Category Archives: Economics

USA Spent $2.6 Trillion, $8,402 per person,17.9% of GDP on Medical Expenses in 2010

Total health expenditures in the USA in 2010 reached $2.6 trillion, $8,402 per person or 17.9% percent of GDP. All these are all time highs. Every year, for decades, health care costs have taken a larger and larger portion of the economic value created in the USA.

In 2009 the USA Spent Record $2.5 Trillion, $8,086 per person 17.6% of GDP on Medical Care.

USA health care spending grew 3.9% in 2010 following an increase of 3.8% in 2009. While those are the two slowest rates of growth in the 51 year history of the National Health Expenditure Accounts, they still outpaced both inflation and GDP growth. So yet again the health system expenses are taking a bigger portion of overall spending. This has been going on so long that the USA spends double what many other rich countries do on healthcare with no better results.

As a result of failing to address this issue for decades the problem is huge and will likely take decades to bring back just to a level where the burden on those in the USA, due to their broken health care system, is equal to the burden of other rich countries. Over 2 decades ago the failure in the health care system reached epidemic proportions but little has been done to deal with the systemic failures. Dr. Deming pointed to excessive health care cost, back then, as one of 7 deadly diseases facing American business. The fact that every year costs have increased more than GDP growth and outcome measures are no better than other rich countries shows the performance has been very poor. The disease is doing even more harm today.

Some good things have been done over the years, most notably by Don Berwick while at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. He was effectively thrown out of office by the politicians recently. The same politicians that have through decades of such foolish acts contributed more than any other group to the broken health care system that burdens the USA today. In the last 10 years a significant amount of good work has also been done in “lean healthcare”: applying lean thinking to healthcare. But it is similar to the quote that a “bad system will beat a good person.” With all the bad systemic issues the efforts, good as they are, in lean healthcare are mainly improving around the edges. Of course, “around the edges” of a $2.6 Trillion dollar system can still be extremely valuable and important.

Related: USA Heath Care System Needs ReformUSA Spends Record $2.3 trillion ($7,681 Per Person) on Health Care in 2008Systemic Health Care Failure: Small Business CoverageMeasuring the Health of NationsHow to improve the health care system performanceManagement Improvement in HealthcareUSA Spent $2.2 Trillion, 16.2% of GDP, on Health Care in 2007

Continue reading

Taking What You Don’t Deserve, CEO Style

The excesses to which CEO’s and their board buddies go to in taking from corporate treasuries what they don’t deserve continues to amaze me. The level to which the bad behavior is accepted is apparent in the lack of progress at dealing with those that are taking what they have no moral right to. As shouldn’t have to be explained (but maybe does) leadership isn’t about avoiding being indicted. The levels to which these people take from the organization they are suppose to be leading is a very sad commentary on our leaders. They act as though the corporation exists to enrich them, and their friends, personally: and all the other stakeholders are just leeches on the system.

CEO’s deserve to be paid well. As they were in 1970. As their abuses (with the support of subservient boards) became greater and greater the outrage increased. Peter Drucker moved from defending highly paid CEOs (say 20 or even 30 times the median employee pay) to expressing dismay at the massively excessive pay packages in the 1990s (which were much lower than that taken by the current crop of self important leeches).

Taking such excessive amounts from the corporate treasury is innately dis-respectful to all other employees (though usually they through large amounts of cash at those they have to see often which bring them into the camp of those taking instead of the masses being taken from). Whatever nice words they use to try and give an illusion that they respect those they work with (or their stockholders, suppliers, customers, communities…) doesn’t change their disrespectful actions.

Company CEO 2010 Pay
5 year pay CEO % of 2010 Earnings total employees
UnitedHealth Group Stephen Hemsley $101,960,000 $120,470,000 2.2% 87,000
Qwest Communications Edward Mueller $65,800,000 $75,000,000 company lost $55 million *
Walt Disney Robert Iger $53,320,000 $147,080,000 1.3% 156,000
Express Scripts George Paz $51,520,000 $100,210,000 4.4% 13,170
Coach Lew Frankfort $49,450,000 $137,870,000 6.7% 8,200
Polo Ralph Lauren Ralph Lauren $43,000,000 $155,250,000 9.0% 24,000
Gilead Sciences John Martin $42,720,000 $204,240,000 1.5% 4,000

Executive pay from Fortune, annual earnings from Google Finance, employee totals from Yahoo Finance. * Quest was merged into CenturyTel and I can’t find Quest employee data.

