Category Archives: Business

Minimum Wage

I was never cut out to be an economist. I took undergraduate economics in the early 1970s. When I took economics in graduate school in the late 1980s, many economic theories had swung 180 degrees. Up was down and down was up, but that’s not too surprising since they’re all theories, not facts.

One of the theories of economics is that as the economy improves, it helps everybody–“a rising tide raises all boats.” This would be great if true, but to this non-economist, it does not seem to be so. The current discussion of minimum wage is one such example. It’s complex, since people who work for minimum wage include entry level workers, such as high school students who have a part time, after-school job, as well as adults. When I pick something up at a fast food restaurant I usually see a number of adults. Although I can’t say that they are working at minimum wage, I doubt that they are at the median US income of $68,400.00. Median, as you recall, is a number that reflects the point where half of the population is above that number and half below.

Adults at minimum wage may include those without the skills for better employment. However, the pandemic has thrown so many people out of work that those with advanced education or skills may work at a minimum wage job since that is all that’s available.

Below is a chart of non-farm productivity. In the United States, the productivity of nonfarm workers is measured as the output of goods and services per hour worked. Labor productivity is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of hours worked of all persons, including employees, proprietors, and unpaid family workers.

United States Nonfarm Labour Productivity

Productivity has obviously increased significantly over the past 10 years, but productivity is measured as a percentage. To find out how much money this reflects, we can look at a different measure. Gross domestic product (GDP) is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period. (The following chart is in billions of dollars.)

Both charts reflect the same period of time and show an increase in both productivity and GDP, yet for the same period, minimum wage has remained at $7.25 per hour.

To this non-economist it appears that the rising tide missed at least one boat.

Texas Power Repercussions

The Texas electrical power outage can teach us a few lessons. First, the Texas “we don’t want the Federal Government involved” attitude does not interfere with Texas’ expectation for that same Federal Government to bail them out when things go south. In fairness, the emergency assistance is to help the regular folks. I’m sure that the rich and powerful have whole-house generators that automatically switch on when power from the grid is lost–they may not have even noticed.

However, he biggest lesson here is to be aware of the difference between us and the elites. It’s not just Ted Cruz’s Mexican vacation that differentiates the haves versus the have-nots.

If you or I were responsible for 30 deaths and millions of dollars in damages, we’d be held accountable. We’d face a variety of civil and criminal charges and possibly be sitting in jail, waiting for our court date. On the other hand, what is the fate of those who were responsible for the decisions that led to his debacle–the board of directors of the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)?

They resigned.

Wow! What severe consequences! What a sincere penance for them to undertake! Who needs sackcloth and ashes or self-flagellation when resigning your seat on the board of directors is such a major atonement.

So what are they giving up?

Boards tend to meet monthly (what an exhausting schedule!) and are primarily the venue for rich people to get together and chat with other rich people. The board meeting normally starts with a catered meal, often with an open bar, after which the directors sit around a big table and talk about grand ideas. There are lots of boring PowerPoint slides and equally boring handouts. When the oldest member of the board nods off,it’s the signal that the meeting needs to end..

I certainly hope they survive the experience.

Historic Lessons

Oldest Human Blood Cells Found in Prehistoric Caveman

Throughout history, mankind has advanced in knowledge and capabilities, which, when viewed in retrospect is seen a good thing. Overall, people view progress as better than stagnation.

People once relied on hunting and gathering to feed themselves, but this gave way to agriculture. With people staying in one place to farm, towns developed to provide a market and other services. Bartering was clumsy and inefficient, so money became the means of exchange.

Clubs were replaced by swords and spears made of bronze and then iron. Archers were no match for firearms. Trains were more efficient than horses for long distance travel; aircraft replaced trains. The telegraph replaced messengers and was, in turn replaced by radio and eventually the Internet.

