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OpenMarket: Labor and Employment

  • $1 a Year Man

    August 7, 2007 8:54 AM

    Chrsysler, has hired former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli to run the now-private, once-again-American-owned automaker. Nardelli, of course, did a good job at Home Depot but left after six years when its stock price started to sink. At Chrysler, it's reported, he's getting what I think corporate boards should make the base salary for the CEOs of almost all public companies: $1 plus potential enormous bonuses if the company does well. Chrysler may have the least certain future of any really large American company and the fact that it can get a top-quality CEO on this basis shows that other companies can do the same.

    Unlike John, I do think that CEO pay is something of a scandal. (Although I really don't have any quarrel with John's particular arguments and agree that pay levels in private companies have no place in the public policy realm.)

    CEOs who produce profits, growth, and shareholder value deserve huge rewards. But I think that well-run boards should do everything they can to tie CEO pay directly to performance. Far too many boards seem content to let CEOs "harvest" market position and destroy shareholder value: $1 a year jobs should make that easier.

  • At Last, Competition for Amtrak?

    July 31, 2007 2:08 PM

    A small upstart company run by a Colorado multi-millionaire, GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, appears to have broken a major barrier and started providing scheduled, competitive rail service in the United States. While the company also provides "land cruises," (that emphasize sightseeing by train) it also has a few services that would be useful for people looking to go from point a to point b. Although I have no idea if it has a viable business model, its existence seems to show that the death of government-run Amtrak won't mean an end for long-distance rail service in the U.S.

    A handful of tourist-oriented heritage railroads and at least one other "land cruise" company still operate in the U.S. but, for about 35 years, only Amtrak has provided scheduled point-to-point inter-city service over significant distances. Amtrak also operates most of the commuter railroads in the country under contract and will even provide the locomotives for GrandLuxe.

    This new company seems to be providing a high-end product at an appealing price: a little checking around shows that its Washington, D.C.-Miami fares are lower than the best business-class fares I could find. It's a niche market with limited client base to be sure but, of course, so are Amtrak's own inter-city trains.

    Maybe the market doesn't exist for this kind of travel. It's a lot slower than flying however one chooses to look at it. But at least one entrepreneur appears willing to see if there's a market niche where Amtrak has failed.

  • They Can Have My Maserati When They Pry My Cold, Dead Hands off the Steering Wheel

    July 12, 2007 11:12 AM

    Bloomberg's Doron Levin presents a sad vision of Europe's future - one in which high-performance sports cars are a thing of the past:

    If one of the more extreme responses to global warming comes true, driving a sports car anywhere but on a racetrack might be relegated to history's dustbin.

    Fast, powerful cars within a few years may be outlawed in Europe, an idea that has been raised ostensibly because Ferraris and Porsches produce too much carbon dioxide. For those who abhor sports cars as vulgar symbols of affluence (along with vacation homes, furs and fancy jewelry), such a ban could be a two-fer: Saving the planet while cutting economic inequality.

    Bugatti Veyron
    The Bugatti Veyron: Soon to Be a 1001hp Exile?

    What a surprise: the real impetus is an emotional reaction of the affluence of others. This appears to be part of an attempt to bring back all of the institutions of Medieval times. We already have a flourishing market for carbon indulgences, why not sumptuary laws as well?

  • Cell Phones and Driving

    June 15, 2007 2:45 PM

    Interesting new study from James E. Prieger of Pepperdine University and Bob Hahn at the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, looking at the relationship between mobile phone use while driving and accidents. It appears that "drivers who use mobile phones while driving may be more likely to get into accidents than drivers who do not, even when they are not using the phone." How's that again? Evidence suggests that people who use hand-held mobile phones while driving tend to be less careful drivers compared with those who use hands-free mobile devices, suggesting that use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving is just a proxy for more generalized bad driving. According to the authors, their results "call into question previous cost-benefit analyses of bans on mobile phone usage while driving, which typically assume that such bans will have a salutary effect."

  • Are European Roads Safer Than America's?

    June 12, 2007 2:54 PM

    Marlo was just on an interview on CNBC where a question was asked about road accident rates. A Greenpeace spokesman said that European roads were much safer than America's, demonstrating that you can have a vehicle fleet of smaller sizes without compromising safety. Marlo admitted that he had no idea of road accident rates.

    Marlo's answer was much more honest than our friend from Greenpeace's. According to the figures from the International Road Traffic Accident Database, there are indeed many more accidents per head here, but there is virtually no difference per vehicle kilometers traveled:

    Country/Accidents per 100,000/Accidents per million VKMT/killed per billion VKMT

    Austria 497/0.50/9.3
    Belgium 472/0.52/11.5
    France 140/0.15/9.6
    Germany 408/0.49/7.8
    UK 340/0.40/6.4
    Netherlands 166/0.24/7.7
    USA 647/0.46/9.4

    The difference in accidents per head is almost certainly down to how many people drive and how much they drive. A country that drives more kilometers per driver will, all other things being equal, have more accidents per head of population.