This problem is far worse in the USA than anywhere else. Some CEO’s have become jealous and urged that they be allowed to take more so they can not feel so sad about how much less they make. And so companies from other countries are moving in the wrong direction. The USA continues to move so quickly away from any sense of propriety however that they seem to be gaining on the rest of the world for how badly we can do in this area. There are of course, companies in the USA that don’t believe in letting the CEO treat themselves to whatever they want. Costco is a great example of this. That CEO respects his fellow employees and customers. We need more outrage at those CEOs that refuse to lead and instead just seek to take whatever loot they can before they leave.

Related: Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay (2007)CEO’s Castles and Company PerformanceHonda’s top 36 employees received $13 million total (2006)

Continue reading

Manufacturing Jobs Increasing for First Time Since 1998 in the USA

Surprise! Blue collar jobs are coming back

Manufacturing employment began its decline long before the recession, losing jobs every year since 1998. But since the start of this year, there’s been a 1.6% gain in manufacturing jobs — about twice the pace of growth in other private sector jobs.

The unemployment rate for manufacturing workers has also shown much greater improvement than for workers overall, dropping to 9.5% in August from 13% in December. That compares to a far more modest improvement to 9.6% from 10% for the overall labor force.

Gains so far have been concentrated in four industries — automotive, fabricated metals, primary metals and machinery

This is good news for the economy. I believe it is partially due to more companies rethinking off-shoring practices which are flawed and adopting lean manufacturing ideas. As I have written for years USA manufacturing output has continued to increase and still remains by far the largest manufacturer. China is making huge gains by growing their output dramatically (not by the USA’s output decreasing). Manufacturing employment in the USA (and everywhere else – including China) has been decreasing for 20 years. The main stories are not jobs moving but jobs being eliminated by productivity improvement and China growing manufacturing output not a decline in manufacturing output in the USA.

Related: Worldwide Manufacturing Employment Data – 1979 to 2007Manufacturing in the USA, and Why Organizations Often Don’tTop Manufacturing Countries in 2005

Managing Our Way to Economic Success

From Managing Our Way to Economic Success, Two Untapped Resources by William G. Hunter, my father. Written in 1986, but still plenty relevant. We have made some good progress, but there is much more to do: we have barely started adopting these ideas systemically.

there are two enormously valuable untapped resources in many companies: potential information and employee creativity. The two are connected. One of the best ways to generate potential information to turn it into kinetic information that can produce tangible results is to train all employees in some of the simple, effective ways to do this. Rely on their desire to do a good job, to contribute, to be recognized, to be a real part of the organization. They want to be treated like responsible human beings, not like unthinking automatons.

W. Edwards Deming has illustrated one of the troubles with U.S. industry in terms of making toast. He says, “Let’s play American industry. I’ll burn. You scrape.” Use of statistical tools, however, allows you to reduce waste, scrap, rework, and machine downtime. It costs just as much to make defective products as it does to make good products. Eliminate defects and other things that cause inefficiencies, and you reduce costs, increase quality, and raise productivity. Note that quality and productivity are not trade-offs. They increase together.

Potential information surrounds all industrial processes. Statistical techniques, many of which are simple yet powerful, are tools that employees can use to tap and exploit this potential information so that increasingly higher levels of productivity, quality, and innovation can be attained. Engaging the brains as well as the brawn of employees in this way improves morale and participation…and profits.

What is called for is constant, never-ending improvement of all processes in the organization. What management needs, too, is constant, never-ending improvement of ideas.

Related: William Hunter, articles and booksInvest in New Management Methods Not a Failing CompanyThe Importance of Management ImprovementStatistics for Experimenters

Manufacturing in the USA, and Why Organizations Often Don’t

Manufacturing in the USA continues to do well. But it could do better. There are reasons manufacturing that could be located in the USA is not. And addressing those can increase USA manufacturing. Some reasons are sensible, based on the existing economics and realities of comparative advantage. Some reasons are just flawed thinking, such as the “spreadsheet management” taught at many business schools that Deming and lean thinkers can understand the flawed thinking that leads to outsourcing.

Typical wall street thinking (also driven by “spreadsheet management think” rather than an actual understanding of value stream of a potential investment) also hampers raising investment capital for USA manufacturing. The broken USA health care system also is a big problem driving up costs of doing business in the USA enormously.

