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Old 10-16-2011, 07:15 PM   #141
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The price of labor and capital are both subject to market forces, obviously there's no "right" price for either one aside from that. Any graphs looking strictly at US pay and productivity and not including worldwide figures is going to miss the point. US labor has been subject to increasing worldwide competition. Yes, US labor is still among the most productive in the world, but only when looked as "production per labor hour." The metric of more importance to businesses is "Production per labor cost" and the US has been slipping in that department relative to our competitors for quite some time (looking for graphs now).
I agree with that metric, but if we keep slipping on the labor cost side here in the US, the trend will reverse and forgein competition is going to be in trouble, and no one in the US will like how that feels.
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Old 10-16-2011, 07:23 PM   #142
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The price of labor and capital are both subject to market forces, obviously there's no "right" price for either one aside from that. Any graphs looking strictly at US pay and productivity and not including worldwide figures is going to miss the point. US labor has been subject to increasing worldwide competition. Yes, US labor is still among the most productive in the world, but only when looked as "production per labor hour." The metric of more importance to businesses is "Production per labor cost" and the US has been slipping in that department relative to our competitors for quite some time (looking for graphs now).
Here is some data: ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/suppl/prod4.prodsuppt02.txt

The table shows economic output per employed person for selected countries. While the US numbers have improved significantly (possibly due to technology and simply working longer hours), some other countries have shown much bigger increases and are now more productive than the US (e.g. Czech Republic, South Korea and Taiwan). A number of other countries have reached levels of productivity which are similar to the US (Japan etc). China and India are not in the table, but I would be amazed if productivity per employed person was not also rising sharply in those countries as well.

The table is a good illustration of the increasing global competition which developed nations such as the US and UK have experienced and will continue to experience.

Although the table does not address cost, adjusting for comparative GNP per person (or similar) would give a rough idea of the cost per unit of economic output. Given that most of the countries in the table have lower GNP per person numbers, the likely conclusion is that US economic cost of economic output is on the high side.
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Old 10-16-2011, 07:38 PM   #143
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The people who we borrowed the money from are roughly a billion folks in India and China, who 20 years ago were barely surviving on subsistence level agriculture. They have spent the last 10 year working very hard in factories, call centers etc. at wages that were much too low. But the wages were still high enough to allow these people a taste of western life, meat a few days week, store bought clothing, indoor plumbing, a bicycle, and a luxury item or two like cell phone, or iPod. The Chinese, India worker isn't going back to the farm.
And they can't - there simply aren't enough "jobs on the farm" to employ more than a very small fraction of the workers who have migrated to the cities in search of a better life (failing which just the means to support themselves) - a combination of productivity increases and population growth.

If the "middle class" is loosely defined as having the economic means to support yourself (and family where applicable) to a reasonable standard and have a meaningful amount of income left over for discretionary spending, then on a global basis the middle class is stronger than it has ever been - declines in developed nations like the US and Western Europe bing offset by the huge numbers joining from developing nations like China and India. Working out what these people want and how to provide it to them is increasingly important to consumer orientated companies. Unfortunately, manufacturing in places which have high production costs, high taxes and regulations which adversely impact competitiveness isn't the answer.
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Old 10-16-2011, 08:02 PM   #144
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I agree with that metric, but if we keep slipping on the labor cost side here in the US, the trend will reverse and forgein competition is going to be in trouble, and no one in the US will like how that feels.
It will be a looooong time before foreign labor rates (going up) meet US rates (going down). And when that happens, the good news is that US pay will stop falling. Of course, US labor rates won't need to fall to parity with foreign rates if other factors make it best for companies to produce items (and maybe put/keep their HQs) in the US. Things like capital costs, strength of contract law, safety/security, government stability, taxes, real estate prices, workforce quality, etc also play a role.
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Old 10-16-2011, 08:56 PM   #145
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I think this graph shows that productivity has indeed greatly improved over the past 30 years, but the income gains from that improvement have been captured by capital, not labor. If private sector workers want to find out who stole their cheese, the holders of capital would be a good place to look, not the public sector workers.