While we say that the only constant is change, there is a second constant–resistance to change. At every major change, there were those who were so invested in the old ways that they unsuccessfully fought progress. The buggy whip makers, no doubt, were not huge fans of automobiles.

Today’s buggy whip makers include the fossil fuels industry. Coal was once the main fuel for generating electricity. Its smoke and soot were tolerated because there were no real alternatives. Already, some electrical power producers have found that switching to solar and wind power make economic sense and are reaping its benefits. Others are desperate to keep mining and using coal.

Progress is inevitable. We should have learned that year, if not centuries ago. We would do better to accept where the future is headed and adapt. We can choose to do so today or be forced to in the not-too-distant future.

Frustration.com

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been playing with computers since 1969. In those 50+ years, the technology grew fast. Given that I have not focused totally on computers, my understanding of them is less today than it was some years ago.

These days, I’m less concerned about the hardware and software, but totally befuddled by the content.

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Social media is totally out of control. News sites reports are almost as bad, even if (especially if?) they are accurately reporting what’s going on. There are claims and counterclaims, or are they hoaxes and counterhoaxes? In any cases, it’s painful.

I recently saw a news video with Rudy Giuliani. I swear that he was sitting next to Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

So I find myself trying to find something online that doesn’t make me twitch. So far, especially since I don’t follow sports, the only safe sites I’ve found are:

  • The National Weather Service
  • Wunderground (also weather)
  • Ebay
  • Amazon

I’m sure many other people who are staying home to avoid the pandemic are similarly affected. In fact, many people are probably Christmas shopping online.

Some of the people who are prominently featured in the current brouhaha are reported to dislike Amazon. I wonder if they realize how much Amazon is benefiting from the situation.

FUD

I spent almost a decade working for a major medical equipment manufacturer. that made and sold products like CT and MRI scanners. These came with price tags in the millions of dollars, so competition was fierce, and customers wanted to make the best possible decision as to the best product.

Our most significant competitor was General Electric whose products were very good. Picker International, the company I worked for, would often be the first to introduce new technology. We used to joke that sometimes that the leading edge was actually the “bleeding edge.” GE might have lagged behind, but by doing so, they were able to observe and then develop a competitive, yet more mature product.

One of the sales tactics we often faced was referred to as FUD–Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Competitors would ask customers if they were sure that the new technology would work. What if this or what if that? Our biggest competitor could end their sales pitch with the following statement:

No one ever got fired for buying GE.

The statement was true. However, I don’t know of any case in which someone got fired for buying a GE competitor. Nevertheless, this the argument carried a lot of weight and was difficult to counter because it is impossible to prove or disprove a negative.

FUD is a powerful persuader that is not dependent on specific, proven facts.

Now that you know what FUD is, look for it in today’s political rhetoric

Today’s Cartoons

New! Series 2 LOL Dolls! - YouTube

Image courtesy YouTube

I grew up with cartoons that were leftover from the 1940s. There was Popeye fighting Nazis, Woody Woodpecker, and, of course, Looney Toons with Chuck Jones art and Mel Blanc voices.

The newest we had were Hannah Barbera products–the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, etc. Television was only available during limited hours, ending with the playing of the National Anthem after the Tonight Show.

My granddaughters watch cartoons on cable. Cable cartoons are apparently like cable news (You get the picture). I can only watch about 30 seconds at a time, but as near as I can tell, they are all commercials all the time.

One they watched on their latest visit was LOL Dolls, which is apparently a Disney product. The entire program–based on the compilation of the aforementioned 30 second views–seemed to consist of hands opening up the various LOL products accompanied by manically enthusiastic girls’ voices.

My favorite (?!?) was the kitten character series, which come with various accessories, including a litter box. Children are expected to gleefully peel through simulated cat litter to find surprise toys that are hidden therein.

These cartoons are truly different than Popeye.

