: We reward Amazon, who employ 56,200 people, with a price-earnings ratio of 141 while Best Buy, who employs 180,000 people garners a p/e of 6.

    What kind of business do we encourage entrepreneurs to build and invest in? Efficiency is a noble goal and works wonders when you have an ever-expanding market but what happens when you saturate the planet with efficiently-produced goods and services?

    Eventually, perhaps 700M people plus machines will be able to produce and distribute everything that 7Bn people on this planet require. What then? 6.3Bn people won't be just unemployed, they will be unnecessary - except for as consumers. But there's obviously no point in paying them not to work but if it's not profitable to employ them and we're not going to support them but we need them to buy our stuff - what then? If we kill them they can't consume - this is a conundrum that we're already facing, somewhere between the 1/3 of the population that "needs" to work today and the 1/10th that will need to work in the future - we'd BETTER figure this out!

    (click to enlarge)As you can see from the above chart, we certainly don't share the benefits of increased productivity with our workers, do we?

    Out of an 80% increase in Productivity since 1980, less than 7% of those gains showed up as wages - not even enough to keep up with inflation. This is what Capitalism REWARDS, this is what Capitalism steers us to - and it's still not enough - it will never be enough as the hot money chases the companies that make the most by doing the least - day after day, year after year - shaping our economy, our social structure and our Government the way a river shapes a canyon.

    Creating an underclass - even a slave class - is the natural end-game of Capitalism - a Corporate Kleptocracy simply seeks to hurry things along to their inevitable conclusion while making sure the players who are currently on top remain on top. In other words, they won the first round - and now they want to change the rules to make sure there are no surprises for the rest of the game.

    Marx argued that, due to economic inequality, the purchase of labor cannot occur under "free" conditions. Since capitalists control the means of production (e.g., factories, businesses, machinery) and workers control only their labor, the worker is naturally coerced into allowing their labor to be exploited. Labor historian Immanuel Wallerstein has argued that unfree labor - by slaves, indentured servants, prisoners, and other coerced persons - is compatible with capitalist relationships.

    File:Pyramid of Capitalist System.png

    While in major capitalist economies the minimum wage is legislatively imposed by the state, there is no maximum wage limit, which is supposedly determined by the forces of the free market. They further argue that the minimum wage measure does not serve to set a lower limit in a worker's earnings; it actually functions as an upper limit on the earnings of a person that just enters the workforce. The existence of minimum wage, coupled with the absence of maximum, permits rapid wealth accumulation and leads to a phenomenon termed "plutonomy" by Citigroup. In effect, wages are kept low for almost all of the population while the remaining minute percentage is allowed to meet overwhelming profits.

    This IS what's happening folks and it's getting worse and worse every year and it is not going to end well...

    Disclosure: I am short DIA, QQQ, IWM, USO, GLD, PCLN, CMG.

    Additional disclosure: Positions as indicated but subject to change.

    Themes: market-outlook
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Comments (35)
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  • Financial Insights
    , contributor
    Comments (945) | Send Message
     
    Great post Phil. Common sense dictates you are correct.
    11 Apr 2012, 05:26 PM Reply Like
  • azblackbird
    , contributor
    Comments (358) | Send Message
     
    Maybe somebody who's a lot brighter than I am can help me out here by answering these questions.

     

    If capitalists are so bad, and they treat their workers as slaves or indentured servants... how come the "wage slaves" just don't thumb their noses at those mean 'ole capitalists, pool their funds, and open up their own "employee owned" factories or businesses?

     

    Wouldn't it seem logical that the ultimate source of revenge, would be for the under-privileged workers to get together, and undercut those mean 'ole capitalists by offering products or services at lower price points, and retain all the profits to be equally distributed amongst themselves?
    11 Apr 2012, 07:14 PM Reply Like
  • Philip Davis
    , contributor
    Comments (1336) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » I think you miss the point - it's ALL about who controls the means of production. What you propose is the workers take control of the machines and the factories and divide the fruits of their labor equitably among themselves - essentially you just wrote the Communist Manifesto. That's exactly what Marx proposed over 100 years ago as a logical necessity for the survival of the working class as anything more than slaves.

     

    Have you ever tried to start a business? Unless you are rich, you need the cooperation of people with money or bankers to finance you so barrier to entry number one.