Edit to add: This is the most recent graph I could easily find. My feeling is that a more recent one would only show more of the same.
For 20 years (80 00) yes. If we look at the past 10 years we will see something different. Productivity increasing, little of it captured by capital (S&P is flat) and declining median wage. Total household wealth falling due to loss in housing worth. Yet the GDP is higher. Compensation and profits continue to grow but tax revenues are falling as a % of GDP.

Lack of reinvestment is probably the driving force. The benefits of productivity have been used to invest elsewhere, not in the US. This results in falling demand which leads to a labor surplus which drives down the cost of labor even more. Deficient internal demand and falling labor prices can become a self-sustaining economic trend, especially when burdened by debt.
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Old 10-16-2011, 10:03 PM   #146
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Lack of reinvestment is probably the driving force. The benefits of productivity have been used to invest elsewhere, not in the US. This results in falling demand which leads to a labor surplus which drives down the cost of labor even more. Deficient internal demand and falling labor prices can become a self-sustaining economic trend, especially when burdened by debt.
Most of the factories around me have closed and are outsourcing their production to China, or relocated to Mexico, and call centers are often out of the US.

Try to find a toy made in the USA in any large toy or department store. It is almost impossible to find a doll not made in China. People want to go to Wallyworld and buy a doll and a cart full of junk, rather than buy one quality item made in the USA. Same goes for clothes- go to any popular store and look at the tags. And cars. Our local dealerships all closed but we have a huge Kia dealer where the Ford and Chevy dealers once were. One of our friends was just laid off from a auto factory which is now making cars in Mexico from parts made in China. Same is true with help desks and call centers. I always ask where I am calling and they will tell you. India is a big one.

I don't know how to change this. I personally don't want to live in a house full of junk made in third world countries so rarely shop. But when I pass all the big box stores on the way to the YMCA the parking lots are full.

What the general trend is we all want good wages for ourselves but don't want to pay someone for goods produced by someone earning a living wage and getting good benefits.


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Old 10-16-2011, 10:27 PM   #147
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What the general trend is we all want good wages for ourselves but don't want to pay someone for goods produced by someone earning a living wage and getting good benefits.
Most of those workers in China, India, Vietnam, etc are earning more money than their parents ever dreamed of earning. They are earning a living wage and geting good benefits--on a relative basis. The working conditions and pay are not up to US standards, but these folks are happy to have these opportunities. Working conditions used to be terrible in Taiwan and South Korea, now they are much better. China and India will follow suit. It's a huge success story when viewed from a worldwide perspective.
Those Kias being sold near you? Many are made in West Point, Georgia--USA.
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Old 10-17-2011, 12:01 AM   #148
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Most of those workers in China, India, Vietnam, etc are earning more money than their parents ever dreamed of earning. They are earning a living wage and geting good benefits--on a relative basis. The working conditions and pay are not up to US standards, but these folks are happy to have these opportunities. Working conditions used to be terrible in Taiwan and South Korea, now they are much better. China and India will follow suit. It's a huge success story when viewed from a worldwide perspective.
Those Kias being sold near you? Many are made in West Point, Georgia--USA.
you are so correct about the workers in China etc. but how does that help the American worker and the fact they are seeing their pension slip through their fingers? In case you did not notice Social Security and Medicare are on the chopping block. What we always though we were going to get is vaporizing. For those who have state pensions I wish that you will receive what you thought you would.

And those jobs in Georgia. Fantastic for those that were able to land one.

Kia Plant Provides Jobs In Georgia : NPR
"Wages for Kia workers range from $15 to $21 an hour"

It would have been extremely difficult for us to educate our children, pay off our mortgage and have the level of financial independence we have on that salary.
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Old 10-17-2011, 07:55 AM   #149
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After working over 20 years, putting in many extra hours, and CONTRIBUTING 6% OF MY OWN SALARY to my pension, I don't think the 30% pension I will be getting is excessive.
Look at it from the perspective of someone WITHOUT a pension. What percentage of their own income would they have to save and invest in order to get a comparable benefit (an income stream equal to 30% of their final salary, indexed to inflation, guaranteed for life)?