Aging

Clocks Challenge - The Winners by annewipf on DeviantArt

I don’t do hip-hop or whatever young people listen to today. If I tried, I’m sure I’d hurt something or maybe even cause some body part(s) to fall off. It would be embarrassing. That’s how Mother Nature ensures that old people will eventually give way to the younger ones. Like it or not, it’s the way it is. It has worked for eons and is not likely to change.

When I was young, I had fresh ideas because I had no clue as to what would work and what wouldn’t. However, as I gained grew older, bold thoughts were more difficult to come by because they were tempered by experience and reality. Today, bold ideas are not my job.

However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate someone else’s fresh new idea or root for their success. In some cases, I can help younger people with good ideas maneuver through the bureaucratic mishmash that reality throws in their way. I understand mishmashes, especially bureaucratic ones.  That’s where I can help.

The progression from old to new needs to be a collaborative hand-off, not an abrupt change. Outcomes must not be seen as a personal triumph, but instead as a step forward for all of us.

As the saying goes, it’s amazing what you can do if you aren’t concerned with who gets the credit.

Wrong Way COVID*

I had hoped that by now we’d be past the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic. I hoped that by now we could be back to normal. I’d hoped that my wife and I would be able to go out to eat or take a little trip. I’d hoped that going to the store would be a normal activity.

Alas, it was not to be.

As of today, there are 1,859,511 active COVID-19 cases in the United States and  we’ve had 140,702 deaths. Nevertheless, some people still insist that the pandemic is a hoax.

With more than 140 thousand deaths and many COVID-19 survivors facing life-long health problems due to COVID-19, I believe that it’s hardly a hoax. In fact, it scares the heck out of me.

The problem is that as cases climb, the load on hospitals will also climb. COVID-19 deaths have been lower lately because hospitals have had the capacity to treat coronavirus patients. Once hospital capacity is reached, deaths are expected to increase, quickly and significantly. I hope that I’m not one of those statistics.

When we speak of hospital capacity, it is important to remember that a one-thousand bed hospital is not able to take care of 1,000 COVID patients. COVID patients need intensive care during which they may be placed in isolation and/or on mechanical respirators. Respirators often require inducing a medical coma because people don’t like finding someone has stuffed a breathing tube down their throat. It’s best if they sleep through it.

So I shall wait. I will continue to avoid going out except for medical appointments. I will telework and attend church services via live video. I will continue to wash my hands about every thirty minutes. If I go past my mailbox, I will wear my face mask.

I will do these things, but I don’t have to like them.

*Apologies to Wrong Way Corrigan

 

Wharton School of Business

I believe education is important whether you are 19 or 91. Rats need to chew to keep their teeth from growing through their brain. People need to learn lest apathy and ignorance grow through their brains.

Certain educational institutions project a cachet that provides their students with a preconceived capability. The Harvard School of Business is a predominant example. I suggest you read Robert Townsend’s seminal book “Up the Organization” – the most recent updated version. It was originally written in the 1960s and while most concepts are still true, the sections on women in business and computers had to be revised. Over 50 years, that’s not too bad.

In any case, one of the paramount examples of business education excellence is the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. It’s highly regarded with such graduates as Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, etc., etc.

I had a boss in the 1980’s who graduated from Wharton. This was shortly after the junk bond fiasco. He would tell people that he was quite proud of the fact that, unlike may of his classmates, he had neither been prosecuted nor convicted.

Makes you think.

 

I Avoid Facebook

I’ve mentioned this before, but perhaps not in this detail.

I avoid Facebook. I have an account left over from years ago when I opened it to keep tabs what my kids were posting.

When I get friend requests, I’m sure many people feel I’m ignoring them. I’m not ignoring them. I’m ignoring Facebook.

Facebook allows anything anybody anywhere posts regardless of how much needless damage will be caused. Facebook is not responsible for erroneous, fake, or hateful posts by anonymous entities. I say entities because posters are not necessarily people–entities may be foreign agencies, spambots, or other human impersonators.

Why?