Fighting for ‘made in the USA’

Safer and longer-lasting than conventional lithium-ion car batteries, the 52-year old MIT professor’s invention packs 600 cells into a case the size of an airplane carry-on bag. His technology has transformed the batteries used in many cordless power tools. So why are Chiang and his company, A123 Systems, having trouble moving to full-scale commercial production and creating thousands of new American jobs with his better mousetrap?

Despite the promise of Chiang’s batteries, many on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley were incredulous when he and other leaders at A123 asked for capital to build factories in America — Asia, yes, but Michigan, why would you want to?

Even more daunting, nearly all of the world’s battery manufacturing industry is in Asia, where plants can be built faster and supplies and equipment are much easier to get than in the United States. These days, it’s hard to find Americans who even know how to build a battery factory.

That’s why A123 had to give in and build its first plants in China, where the company could move into production quickly to show auto industry customers that it could deliver on future contracts.

“Without question, we would rather have done it all in the U.S.,” said Chiang, who left Taiwan as a 6-year-old with his family, earned degrees at MIT and has been a materials science professor there since the mid-1980s. “I’m an American citizen. We’re an American company. It’s an American-born technology.”

Despite the obstacles, A123 and a few other advanced battery producers are building plants in Michigan and other states, thanks to massive government support that has offset Wall Street’s skepticism and should help domestic producers narrow cost disadvantages with Asian rivals.

A123 is getting $250 million in aid from the Obama administration’s stimulus program as well as tax incentives from Michigan. Its first U.S. plant opens in June in an abandoned brick building near Detroit that once made VHS tapes for Disney.

A123 has five plants in China, coincidentally located in Chiang’s father’s hometown of Changzhou, about two hours’ drive west of Shanghai. Bart Riley, an A123 co-founder and chief technology officer, figured it took about nine months to get a Chinese factory up and running, one-third the time typical for the U.S.

The quicker launch helped A123 make a name for itself through Black & Decker, which in early 2006 began putting A123 batteries in its DeWalt power tools.

Since then, A123 has been supplying batteries and battery systems for New York City buses built by Daimler, among other customers, and the company has agreements to develop products for Chrysler, Navistar and American green-car maker Fisker Automotive.

By the end of next year, A123 expects to have two plants in Michigan employing 400 people, with plans to go up to 2,000 workers able to produce about 30,000 battery systems a year. The company’s sales reached $91 million last year, and it has about 1,700 employees, two-thirds in Asia.

The success of science and engineering university based research is still a huge advantage to the USA. Though other countries have seen the value in this and have invested in building their own capacity. The economic value of such is increased many fold by manufacturing the innovations created in your country.

Related: Manufacturing and the EconomyEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipRhode Island ManufacturingBig Failed Three, Meet the Successful EightToyota in the US Economy

Net Neutrality, Policy, Economics and Intelligent Engineering

I believe net neutrality should be championed to prevent decay of the usability of the internet. It seems to me internet connectivity is a natural monopoly that economic theory says should be a regulated monopoly. Smart countries have invested in providing much better internet connectivity that the USA has at much lower prices. Now in the USA we have companies that seek to control internet connectivity and then use that monopolistic control to favor higher margin efforts. So force those that have resources available on the internet to pay or the ISP threatens to degrade the connectivity to their resources.

chart showing internet connectivity speed (USA 18th)

The investment in equipment and fiber that allows internet connectivity has to be paid for. If those regulated ISPs wanted to set bandwidth use pricing that is fine with me. If we decided it is best to have one low price say $30 a month for access at a similar perforance of 10 other countries (Japan, Germany, South Korea, Canada, United Kingdom…) and then charge extra for individuals those that use more than some amount fine. But I think it should not be tied to whether you use service that haven’t paid the ISP money to be favored. The USA is currently 18th and slowed down, while others continue to speed up.

The 2008 ITIF Broadband Rankings show the USA in 15th place, out of 30 OECD countries, for broadband adoption, speed and price. In 2001 the USA was in 4th place.

If ISPs don’t want to be in the business they should be in – providing internet connectivity. Fine, get out of that business and go into the business they want to be in. But don’t try to take control of a natural monopoly and then use that control to extort money from those that rely on the natural monopoly.

Google accused of YouTube ‘free ride’

Some of Europe’s leading telecoms groups are squaring up for a fight with Google over what they claim is the free ride enjoyed by the technology company’s YouTube video-sharing service. Telefónica, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom all said Google should start paying them for carrying bandwidth-hungry content such as YouTube video over their networks.