If the answer is "6%," then you're right, and such a pension is not excessive at all. If it's "a little more than 6%," then it gets a little more debateable, but still hardly what any reasonable person would call "excessive."

The truth, of course, is that the regular person would in fact have to save far, far more than 6%. If a regular Joe enjoyed the same salary as a worker with the pension you describe, and saved 6% of his salary in retirement accounts that earned an average of 8% return, plus got regular 3.5% annual salary increases, then at a standard 4% SWR, the resulting nest egg would replace less than 10% of his final salary (and be empty after 30 years, compared to your "guaranteed for life" pension).

So I think a case can be made that a lifetime guaranteed benefit that replaces 30% while costing only 6% contributions is indeed excessive, and far more generous than the vast majority of working Joes can expect to enjoy in retirement.
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Old 10-17-2011, 07:57 AM   #150
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you are so correct about the workers in China etc. but how does that help the American worker and the fact they are seeing their pension slip through their fingers?
And how does looking back at the golden years help those people who are now losing their pensions? We can wring our hands about it, but those days (of a US HS grad regularly pulling down a paycheck big enough to keep a family in the middle class) are gone.
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Kia Plant Provides Jobs In Georgia : NPR
"Wages for Kia workers range from $15 to $21 an hour"
The very next line from that report:
Quote:
And there are plenty of people who want the jobs, says Kia executive Randy Jackson.
That tells me they are paying enough, and certainly all they are going to pay.

The world changed--back to the way it has always been.
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Old 10-17-2011, 08:38 AM   #151
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And how does looking back at the golden years help those people who are now losing their pensions? We can wring our hands about it, but those days (of a US HS grad regularly pulling down a paycheck big enough to keep a family in the middle class) are gone.

The very next line from that report:

That tells me they are paying enough, and certainly all they are going to pay.

The world changed--back to the way it has always been.
You know, I think you are right. But that doesn't mean a lot of people are going to go down without kicking and screaming all the way. Especially looking at years of paying into social security and Medicare and feeling like you aren't going to get anything back, and of paying taxes to support retirees. I think that is a lot of the occupy wall street stuff.
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Old 10-17-2011, 12:14 PM   #152
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You know, I think you are right. But that doesn't mean a lot of people are going to go down without kicking and screaming all the way. Especially looking at years of paying into social security and Medicare and feeling like you aren't going to get anything back, and of paying taxes to support retirees. I think that is a lot of the occupy wall street stuff.
They can kick and scream all they want, but a lot of people are still going to go down. The 20th century social anomaly of a well-off middle class that outnumbers the poor is drawing to an end, as we revert to the historical normal of a pyramid-shaped social pattern with a small, wealthy nobility maintaining control over a large base of the peasantry.



A few adjustments remain to be made before we can properly reestablish the traditional multigenerational oligarchies and in particular, primogeniture as a way to maintain and concentrate power. The various proposals that eliminate estate taxes will be most useful in this regard.
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Old 10-17-2011, 01:23 PM   #153
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...the traditional multigenerational oligarchies...
Hey, those are the job creators...
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Old 10-17-2011, 01:46 PM   #154
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Every time we have a good spirited discussion on public sector pensions I ask:

So, should I continue to work my public sector job?

One of the main reasons I do so is for the pension, and that appears to be on the hit list. Pay freezes past the current 2011-2012 pay freeze are also on the hit list.

News Articles: House Oversight Committee Recommends Extending Pay Freeze for 3 More Years

News Articles: Federal Employees 'Must Sacrifice:' Third Year of Pay Freeze Proposed

I have to maintain a spotless credit report, spotless criminal history, 100% drug free, etc.

I've always wondered what % of people could qualify for the required background checks for a security clearance/records check.

I'd guess my pay is a bit low, but job stability makes up for it a bit (along with the pension).