There is a law often referred to as Section 230. As I understand it, it says that internet interactive computer services, like Facebook, are not responsible for what gets posted. This law says that internet services are communications services, just like the telephone companies. Since no one controls what someone says on the telephone, Facebook and similar providers are not responsible for content. This is unlike newspapers, magazines, television, or radio.

So, the business model for Facebook is:

“Facebook has the right to collect massive amounts of monies from its advertisers without any limits. In exchange, Facebook has the obligation to collect massive amounts of monies from its advertisers without any limits.”

Don Vito Corleone would be green with envy.

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It Will Never Be a Movie

If the Coronavirus COVID-19 were a movie treatment, it probably never would get made. Look at the plot elements:

  1. A deadly disease begins in a faraway city known for both selling live exotic animals for food and for having a secret government lab.
  2. The disease is viral. Viruses, unlike bacteria, do not respond to antibiotics. Since a virus is not actually alive, it cannot be killed, only neutralized.
  3. The disease preferentially attacks the poor, minorities, the aged, females, and people with pre-existing medical problems.
  4. Some who are infected by the disease show no symptoms, but are carriers of the disease and can transmit it to others.
  5. Some of those infected exhibit flu-like symptoms, are misdiagnosed. The defining symptom, death, follows soon thereafter.
  6. Some adult patients show no obvious symptoms, except upon examination, it is discovered that their oxygen levels are dangerously low, which can lead to death.
  7. Children, at first were believed to be asymptomatic, later many develop a whole host of symptoms that are completely different from those experienced by adults.
  8. Politicians, faith healers, scammers, etc. seize the opportunity to amass wealth and/or power.
  9. Much of the protective equipment, drugs, and medical supplies needed to handle the disease are produced in the country from which the disease originated. Many US companies had moved manufacturing offshore to save money; there is insufficient manufacturing capacity in the US.
  10. Scientific experts advice is ignored while the Internet and other sources promote a variety of alleged cures, treatments, and religious talismans–none of which seem successful.
  11. There is insufficient capacity to test all suspected cases, so the number of people affected are likely under reported. Some cases are only diagnosed after death, when an autopsy is performed.
  12. State and local governments discourage people from engaging in activities that spread the disease, encourage the use of masks to protect others, and maintaining a six foot buffer between people.
  13. With workers unable to do their jobs, the economy suffers. People are laid off or lose their jobs.
  14. The number of confirmed cases in the US approaches 1.5 million confirmed cases, with nearly 90,000 deaths. These numbers only include patients who were tested or otherwise diagnosed.
  15. Some claim the disease is caused by a new cellular telephone system; others call it a hoax; still others see it as a conspiracy to restrict constitutional rights.
  16. Armed dissidents, encouraged by a variety of sources, protest the social distancing, stay-at-home orders at the state capitals, clustering in large groups, usually without masks.
  17. In the meantime, the country from which the disease arose and several of its allies launch cyberattacks on the US to steal medical secrets relating to healing or preventing the disease–and anything else they come across, once they get inside a computer.
  18. As US cases seem to slow their rate of growth, state and local governments relax social separation. People immediately return to pre-pandemic behaviors and the dissidents declare victory.

The screenplay ends here. The audience is left in limbo, unsure whether the disease is indeed winding down, or preparing for a second wave. Unsure as to the future of the economy.

As I said at the beginning, no studio would ever consider wasting time on a script for this scenario.

COVID-19 and the Future

There is a computer program that gives a real-time update on the Coronavirus, COVID-19 [LINK]. Today, I watched it roll up several hundred new deaths over a matter of hours.

It’s tough for a small business to have to worry about surviving during the pandemic. It’s tougher for a family that lives paycheck-to-paycheck to try to figure out what they’re going to do. It’s disgusting to see large corporations with cash on hand and cash in the bank grab the federal aid intended for small businesses.