     

    When you do get started there are numerous regulations, inspections, certificates, professional training required that to some extent offer consumer protection but in other cases really protect the status quo - like good luck coming up with a better car design if you aren't already a Billionaire, or a new drug. In fact, I don't know if you are following the smart-phone patent wars but even huge companies like Apple, Samsung, RIMM, NOK, MOT - are all spending hundreds of millions suing each other - do you think the average person can play that game?

     

    Patents and trademarks have their uses but their main use is to make sure the bottom 99% can't build a better mouse-trap and compete with the established top 1%. Big corporations can break you even when you are right - as long as they can raise the "benefit of doubt" they can drag you into court and break you with legal fees - that's done all the time to small businessmen.

     

    Union busting has been popular in this country for years - even President Reagan busted unions - that is the workers attempting to get together to bargain collectively.

     

    Wage slaves are every bit as trapped in their positions as regular slaves were 150 years ago. At least a slave was provided food, shelter, clothing and medical care for himself and his family by the masters - good luck affording all that on what Wal-Mart pays you. What funds do you think those people have to pool?

     

    You seriously don't believe 30 people working in a McDonalds for $8.50 an hour couldn't open up a restaurant that made better burgers (maybe not better fries) if they had the money? Think of all the barriers that stop them from competing on an even field.

     

    It's a good thing to think about in all the businesses you visit every day. 100 years ago, if you were good at something, you could put a sign outside your house and you had a business and, if you were really good, word spread in your town and you became successful. That was fair and that's where the American Dream took root and helped us build a great nation.

     

    Unfortunately, as we modernized (and Marx warned of this), the people who were successful consolidated their wealth and built barriers to stop other people from competing until now, we no longer have a level playing field.

     

    The bottom 99% didn't start the class war, they already lost it.
    12 Apr 2012, 04:43 AM Reply Like
  • change is the only constant
    , contributor
    Comments (1734) | Send Message
     
    No economic system (it appears) can deliver on the promise of Utopia. But what you have clearly, and painfully described is (a system where) heaven and hell are upside down.
    12 Apr 2012, 06:48 AM Reply Like
  • azblackbird
    , contributor
    Comments (358) | Send Message
     
    >>>> Unfortunately, as we modernized (and Marx warned of this), the people who were successful consolidated their wealth and built barriers to stop other people from competing until now, we no longer have a level playing field. <<<<

     

    Let me get this straight. According to you we no longer have a level playing field... right?

     

    So if you were King for the day, what would you propose that would help level the playing field?
    12 Apr 2012, 05:21 PM Reply Like
  • wrocnrob
    , contributor
    Comments (262) | Send Message
     
    Maybe it has always been this way.
    11 Apr 2012, 07:32 PM Reply Like
  • wrocnrob
    , contributor
    Comments (262) | Send Message
     
    By always, I meant since the beginning of time, excluding 1947-1979 in the United States. I'd imagine the slaves imported to the US were none too thrilled about their situation (obviously, they wouldn't have wanted to quit). If you have doubts about that I highly recommend reading "The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas, an American Slave".
    < http://bit.ly/HCIKuQ >

     

    Phil is a great socialist for such an exceptional capitalist. Maybe it takes one to know the other. I'd vote for him! Although, he overestimates the abilities of the poor, huddled masses.

     

    The math doesn't make sense either. A 99% majority can easily control a 1% minority. The majority of 100% is 51% (rounded to the nearest percentage). The majority in the US might be a little higher, as some votes require 2/3 majority in the house or 3/5 majority in the senate. Another good reason to get the tired, poor, tempest-tossed NON-VOTERS. The glass is almost 2/3 full!
    12 Apr 2012, 10:28 AM Reply Like
  • GreenRiver
    , contributor
    Comments (3837) | Send Message
     
    "The math doesn't make sense either. A 99% majority can easily control a 1% minority. The majority of 100% is 51% "

     

    Here's the math that counts, especially in light of the Citizens United case:

     

    Money is political speach, so we now have a monetary democracy - votes are, esentially, weighted by the wealth of the voter. Got a billion dollars? Your vote is weighted 1 billion times that of someone who has only one dollar.

     

    So, since the top 1% control more financial wealth than the bottom 99%, its pretty easy to see how the 1% control the political process and the 99% are rendered pretty much mute.
    12 Apr 2012, 01:21 PM Reply Like
  • untrusting investor
    , contributor
    Comments (9927) | Send Message
     
    GR,
    Good comment and observation. And that is exactly the underlying reality and dysfunction of the american political process today.
    12 Apr 2012, 01:41 PM Reply Like
  • GreenRiver
    , contributor
    Comments (3837) | Send Message
     
    I have begun to have serious doubts about the legitimacy of our Supreme Court, in light of some recent decisions.