So, how do I evaluate the job given the pension issue?
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Old 10-17-2011, 03:10 PM   #155
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Look at it from the perspective of someone WITHOUT a pension. What percentage of their own income would they have to save and invest in order to get a comparable benefit (an income stream equal to 30% of their final salary, indexed to inflation, guaranteed for life)?

If the answer is "6%," then you're right, and such a pension is not excessive at all. If it's "a little more than 6%," then it gets a little more debateable, but still hardly what any reasonable person would call "excessive."

The truth, of course, is that the regular person would in fact have to save far, far more than 6%. If a regular Joe enjoyed the same salary as a worker with the pension you describe, and saved 6% of his salary in retirement accounts that earned an average of 8% return, plus got regular 3.5% annual salary increases, then at a standard 4% SWR, the resulting nest egg would replace less than 10% of his final salary (and be empty after 30 years, compared to your "guaranteed for life" pension).

So I think a case can be made that a lifetime guaranteed benefit that replaces 30% while costing only 6% contributions is indeed excessive, and far more generous than the vast majority of working Joes can expect to enjoy in retirement.
Yeah, but look at it from a different angle altogether. Let's say its a white collar government worker who's in a comparable position to the white collar "working Joes" on the other side of the employment tracks. That white collar government worker in many cases has vastly greater responsibilities than his private sector counterpart and might be paid significantly lower in wages than his private sector counterpart; in fact, other than job satisfaction, the only thing that anchors him to his government job is that gold-plated pension plan, health benefits and some job security that he has essentially traded against much higher pay and less security in the private sector. It's a trade that many make only after an investment of 15-20 years of service. For some, the white collar government worker cannot tap into social security benefits (even when based on his or her spouses own earnings) or his social security benefits are sharply lower than his private sector counterpart, even if he has made equivalent contributions to social security.

If you look at blue collar working Joes (aside from notorious incidents of pension padding like "spiking"), there are many positions which do not have private sector comparable positions like law enforcement or government security positions. I think even there the pay is low and the pension plan is what holds many workers tied to the job.

I simply think it grossly oversimplifies things to take a sliver of one item in the compensation package, namely the pension plan, and say that the plan is excessive but not take into account other compensation or working condition features of government service. It would be like me saying that Veteran's health and retirement benefits are excessive by just looking solely at these benefits without appreciating the service and recognition that these benefits are intended to reward and compensate.

What I find interesting about some of these discussions, where some of it went a bit off-topic with bringing in the union bogeyman and workforce productivity red-herrings, is that at bottom, in my humble opinion, the argument against public pensions appears to be grounded in a sense that the public servant is unfairly compensated by having a generous pension. Thanks for this post to bring us back to reality.
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Old 10-17-2011, 03:10 PM   #156
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I said above that in Hawaii, the unions were well aware of the government's raiding the pension funds, and I referred to the lawsuit of 2002 which sought (vainly) to prevent that from continuing.
After doing some more background reading about "skimming" the Hawaii state retirement fund, I find I need to amend what I said by deleting that parenthetical "(vainly)". Actually, the lawsuit succeeded in its purpose of preventing the Hawaii legislature "skimming", which here refers to allowing government employers to contribute less to the state pension fund than had been determined to be required for full funding. I thought the lawsuit (which I linked two news stories about) had failed after reading George Berish's account, because the lawsuit had been dismissed by the Hawaii Supreme Court. However, it was only dismissed after the Hawaii legislature pledged to cease this practice of "skimming", when the Court, in light of the pledge, ruled that the issue had been mooted. See the letter here, Honolulu Civil Beat - Chairman of ERS Board Responds to Civil Beat Series on Public Pensions - Post, from Colbert Matsumoto.
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Old 10-17-2011, 04:41 PM   #157
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Originally Posted by Bimmerbill View Post
Every time we have a good spirited discussion on public sector pensions I ask:

So, should I continue to work my public sector job?

One of the main reasons I do so is for the pension, and that appears to be on the hit list. Pay freezes past the current 2011-2012 pay freeze are also on the hit list.

