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Author: Briggs

February 7, 2009 | 11 Comments

Some good economic news!

The employment rate is plunging faster than a hundred kilogram bolide entering the atmosphere at a normal angle to the plane surface of the Earth [thank 49er!].

Manufacturing is down over a million, with Construction close behind. Plain Business and and Retail are close behind, each losing hundreds of thousands. Even the Hospitality sector lost over a quarter million slots.

But, lo!, do not despair! For there is at least one area that has seen an increase in the number of jobs.

That area? Government.

According to the Labor Department, the Drain To Our Wallets Sector increased the number of luke-warm bodies it employs by about 170,000 since December.

Problem with that number, and all the numbers the Labor Department issues, is that they are “seasonally adjusted.” Which means that the numbers aren’t real numbers, they are outputs from some statistical model. We don’t know what the actual numbers are.

What happens is that unemployment usually decreases in the first part of the year, due to things like retail letting go of the temporary workers it hired for the Federally-Recognized Holiday of December 25th rush, etc. The opposite is also true: employment grows in the weeks leading up to December.

The Labor Department, and economists elsewhere, don’t like to see these dips and doodles and so they apply a statistical filter that brings the unemployment rate up when it usually goes down, and down in when it usually goes up.

These are weird statistical models. They take as input the real numbers and spit out not-real numbers. Economists worry people won’t understand the natural up- and down-swings in unemployment and so massage the real numbers to make them less variable, and, presumably, more calming.

Anyway, the real number of bodies tossed onto the street is different than the numbers you read in the press. I don’t know by how much. Just something to keep in mind.

Point is, it’s not all doom and gloom out there. The government is growing, and that must be a good thing, right?

February 5, 2009 | 17 Comments

I should be happier

According to CareerCast.com and the Wall Street Journal, I should be one happy guy. This is because Career Cast has done a “study” to rate the best jobs, and mine is right up there.

Number 1? Mathematician. Which is partly me. Number 2 is actuary, which is barely different than number 3, statistician, which is me all over. But we also have 12 (philosopher), 13 (physicist), and 15 (meteorologist), which are various flavors of me.

Six out of the top fifteen ought to see me skipping down the street each day (if I didn’t worry about slipping on the ice), smelling the flowers (if there were any in this deep freeze), smiling at children (who dangerously crowd the sidewalk), and whistling happy tunes (I worry my lips would freeze together).

Yet I am less than sanguine.

Maybe it is because I don’t completely trust the “study.” After all, job number 14 is “parole officer”, which, if Career Cast is right, is better than being a weatherman. Sitting on your wallet hoping your “client” doesn’t find out where you live is better than explaining vorticity to somebody?

How did they come up with these numbers anyway? Well, being in the top three is supposed to guarantee a job “indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise.” Obviously, these people have never been to a hospital before, where I work. The scents emanating from the public toilet outside our ED are so obnoxious they are actually visible.

The last job in the list, number 200, is Lumberjack. What boy, or man remembering being a boy, doesn’t want to be a lumberjack? Career Cast cares about safety. They worry you might stub your toe tripping over a log. I’d care about dropping enormous trees with pinpoint precision with just a chainsaw and then heading to the bar for a cold one. Or two.

Number 199 is Dairy Farmer. True, you’re going to see a lot of cow shit, but it’s beats the stuff they continuously shovel at job number 10, Accountant.

Some others in the bottom twenty: Seaman, Roofer, Welder, Auto Mechanic, Butcher, Fireman, Garbage Collector.

For the last eleven years I have seen the same two guys drive their garbage truck down my street. They are always chatting and appear happy. They are outside and not hunched in front of a computer. There’s very little stress. They get good pay and benefits and first dibs at any choice garbage1. They don’t need to shell out cash for a gym membership to “exercise”, which is better defined as work that you pay for. In every parade I’ve ever been to, it’s the garbage men following after the horses that get the biggest applause.