I can understand why they would think that way. But isn’t it equally valid to say hey those that pay you for internet connectivity really want to use YouTube. If you need to make more investments in your infrastructure to support your customers use, then do so and raise the prices. I completely disagree with the ISP negotiating what content users can see. But if that were to happen why couldn’t Google instead of paying say, hey your customers really want YouTube – if you don’t pay us we won’t let you deliver it to your customers?

Net Neutrality: This is serious by Tim Berners-Lee

When I invented the Web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA.

Yes, regulation to keep the Internet open is regulation. And mostly, the Internet thrives on lack of regulation. But some basic values have to be preserved. For example, the market system depends on the rule that you can’t photocopy money. Democracy depends on freedom of speech. Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it.

Let’s see whether the United States is capable as acting according to its important values, or whether it is, as so many people are saying, run by the misguided short-term interested of large corporations.

I hope that Congress can protect net neutrality, so I can continue to innovate in the internet space. I want to see the explosion of innovations happening out there on the Web, so diverse and so exciting, continue unabated.

Google’s Traffic Is Giant, Which Is Why It Should be Your ISP
Continue reading

Taxes per Person by Country

I think that the idea that data lies is false, and that such a notion is commonly held a sign of lazy intellect. You can present data in different ways to focus on different aspects of a system. And you can make faulty assumptions based on data you look at.

It is true someone can just provide false data, that is an issue you have to consider when drawing conclusions from data. But often people just don’t think about what the data is really saying. Most often when people say data lies they just were misled because they didn’t think about what the data actually showed. When you examine data provided by someone else you need to make sure you understand what it is actually saying and if they are trying to support their position you may be wise to be clear they are not misleading you with their presentation of the data.

Here is some data from Greg Mankiw’s Blog. He wants to make his point that the USA is taxed more on par with Europe than some believe because he want to reduce current taxes. So he shows that while taxes as a percent of economic activity is low in the USA taxes per person is comparable to Europe.

Taxes/GDP x GDP/Person = Taxes/Person

France .461 x 33,744 = $15,556

Germany .406 x 34,219 = $13,893

UK .390 x 35,165 = $13,714

US .282 x 46,443 = $13,097

Canada .334 x 38,290 = $12,789

Italy .426 x 29,290 = $12,478

Spain .373 x 29,527 = $11,014

Japan .274 x 32,817 = $8,992

The USA is the 2nd lowest for percent of GDP taxes 28.2% v 27.4% for Japan. But in taxes per person toward the middle of the pack. France which has 46% taxes/GDP totals $15,556 in tax per person compared to $13,097 for the USA. Both measures of taxes are useful to know, in my opinion. Neither lies. Both have merit in providing a understanding of the system (the economies of countries).

Related: Fooled by RandomnessSimpson’s ParadoxMistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationGovernment Debt as Percentage of GDP 1990-2008 by CountryCommunicating with the Visual Display of DataIllusion of Explanatory Depth

Kiva – Giving Entrepreneurs an Opportunity to Succeed

photo of a Kiva entrepreneur

Tony, a Kiva entrepreneur in Pennsylvania, USA looking to manufacturing specialty cars.

I really like Kiva. Kiva lets you lend small amounts of money to entrepreneurs around the world. My latest loan is to a manufacturing entrepreneur in the USA.

When Tony’s 6’0 6″ body could not fit in the traditional supercars, he built his own in 1990. Tony says, “If one door closes I just look for another opening; I don’t give up.” With much patience and hard work he continues to expand his business and hopes to make it a full-time job. With his ACCION USA microloan he has hired two designers to work with him part-time and has purchased a laptop.

I must admit I wouldn’t take this as an investment. It seems a very risky and doesn’t seem that likely to pan out, to me. But I see my loans through Kiva as a way to give people a chance to pursue their dreams. This loans is probably the one I find less compelling from a business point of view (to me), but I like to provide some loans in the USA so I decided to give Tony a chance.

I do try to select loans that look promising and seem to provide the entrepreneur an opportunity that will help them. By which I mean I love finding loans where, for example, they will buy equipment that will improve their productivity or take on new business. Very often loans are to buy raw materials or supplies, which is also fine but the potential gains are often less than something that improves the efficiency (it seems to me). Often this allows the entrepreneur to buy more and grow their business.

I have made nearly 200 loans now. The top country has been Togo (at 12%). I don’t target Togo but I do pay attention to the loan costs to the entrepreneurs (part of my assessment of the good business case for the loan) and some of the micro finance organizations offer good terms to entrepreneurs. Some of the microfinance organizations are more charitable (they may use donations to fund significant parts of the operating expenses, instead of profits from interest on the loans). Read more details on how Kiva works. It also used to be a bit difficult to find loans I really thought were great. It is getting easier to find more options so my guess is that the top few countries now will see declines in their percentages.