     

    Citizens United, of course

     

    The Supreme court also, in the last couple of weeks, has determined that being strip searched, even when arrested for the most trivial of offenses, such as riding a bicycle without an audible bell, failure to use a turn signal, or violating a leash laws, does not violate ones consitutional protection "against unreasonable searches" - even though this is an invasive and degrading action, meant to intimidate and humiliate prisoners, is far more severe punishment than would be meted out IF found guilty of the original offense.

     

    http://ti.me/IjvgQd
    12 Apr 2012, 04:02 PM Reply Like
  • wrocnrob
    , contributor
    Comments (262) | Send Message
     
    Fondness for satire at times obscures my intent. My point is that a lot more than 1% are pretty well-heeled considering the bottom 40% have a negative net worth. The top 33% have just about ALL the assets, but if it takes some ranting about the 1%ers to improve the situation; I'm all for that.
    http://bit.ly/xd6iTr
    13 Apr 2012, 10:37 AM Reply Like
  • GreenRiver
    , contributor
    Comments (3837) | Send Message
     
    Not really true.

     

    The top 1% own 43% of the nation's financial wealth. The next 19%, rounding out the top quintile, own 50%; leaving just 7% divided among the bottom 4 quintiles. Financial wealth is defined as total assets, excluding the equity in your primary residence.

     

    So, 7% of assets divided among 4/5 of the population works out to 0.0875% per percentile for the bottom 80%.

     

    For the next fifth, excluding the top 1%, you have 50% shared by 19% of the population, or 2.63% per percentile.

     

    And for the top 1%, they own 43% - 16.3x the rest of the top quintile on average, and a whopping 49,142x (per capita) of what the bottom 4/5ths of the country own.

     

    So, no. The top 1% are pretty much all that count in our political system. The 2012 presidential election will, I'm sure, be by far the most expensive in history, and will play out almost entirely as a battle between the pro-Obama and pro-Romney superPACs. In otherwords, a few dozen millionaires and billionaires and their financial muscle are going to crowd out the entire rest of the nation from the political process.
    13 Apr 2012, 12:28 PM Reply Like
  • wrocnrob
    , contributor
    Comments (262) | Send Message
     
    If there's anything to such circular logic, (wealth=power, therefore power=wealth) 99% of us would be much better off to make the most of life's simple pleasures, or just turn on, tune in and drop out like a Day In The Life of the hippies that sold out.
    I do agree, "middle class" according to "wealth-math" is tiny, certainly way less than 1/3 of the population. BTW, a 3-way split seems more intuitive than quartiles. "Middle class" implies a top, bottom, and of course, a middle. Income distribution is much wider, but as it turns out, spending more than you make, an easy task even with insurance, produces zero wealth. Bloody circular logic!
    14 Apr 2012, 07:00 AM Reply Like
  • GreenRiver
    , contributor
    Comments (3837) | Send Message
     
    Glad to see you've bought the lie the 1% are telling.
    14 Apr 2012, 11:18 AM Reply Like
  • pigdog67
    , contributor
    Comments (2093) | Send Message
     
    GR what interests me is how the Justice Department and all our associated legal apparatus selectively decide who to prosecute. Apparently Roger Clemens is facing a possible 40 years in prison for lying under oath about taking performance enhancings drugs. He is being aggressively pursued by the Justice Department. There was lots of fraud during the sub prime mortgage bubble. No bankers have been charged with fraud even though the Supreme court says that 'banks are people'. Hmmm. Should they not be pursued by the Justice Department. In a totalitarian state there are lots of laws and regulations. However enforcment is very selective and very arbitrary. Bernanke said today that the laws were on the books. But not enforced
    14 Apr 2012, 10:47 PM Reply Like
  • untrusting investor
    , contributor
    Comments (9927) | Send Message
     
    pd,
    Isn't that the truth ... the big guys get away with murder but the little guys get prosecuted to kingdom come for relatively trivial infractions that have orders of magnitude less effect than the outrageous infractions of the big guys. To wit Roger Clements, Martha Stewart, or even Raj & the hedge fund guys. Their stuff is in the thousands or even millions. But the really big guys cause damage and fraud in the billions and trillions and by and large get away with it. Meanwhile they ruin millions of people's lives and investments.

