Maker, Taker, Patriot.

Wall Street Journal senior economist Stephen Moore recently wrote a column about “takers and makers“, revealing that “More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined.

Twice as many people (22.5 million) work in government than in manufacturing (11.5 milion).

Upon hearing this, many will launch into their political persuasion’s talking points (regardless of leanings). But it isn’t that simple.

It’s not the 60s anymore

In 1960, about 8.7 million people were government employees. In 51 years, that number has almost tripled. I don’t have a breakdown of the increase in front of me, but a 300% increase is large no matter how you look at it.

Moore derisively calls these 22.5 million “bureaucrats”, which to me coveys the image of the corrupt Daley regime in Chicago or an uncaring, inefficient Department of Motor Vehicles (not what you get in Kalispell’s blue building).

Based on the comments I hear, most don’t view rank and file firefighters, police officers, teachers, train conductors, military personnel and the like as bureaucrats.

In one example, Moore mentions the doubled public school employment between 1970 and 2005, referencing a University of Washington study, as an example of government inefficiency given that standardized test scores haven’t doubled in that time.

Electric shock and cages

In the 1960s, students with Down’s Syndrome, mental deficiencies, autism or physical challenges were treated as second class citizens. Today, they learn as a part of mainstream student populations, just as employers do. Doing this requires increased staff. Some kids have a single staff member dedicated to them. Today we teach topics in school that didn’t exist in 1960, like computers, robotics and computer-aided design (CAD).

I don’t think anyone, with the possible exception of the current Montana Legislature, would wish for a return to the 1960s. Yes, that was sarcasm. Mostly.

If you look at the manufacturing and industrial changes since the 60s, it’s hard not to see the migration of the steel, textile and heavy industries overseas as having a significant impact on employment numbers.

While government numbers have gone up markedly, Moore didn’t address the disappearance of manufacturing and industrial jobs during that same period.

The falloff of employment in those industries didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Blame the third world

The industrial revolution in the U.S. transformed business: Steam, electricity, internal combustion.

In the last 20-30 years, it happened again; fueled by computers, industrial automation and the rise of the third world.

While these changes were decimating U.S. presence in industries like heavy equipment, steel and textiles manufacturing, we retain a reticence to pay anything above 1960s prices for commodities like steel, lumber and textiles.

We kept prices down and competed with cheap overseas labor through industrial automation and computers, but that cost jobs. When someone is laid off from a foundry job, where do they go?

If someone laid off after two decades in one of these industries has an opportunity to share their skills with young people looking to learn a trade, and in doing so, keeps their family off of taxpayer-funded public assistance – are they a maker, a taker or a bureaucrat?

If in that 20 years they didn’t take the initiative (on their personal time) to remain employable by learning a new skill (welding, software, repairing industrial robots, etc), who’s responsible?

Meanwhile…

Industrial automation is replacing cheap third world labor with labor that’s even cheaper. China supplants India, who “stole” the work from US workers. Advances in automation allow us to keep prices low and allow our businesses to avoid paying modern wages for dangerous work now done by machines, but they also eliminate third-world jobs here in the states.

Are those jobs we want? That laid off industrial worker who now teaches…do we *want* them teaching a 1960s or 1970s skill in a 2011 economy?

Businesses of all sizes outsource work because it’s not efficient to keep people on staff to do that work. Business is then more flexible and the jobs we keep are usually more secure, but low-value employment is hammered by it. Is that good or bad?

Nothing is as simple as the politicos and power hungry want you to think.

Want to be patriotic? Invest in yourself, make something that people want/need, and create your own future.

The New Math aka Economics 101

A friend told me recently that his family filed a homeowner’s insurance claim for slightly under $600.

After filing no claims in over 20 years of keeping their insurance with this company, this was the 3rd claim in 5 years.

During that 5 years, their annual insurance rate went from $1300 a year to $4000.

After the 3rd claim was paid, their insurance was cancelled without warning.

Do the math

Somewhere, a bad piece of software or a misguided underwriter just killed a 20+ year customer relationship.

That aside, let’s do the math.

Even if a family had no other insurance with this agent/company (highly unusual, I suspect), they’ve been worth well over $20,000 to this insurance company.

In this case, ALL their insurance is at that company. Think they’ll move it? If they fired this customer over a $600 claim against a $4000 per year policy, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the family move their coverage elsewhere. All of it.

At $4000 a year, the recent claim is nothing.

Yet because they didn’t really look at the math the right way, they just discarded a customer with 20 years of loyalty over $600.

If this family keeps their home another ten years, that’s a loss of $40,000 in premium revenue, not counting the other insurance policies they have.

Who does the math at *your* business?

Are you throwing away thousands of dollars by not paying attention to the Lifetime Customer Value generated by recurring revenue?

Please do the math.

 

 

Update: Transparent Economics

Here’s some suggested reading in a follow up to my post “Transparent Economics“:

A NY Times article about steps airlines are taking to make planes more efficient. Smart stuff. Kudos to them for looking at everything, but not just cutting for the sake of cutting.

Quoting from the article:

â??Our fleet is over 500 airplanes,â? said Beth Harbin, a Southwest spokeswoman. â??If you can make a difference on one airplane on one flight, and multiply that by 500, in this day and age that is significant.”

These are the same kinds of steps you should be taking as well. Looking at everything strategically, not just going after things with a machete.

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