News Articles: House Oversight Committee Recommends Extending Pay Freeze for 3 More Years

News Articles: Federal Employees 'Must Sacrifice:' Third Year of Pay Freeze Proposed

I have to maintain a spotless credit report, spotless criminal history, 100% drug free, etc.

I've always wondered what % of people could qualify for the required background checks for a security clearance/records check.

I'd guess my pay is a bit low, but job stability makes up for it a bit (along with the pension).

So, how do I evaluate the job given the pension issue?
It sounds a bit like you're in a rut regarding your job Bimmerbill. Everyone, including public sector employees, should be evaluating their current job, and its outlook, vs alternative opportunities. If you determine you're underpaid compared to your other opportunities or if you feel the demands of the job are too extensive (or whatever negative) for the rewards you receive, it's time to move on. The fact that you're compensated from taxpayer dollars rather than consumer dollars is irrelevant.

These situations are always tough. My son went through a similar scenario 4 years ago and wound up accepting a new position with another company despite having spent 10 years with the MegaCorp that hired him right out of school. I spent many hours listening to him and trying to help him sort it out, but without interfering or making any recommendation.

These are the way things are today. Working for the same employer, or being in the same business if self-employed, for a working lifetime is becoming somewhat rare. So, look at your situation and your best estimate of its future and evaluate that against your other opportunities. Only you can decide.

Good luck. These are tough decisions with many pros and cons to evaluate and I don't envy you. But whatever you decide, take responsibility for your decision and either stay because that is your choice or take another path because that is your choice.
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Old 10-17-2011, 06:58 PM   #158
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Look at it from the perspective of someone WITHOUT a pension. What percentage of their own income would they have to save and invest in order to get a comparable benefit (an income stream equal to 30% of their final salary, indexed to inflation, guaranteed for life)?

If the answer is "6%," then you're right, and such a pension is not excessive at all. If it's "a little more than 6%," then it gets a little more debateable, but still hardly what any reasonable person would call "excessive."

The truth, of course, is that the regular person would in fact have to save far, far more than 6%. If a regular Joe enjoyed the same salary as a worker with the pension you describe, and saved 6% of his salary in retirement accounts that earned an average of 8% return, plus got regular 3.5% annual salary increases, then at a standard 4% SWR, the resulting nest egg would replace less than 10% of his final salary (and be empty after 30 years, compared to your "guaranteed for life" pension).

So I think a case can be made that a lifetime guaranteed benefit that replaces 30% while costing only 6% contributions is indeed excessive, and far more generous than the vast majority of working Joes can expect to enjoy in retirement.
While I agree with this approach to assessing whether a DB pension is reasonable or excessive in general, the fact that many DC plans also provide some form of employer matching contribution (full or partial) should also be taken into account.
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Old 10-17-2011, 07:14 PM   #159
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They can kick and scream all they want, but a lot of people are still going to go down. The 20th century social anomaly of a well-off middle class that outnumbers the poor is drawing to an end, as we revert to the historical normal of a pyramid-shaped social pattern with a small, wealthy nobility maintaining control over a large base of the peasantry.



A few adjustments remain to be made before we can properly reestablish the traditional multigenerational oligarchies and in particular, primogeniture as a way to maintain and concentrate power. The various proposals that eliminate estate taxes will be most useful in this regard.
A very interesting post, even if I had to look up some of the words. This thread has a lot of good thoughts and ideas.
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Old 10-17-2011, 07:50 PM   #160
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That white collar government worker in many cases [...] might be paid significantly lower in wages than his private sector counterpart;
The "lower wage" argument has certainly always been the old standby defense of the public sector worker, but I don't think it holds true any longer. In my experience, for the past decade or so, private sector wages have completely stagnated, while the public sector workers have continued to enjoy their guaranteed 2-3% annual wage increases that their unions strong-armed out of their government employers.

I think a credible case could be made that today's public sector worker actually earns more than his private-sector counterpart, even before considering the gold-plated pension that comes with it.
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