     

    One of the most irksome being the Countrywide guy and some of their insiders. They should have consfiscated 100% of their assets and sent them away for life. The moral seems to be you have to steal and defraud at very very large levels, instead of minor levels. If you steal and defraud enough, then you can pay big enough settlements and fines to get away with it and still keep multi-million/billion dollar fraudulent profits.

     

    Truly sad and outrageous.
    14 Apr 2012, 11:36 PM Reply Like
  • wrocnrob
    , contributor
    Comments (262) | Send Message
     
    Now I'm really confused.

     

    The 99% can do something to change the status quo?
    or
    The 99% can't do anything to change the status quo?
    2 Aug 2012, 02:31 PM Reply Like
  • untrusting investor
    , contributor
    Comments (9927) | Send Message
     
    Interesting graphic on productivity and where the benefits of productivity gains have gone in the distribution framework over decades.
    12 Apr 2012, 02:32 AM Reply Like
  • AgAuMoney
    , contributor
    Comments (4430) | Send Message
     
    In all your data you see that while there was less federal power, there was more income equality and more progress for the whole of society. As federal power increased, especially with the "Great Society" in the 1960's and huge expansion of those and similar programs during the 1970's, the actual effect was directly opposite of what was intended.

     

    Increasing government increases income disparity.

     

    In other words, the article title is wrong. The problems you identify have nothing to do with with capitalism. It is a problem with increasing government power.

     

    Compare with Communist totalitarian societies. The more China adopts Capitalism, the better off the people. They were all rural agrarian 40 years ago. Cuba has just about ended itself thru starvation even as the Castro's and other top figures live lives of relative luxury.
    12 Apr 2012, 10:08 AM Reply Like
  • Financial Insights
    , contributor
    Comments (945) | Send Message
     
    Very true. Government is controlled by humans, who are subject to the same avarice and greed that the rest of us have. So those with the money can use the people in power's vices to get them to pass laws that are specifically geared to help the wealthy. It is basic common sense. The blatant corruption and double dealing in congress and in the executive branch is astounding, and it all comes back to two things, Greed and hunger for power. If we limited Congressional Seats to one or two terms, we would see a sharp about face in the way business is done in Washington D.C.
    12 Apr 2012, 10:40 AM Reply Like
  • 334304
    , contributor
    Comments (67) | Send Message
     
    Dear Phil:

     

    I completely agree with everything in this article except the title. As you point out yourself the system that is bleeding us all dry is no longer capitalism, it is a kleptocracy. What we had during the Great Prosperity was capitalism, tempered by a Christian-based (and/or socialist-based) belief in mutual obligation expressed through a robust democracy. The point is that it is not capitalism that is the problem, but its abandonment, and the perversion of politics by the influence peddling of all the new 'robber barons'. If we blame 'capitalism' we may end up 'shooting the goose that laid the golden egg' in the first place. We need more capitalism. Traditional capitalists actually made things and then reinvested the profits into making new and better things. The union movement, with broad social support, ensured that the wealth was shared. Unfortunately, the union movement became corrupt (anyone remember the teamsters?) and lost credibility. That needs to be restored, but how?

     

    We have replaced capitalism with financial 'services' that serve none but the middlemen skimming all of the fat, while allowing these sleazebags to pretend that they are the 'new capitalists'. We need to recognize that bankers are not capitalists, they are money lenders, and that a salary received as stock is still a salary, and tax it accordingly. We need to have rules to distinguish between grossly overpaid employees and true owners of businesses that risk their own capital to create real wealth that benefits society, and who deserve to have this recognized in the tax system.

     

    I greatly enjoy your articles.

     

    Elizabeth
    12 Apr 2012, 10:30 AM Reply Like
  • Financial Insights
    , contributor
    Comments (945) | Send Message
     
    Great comment elizabeth.
    12 Apr 2012, 10:44 AM Reply Like
  • Jon Springer
    , contributor
    Comments (4152) | Send Message
     
    Could you provide a link for the source of the chart on productivity (Great Prosperity vs. Great Regression)? Thank you.
    12 Apr 2012, 10:43 AM Reply Like
  • Philip Davis
    , contributor
    Comments (1336) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Full chart from the times is much more informative (as is the article): http://nyti.ms/IpG0iW
    12 Apr 2012, 11:36 AM Reply Like
  • Jon Springer
    , contributor
    Comments (4152) | Send Message
     