    France's figures clearly suggest significant underreporting of non-fatal accidents. Either that or an accident is much more likely to be fatal.

  • Of Gas Prices and Carbon Taxes

    May 21, 2007 9:13 AM

    Iain, I found your post on how higher gas prices have reduced travel very interesting. In the short term, what you present is a good first guess and it tells us what would happen in the first year of a carbon tax. But I think there's another level worth looking at.

    Some percentage of auto travel -- commutes to work for example -- is difficult to change in the economic short run (the period before changes can be made in land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurial ability/smarts). It seems to me that changing any of these factors (getting to the long run, in other words), will take quite a while when it comes to automobile travel. It takes over 25 years -- longer in desert areas -- to turn over the nation's vehicle fleet. It also takes significant time to change land use patterns, create new transit networks, deploy new, more efficient technology, and make telecommuting more common. Thus, it seems possible to me that the relationship between gas prices over a long period and travel may differ significantly from what we've observed in to date. This may suggest very different long-run values, in either direction, for the relationship between gas prices and travel/emissions. This, in turn, suggests different values, in either direction, for the size of a carbon tax needed to reduce emissions. Any thoughts?

  • Mises on Immigration

    May 18, 2007 4:46 PM

    As long as I'm on the subject of immigration, a complex matter, I always find Ludwig von Mises always quotable, providing clarity in such complex matters (I've previously cited him on labor more generally). As he notes in the essay "The Freedom to Move as an International Problem" (1935):

    If the European workers are prevented from emigrating and thus have to stay at home, this does not mean they will remain idle as a result. They will continue to work in their old homeland under less favorable conditions. And because of the less advantageous conditions of production there, they will be compensated in lower wages. They will then compete on the world market, as well as on the home market of the industry producing under more favorable conditions. These countries may then very likely strike out with tariffs and import embargoes against what they call the "unfair" competition of cheap labor. By doing this, they will be forfeiting the advantages which the higher division of labor brings. They will suffer because production opportunities which are more favorable, i.e. which bring a higher return with the same expenditure than do the production opportunities which must be used in other lands, are not being used in their own countries.

    Of course, Europe is much better off today than at the time Mises wrote these words, but his insight applies to any two countries facing different economic conditions. Finally, I couldn't help but think of the current wave of anti-Americanism sweeping through parts of the world, especially immigrant-rich Latin America, reading the following passage:

  • A Free Market means a Free Labor Market

    May 18, 2007 4:35 PM

    CEI's mission of "advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government" doesn't come with the caveat of "unless it costs too much under our current welfare state."

    Eli, while I agree that immigration, either legal or illegal, isn't driven by the availability of state-provided social services, I think you miss a key factor. In addition to greater economic freedom, people who enter the United States illegally do so because of the demand for labor here. The push of "Mexico's poverty" is only half the picture; the pull of American jobs is also crucial -- though the economic freedom you mention is what allows those U.S. jobs to be created.

    I more strongly disagree with your contention that America has "little choice but as to keep on building walls to keep out illegal immigrants." That's another way of saying that U.S. policy makers have "little choice but to build more barriers between employers in need of labor and those willing to work for them."

    I'm not opposed to building a physical barrier, but that should function only as an enforcement mechanism, not constitute a centerpiece of policy (as some Republican neo-nativists want). That means that as illegal entry is made more difficult, legal entry shouldn't be unduly burdensome and arbitrary caps shouldn't make it harder for employers to hire the workers they need.

  • But Maybe It's the Best we Can do For Now

    May 18, 2007 9:04 AM

    Hans, I disagree with some parts of your post on immigration and agree with others. On one hand, I'm in total agreement that we should ditch "family reunification" as a basis for legal immigration, bring in more skilled workers and swear never to do another amnesty. But I'd disagree with you on two major points.

    First, who says that physical barriers won't work? There's actually ample evidence that they would. Where we've built them, near San Diego, they've displaced a large amount of immigration. We build more and we can displace it until it has no place left to go.

    Second, although I think that illegal immigration is a net minus for society, I'm not convinced that social services consumption drives it. Coming over as an illegal immigrant costs lots of money (Coyotes charge about $3,000 per head, I'm told.) People just won't make that investment unless they plan to make it back. Some are wrong and they end up on welfare but I can't believe that many people make the decision to enter the U.S. based on our welfare system.

    The real lure is simple: relative economic freedom. If our economy were a centerally planned nightmare, illegal immigrants just wouldn't come in large numbers.

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