Every single number that program showed today was an actual person–someone whose family is now grieving. These aren’t statistics–these are people. Unfortunately, they are now dead people.

Pandemics throughout history have had long-lasting effects, which are often overlooked. When large numbers of people die, those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder had to compete for workers. Kings made edicts that their subjects must work for the same salary as before, which was generally ignored. Workers chose jobs that paid better and the divide between the rich and common folks narrowed.

I don’t know what is going to happen after we get things back to normal, nobody does, but the new normal is going to be different.

 

A Wise Investment

The Palm Beach Post reports that Publix Grocery announced this week that it will purchase fresh produce and milk to help farmers who have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. The supermarket chain will donate these products to Feeding America member food banks operating in the communities they serve.

The initiative will support Florida produce farmers, southeastern dairy farmers and the growing number of families looking to Feeding America for fresh fruit, vegetables and milk during the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative is expected to run for several weeks.

“As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones.

While many businesses try to grab as much profit as possible in good times or in bad, Publix CEO Todd Jones makes wise investments.

Farmers who have to destroy food and dairy may lose enough money to force them out of business. Sending the food to food banks is right, just, and logical.

The farmers will likely see Publix as a partner rather than merely a customer. Likewise those who rely on the food Publix donates–many of whom have never had to do so before or again–will probably remember this in the future.

We’re stronger together than we are alone.

Hleath Caer

I spent many years in healthcare, as a technologist, as a manager, and even worked for a major medical equipment company, managing the techs who would demonstrate and teach radiologic technologists how to use the latest, greatest equipment.

I’m glad those days are over–especially my time in management. It was awful enough when hospitals established their own collection agencies–complete with a stable of lawyers, of course. Now, as clinicians try to help patients in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital administrations do not help. Instead, they throw up roadblocks.

In some hospitals, health care workers have been forbidden from wearing masks as protection in the hallways.

In at least one hospital, personal protective gear was at a premium, so nurses put up a GoFundMe site and purchased masks, surgical shoe coverings, etc. Rather than appreciating the lengths that the nurses would go to help their patients, one nurse was suspended for distributing the unauthorized products.

We could blame it on the stable of lawyers, but they don’t actually decide. They advise, lean heavily against the possibility of a mega-million dollar hospital experiencing a couple thousand dollar judgement. They do add to administrators’ hesitance about making decisions.

As a former Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with all kinds of letters after my name, here’s my suggestion.

  • If it helps the patients, do it. Combat doctors and medics save many lives doing what needs to be done, not what the book says.
  • If you are not actively involved in patient care, your job is to grease the skids for those who are.
  • If you, or the person most important to you–parent, spouse, child–were the patient, would you want care delayed or withheld because of such stupid reasons?

Oh, and maybe have the administrators, lawyers, etc. assist by having actual contact with patients. They may not be qualified to provide patient care, but they can transport patients, clean and stock rooms, etc. Every other healthcare worker has and probably is doing such tasks today. If administrator and their staff feel it is beneath them, then they are in the wrong business.

C’mon people.

 

 

HEADLINES!

The RMS Titanic and it's passengers | Just another ...

In newspapers, major event headlines were spread across the front page with large type. Day to day major-ish events had headlines in large–but not-so-large–type placed approximately mid-page to the right margin. Lesser events that either deserved front page coverage, or, on a slow news day were better than nothing, went to the left with (yawn) somewhat large type, but so what?

Notice the above. Major margin-to-margin headline, with sub-headlines for supporting stories below, on the right. The left? “Police Order Dorr’s Arrest.” I know the Titanic, but who the heck is Dorr? I Googled Dorr, but unless that Door was an attorney, I struck out.

So, to recap:
Across the Top=IMPORTANT.
Center to right side=Sort of, kind of important.
Left side=Not so much, but we want you to read it anyways.

However, now, in the marvelous 21st century, online news sites place their major stories on the left.

I guess we can claim that as progress.