    Perfect. Thanks.
    12 Apr 2012, 11:48 AM Reply Like
  • wrocnrob
    , contributor
    Comments (262) | Send Message
     
    Great Article. Catchy Title. Aren't WE ALL actually socialists at the end of the game? How PC is that!
    12 Apr 2012, 12:00 PM Reply Like
  • colodude
    , contributor
    Comments (222) | Send Message
     
    That IS the great dialectic...
    13 Apr 2012, 10:51 AM Reply Like
  • colodude
    , contributor
    Comments (222) | Send Message
     
    Actually, the creation of the socialist safety net gives birth to the Freeloader who, combined with the Permanently Disemployed (due to shifts in the types of available work for which the former worker was singularly trained), begin the return path of eventual decay of the plutonomy, members of which are ultimately forced to bribe the top of this lower level--the community organizer, if you will, as downward violence is met with upward violence. Eventually it takes an outside conqueror to reset the system, break a lot of toys, bring justice to the plutocrats (Hun-style, or in our day, Sino-style) and begin the process anew. I guess one could make the case that it could also be an inside job (Citizens of the French Republic or the Bolsheviks of the Soviet Republic),
    ...or, it might take an Antichrist to pull off a relatively nondestructive reset (fascist in form) with the subjugation, rather than the elimination, of the existing ruling class--kill a few, cow the rest. After all, the author of monetary power can certainly bring it to its logical conclusion by vesting it one, perfectly loyal, subject. We've seen approximations before this, but these days, there are now the tools to make it happen.
    A nice story, which may never come true...but if it does....
    13 Apr 2012, 01:02 PM Reply Like
  • pigdog67
    , contributor
    Comments (2093) | Send Message
     
    Something that gets missed in those productivity graphs is capital investment. As productivity goes up per worker a large part of this is due to fixed cost capital investment.Fixed cost capital investment is high risk. Why? Because workers can be let go in most sectors these days essentially immediately. But letting go a huge investment in a factory is not so simple. So with increased capital layouts (Billions to make a chip factory with a few workers) risk goes up. So why raise labors pay? The workers are not really any smarter, faster or stronger. It is the machines and automation that are increasing productivity of the worker. If the Chip factory has only one worker who is the security guard and the dog to watch the security gaurd then is that security guard some sort of genius of productivity? China's innovation is to have rapid production configuration by using cheap labor in an inefficient way to do small batch runs of one off toys etc. For small runs. America struggles with this.
    In any case 'higher productivity' should not mean higher wages. Only higher capital costs and hence greater risk. Hence we need negative real interest rates to prevent the whole shebang from collapsing... #! shebang
    Sorry to expose the dirty secrets but there it is...
    14 Apr 2012, 11:06 PM Reply Like
  • GreenRiver
    , contributor
    Comments (3837) | Send Message
     
    Pigdog-

     

    I think if that if you toured a few modern manufacturing facililties, you'd quickly realize that the level of sophistication in the production facilities needs to be mirrored by the level of sophistication of those responsible for operating, adjusting, and maintaining the facilities.

     

    Gone are the days of long assembly lines manned by low-skilled manual workers... That manual work is now done by sophistiate production equipment, and the workers must understand how the equipment works, how to know when its not working properly, how to set the equipment up for a specific task, and how to adjust, maintain, and trouble shoot the equipment, as well as how to do sophisticated measurements and inspections to assure product quality.

     

    Come by my shop someday, we're still about 10 years behind (at least) the current cutting edge, but my problem is finding people qualified to work in this environment.
    16 Apr 2012, 12:23 PM Reply Like
  • pigdog67
    , contributor
    Comments (2093) | Send Message
     
    GR yes. But has capital investment cost gone up relative to your labor cost in the last 50 years? I remember 15 years ago reading a statement that labor comprised 15 percent of the cost of producing a car. What is that percentage today? That is the point I am trying to make. Capital cost plus material cost now dominates in many production type areas (unless masked by very low interest rates). So very low interest rates are good for profits in this high automation time...
    Maybe you are arguing the worker is smarter and better trained than production workers 50 years ago. But were they better educated and smarter than the top 5 percent of workers 50 years ago? Or have the other 95 percent just left the building? I like to look for the unchallenged assumptions in an authors arguments.
    And you are right the last time I was in a production facility was 30 years ago.
    17 Apr 2012, 09:48 PM Reply Like
  • GreenRiver
    , contributor
    Comments (3837) | Send Message
     
    You're welcome to stop by my shop, crude though it is, if you're ever in the neighborhood. We are undercapitalized, though, and thus use a lot of fairly dated equipment and techniques. The capabilities at the cutting edge are breathtaking, even from the vantage of equipment that's 10 years old.