Butcher? Free meat and access to sausage of every type, being covered with blood in a manly way, and flirting with housewives. Auto Mechanic? The satisfaction of fixing something with your hands, the chance of custom jobs, the relish of being needed. Fireman? The benefits are too plain to mention.

All the jobs at the bottom are those that scored low on Career Cast’s “Physical demands (crawling, stooping bending, etc.)” index. Somehow, these keyboard punchers decided that these were negatives instead of the positives they truly are. It’s easy to imagine the folks over there have never gotten their hands dirty and view the prospect with horror.

For me, I’d rather be a Construction Worker like my dad (number 190) than a Medical Lab Technician (number 16) any day.

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1I think I stole this line from Mike Royko.

February 4, 2009 | 21 Comments

Obama’s salary cap seem like a good idea to you?

The Law of Unintended Consequences is set to strike again.

Obama et al. want to cap salaries at $500,000 at those companies that receive government “bailout” money. Why, the argument goes, should executives enrich themselves with government funds?

There is some moral force behind this position. Executives at failing companies should certainly not be rewarded for failing. We have all heard stories of CEOs who negotiate themselves ridiculous golden parachutes, which they receive regardless of company performance. The board members who allow such folly are idiots.

Undoubtedly, it is the bidding war for executive talent—the irrational fear that only this person can run the company—that partly leads to bloated compensation packages. Greed of board members who expect the same will be done for them when it’s their turn also contributes.

Some would like to go farther and cap salaries at every public company. This fits in with their idea of fairness. Limiting salaries for the Big Boys and Girls makes them more like us, they say.

Very well. Limit their salaries if you must. You will feel better, at least for a week or two. Until the government looks into its tax coffers and sees a sudden, and immense, drop in revenue.

This is because the top 1% richest people in the country pay about 40% of all taxes. Those 1% include the people receiving the “unfair” salaries. Take away their money and you necessarily take away their ability to pay taxes.

And since nobody will allow a reduction in services, that means the government must look elsewhere to pay itself. That must mean it will look to you. Your taxes will increase.

To be sure, there will be a host of other unintended consequences—the firms that sell or cater ro rich people will see a diminution in income and therefore employees, for example—but an immediate development is that you will have less money. Take from the rich, take also from the middle class, take also from you.

While it is true that some companies have grossly overpaid their executives, it is also the case that these companies, barring government intervention, will fail or do poorly or do worse than companies that pay their leaders rational salaries. Those competitors will succeed and the others will fail. If left alone.

If not left alone, if the government is allowed to meddle by, say, offering failing companies money just because they are failing, then it follows the government can set the terms of its gift. And if the companies agree, then the government has set itself up to increase its authority later, by increasing taxes and thus its control.

This is happening in New York City right now. Many people are thrilled with the idea that Wall Street bonuses have headed south. “Ha!” is the most common emotion. The rich have been screwed and isn’t that nice.

So nice that the mayor has been forced to cut its budget by more than a billion dollars, which is good. But the mayor has also proposed a host of new tax increases, including upping the sales tax which, needless to say, is a bigger bite for poorer people. See, those bonuses accounted for a large chunk of tax revenues, monies which now have to be made up elsewhere.

Thus, while the rich have become less rich, so will the rest of us, but at a faster rate. Perversely, wealth disparity might actually increase.

Let’s end with a cliche: be careful what you wish for.

February 3, 2009 | 5 Comments

Evidence the world isn’t completely going to hell

It isn’t all bad out there. There’s even grounds that the corporate sense of humor has returned, given that I saw Borders stack Anna Quindlen in its “Literature” section.

More importantly we have this fine young man, sent in by long-time reader David C. as a means of demonstrating that there is Hope For America.
A fine young man
At a glance we can see that this is a highly intelligent, undoubtedly perceptive, and uncommonly contemplative person. It is a sure bet that he is kind to animals, doesn’t smoke, eats properly, and loves his mother.

You might have missed just why this young man is so special, so I blew up a section of the picture for closer examination:
A fine new book

The book he is reading tells the whole story, doesn’t it?