Rules of Acquisition

The Ferengi appeared as aliens in several Star Trek iterations. They were the ultimate business people who frequently quoted from their 286 rules of acquisition. I’ve heard they were originally planned as the villains for Star Trek: The Next Generation, but came across as more silly than intimidating.

In my favorite interaction, one Frengi asks, “What if this becomes a war?” The other replies, “Rule 34.”

The first responds “Ahhh, war is good for business. But, but, what if it doesn’t lead to war?” The response is “Rule 35.”

“Ahhh, peace is good for business.”

Today there are real Ferengi; not as exotic looking, but every bit as greedy:

  • People pretending to be employees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are knocking on doors, wearing white lab coats, telling residents that they’re testing for COVID-19. Then they rob them.
  • A former White House advisor asked if people staying home to avoid the virus is worth the economic consequences.
  • Senators dumped stocks after being briefed on the coronavirus, but before that information was released to the general population.
  • All kinds of scammers are selling phony medications or religious talismans.

Oh, wait. Rule 14.  “Anything stolen is pure profit.”

Premeditated Twinkie Offenses

I have no inherent dislike or paranoia about guns. I served in a war zone and carried a weapon. I like to go to a range and plunk at targets.

However, there are those today who are purchasing guns to protect their “stuff” in the event of shortages. It’s disturbing to think that anyone would kill another person over a loaf of bread, a side of beef, or a twinkie.* Talk about premeditated murder.

Somewhere around 250-280 AD, there was a pandemic–probably smallpox. The Roman death rate was around 30 percent, but in areas with a Christian presence it dropped to 10 percent. Why? The Romans deserted their sick friends and relatives to avoid catching the disease. Christians, even knowing that they might catch the disease, cared for one another.

 

* These are probably the same people who physically fought their way through the crowd to grab 18 cases of toilet paper.

Sorry, I Don’t Believe in Reality

Well, actually I do, but there are apparently many others who do not. The coronavirus COVID 19 is the current pressing example. People are dying–why wouldn’t you believe in it?

Easy.

If someone has a radio talk show or a podcast that makes money for them, there’s more money in denying reality than accepting it.

KACHING!

As a human being, I am embarrassed. It may not be as profitable, but it is more human to help one another instead of leeching off others’ misfortune.

Form Follows Function – Sort of

There are huge misunderstandings about many of the marvels that inhabit our everyday lives. They were not invented for the purpose that we are led to believe. Instead, they are some kind of cruel joke imposed on us by–well someone, but I’m not sure who.

With all of the labor saving devices we buy, you’d think that we’d be spared from any and all household chores. Instead, we spend as much time washing, cleaning, vacuuming, and cooking as grandma and great grandma did. In fact, the workload has gone up so that it is now expected that both adults devote most their timer at home to the effort.

Each of the following are believed to be labor savings conveniences:

The microwave was invented to encourage people to purchase packaged foods loaded with salt, sugar, and fat.

The crockpot was designed to remove all flavor from food and give it the consistency of soggy cardboard.

Perhaps the most fun the engineers had was with the dishwasher. Although it does clean dishes and cookware, its original purpose was to repeatedly bruise shins.

Now that you know, take appropriate protective measures.

Medical Mayhem

One of the problems with medical issues is that scientists’ and physicians’ assessments must constantly be revised. As additional facts are uncovered, logical conclusions are changed. That is difficult for some people to accept.

For example, 1.2 + 1.2 when rounded is two. However, if additional research adds a mere .1 to the equation, the answer would be rounded up to three. This is how science works.

This is how reality works. This is how life works.

The view of the effects of coronavirus is changing as more data are available.  This is good. This is how the intellectual process works. This is a time for thought, not emotion.

Viruses are unaffected by opinions, polls, or politics. So too are suffering and death. It is by keeping an open mind, examining the facts, re-examining the facts, and focusing on facts that we can progress.