     

    The statement that "labor comprised 15% of the cost of producing a car" is probably only true in a very narrow sense. For an auto manufacturor, purchased components are the lion's share of the cost of production.... Electronics, fuel injection systems, ABS, systems, electronics, drivetrains, engine accesories, are accounted as purchased items, but each contain a significant unit labor cost. There is also a significant amount of labor costs buried in "capital investment" - after all, the construction workers who built the plant and the machinists who built the equipment all have a labor cost associated.

     

    Actual raw material cost - Steel, aluminum, glass, plastic, rubber, etc. - are actually pretty minimual. And even they include a labor and energy component which is a high multiple of the actual raw material they represent - iron ore, bauxite, silica sand, crude oil.

     

    When you get right down to it, the actual RAW material to make a care from might cost a couple hundred bucks. The rest is energy and labor.

     

    ----

     

    Anyone capable even of working in my shop likely knows more, understands more, and is capable of more than 99.9% of manufacturing workers 50 years ago. 50 years ago, sintered carbides (about the only material used for cutting tools today) was rarely seen other than in HIGHLY specialized applications. There were a very few crude NC controlled machines in use in the aerospace industry. Process control technology was non-existent 50 years ago. SPC unheard of. We perform DAILY even our our shop inspections which were impossible 50 years ago. All of these improvements allow shops like mine to produce parts at levels of consistency and accuracy impossible 50 years ago, and at a cost a TINY fraction of what similar parts would have cost in the past.

     

    Even metal working fluids have undergone 2 or 3 complete revolutions over the last 50 years - from petroleum based cutting oils, to the first water soluble mineral oils, to vegetable based oils, and now to sophistocated blends of pure synthetic and vegatable based water solubles with the addition of stabilizing chemistries, anti-microbials, corrosion inhibitors, film strength enhancers and a whole lot more... Gone are the days when machine shops smelled like solvent. Almost everything used is water based, non-toxic, biodegradeable, and renewable; and performs better than at any point in the past. (And you can thank agencies like the CARB, EPA, and OSHA for driving these technological advances.)
    18 Apr 2012, 12:54 PM Reply Like
  • ros_90330
    , contributor
    Comments (2) | Send Message
     
    What I do not understand is if we have so many people that see the unfair system in place which we all understand is not really capitalism why is there nothing done about it? There are so many smart people reading this website yet none have gone out to change anything? Capitalism is the only system that can work to provide one with the amount of weath that is equal to their worth that being said there has never been a period in human history in which capitalism was practiced let alone in the USofA.That being said there has never been a time where communism has been practiced either. The United States government will die from the weight of its own back. Not from promising debt payment that can not be afforded but payments that we are never intended to be paid back. Never payin yea back since 1776. Not a bad motto. You have two choices ehh actually three yea I'll call it three choices. 1. Be smart enough to take advantage of the system and maybe live a "decent" life. 2. Work a low paying job maybe take some government money but always have money for McDonald's, booze and cigarettes. 3. Go out and make a change for youself. Run for congress and when you get on the floor make sure you let everyone know about the lies given out by every government ever in power. You may not last long or be showcased on CSPAN but at least you know the right thing has been done. This last is a little difficult but if you can pull it off. Two thumbs up from me and many other people. Capitalism is the most perfect system but not in the form the majority of people understand it in. Oil, agriculture, rail subsidies are not in the equation.
    30 Jul 2012, 03:32 AM Reply Like
  • hattila80
    , contributor
    Comments (8) | Send Message
     
    You could do something by yourself. If you don't like mc Donald's for example don't buy their stock. If you don't like what a company does don't buy them, or don't use their system.
    How many people complaint agains Monsanto for example and they would be surprised that they hold them in Their 401k through the index ETFs or mutual funds.
    19 Jun 2013, 11:40 AM Reply Like
  • hattila80
    , contributor
    Comments (8) | Send Message
     
    I think efficiency will destroy the current system. We do not use high efficiency in a good way, and efficiency inevitably going to further increase.
    19 Jun 2013, 11:33 AM Reply Like
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