So far I have lent to 37 countries. Cambodia is 2nd at 7.7% of my loans, Viet Nam 3rd at 6.7%, Tanzania 4th at 5.1%, Nicaragua 6th at 5.1% along with Kenya, and Ghana and Boliva are 8th at 4.6%. The United States now makes up 2.6% and Mexico 1.5%. The sectors the loans are categorized in are: Services 25%, Food 18%, Manufacturing 17%, Retail 14%, Agriculture 12% and various others. Though the sector categorizations are pretty weak in my opinion (they seem to be fairly inaccurate – so it gives you an idea but it isn’t exact).

The default rate on my loan portfolio is 2.1% (3 defaults). One was in Kenya where $71.50 out of $75 was paid back and then huge civil unrest took place and it defaulted. The other 2 are from the same microfinance bank in Ecuador that was closed down due to mismanagement. In that instance I lost $87.50 out of $100 lent. 94 loans have been fully paid back and 94 are being paid back now.

I would love it if more Curious Cat readers joined Kiva and helped other entrepreneurs. If you do let me know your Kiva page and I will add you to the Curious Cat Kivans page. Also join the Curious Cats Kiva Lending Team.

Related: 100th Entrepreneur LoanThanksgiving: Micro-financing EntrepreneursUsing Capitalism to Make the World BetterKiva Opens to USA Entrepreneur LoansMicroFinance Currency Risk

Systemic Health Care Failure: Small Business Coverage

There are many significant problems with the medical care system in the USA. It makes sense that a system that costs over 50% more than other countries and has no better outcomes, from all that extra spending, suffers from many failures. Coverage for small business is one of the problems we face now – When Health Insurers Dump Small Companies:

In June testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, Potter said insurers “dump small businesses whose employees’ medical claims exceed what insurance underwriters expected. All it takes is one illness or accident among employees at a small business to prompt an insurance company to hike the next year’s premiums so high that the employer has to cut benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering coverage altogether – leaving workers uninsured.”

Joy Mosley, COO of Biotest Laboratories, a 77-person medical testing company in Minneapolis, recently got such a “requote” from her insurer, Medica, after an employee was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Medica covered the million-dollar treatment, but then said the large claim warranted $156,000 in additional premiums – a 72% increase.

Not all entrepreneurs are equally vulnerable. About a dozen states prohibit insurers from basing premiums for businesses with 50 or fewer employees on workers’ health status. But in roughly three-fourths of the country, so-called ratings bands allow for considerable flexibility in pricing. In states with loose ratings bands, such as Texas and Nevada, one small company can be charged nearly 70% more than another. In Pennsylvania and Virginia, there are no ratings restrictions. No matter what state you’re in, ratings bands don’t apply to companies with more than 50 employees.

Just from an insurance perspective the companies are not providing what is needed. They are quick to say you can’t have healthy people remain uncovered and wait to buy insurance once for example, “their house is on fire” (they are sick). They are right. Well you also can’t have the insurance company cancel coverage during the fire and have a system that works.
Continue reading

The Biggest Manufacturing Countries in 2008 with Historical Data

Once again the USA was the leading country in manufacturing for 2008. And once again China grew their manufacturing output amazingly. In a change with recent trends Japan grew output significantly. Of course, the 2009 data is going to show the impact of a very severe worldwide recession.

Chart showing percent of output by top manufacturing countries from 1990 to 2008Chart showing the percentage output of top manufacturing countries from 1990-2008 by Curious Cat Management Blog, Creative Commons Attribution.

The first chart shows the USA’s share of the manufacturing output, of the countries that manufactured over $185 billion in 2008, at 28.1% in 1990, 27.7% in 1995, 32% in 2000, 28% in 2005, 28% in 2006, 26% in 2007 and 24% in 2008. China’s share has grown from 4% in 1990, 6% in 1995, 10% in 2000, 13% in 2005, 14% in 2006, 16% in 2007 to 18% in 2008. Japan’s share has fallen from 22% in 1990 to 14% in 2008. The USA has about 4.5% of the world population, China about 20%. See Curious Cat Investment blog post” Data on the Largest Manufacturing Countries in 2008.

Even with just this data, it is obvious the belief in a decades long steep decline in USA manufacturing is not in evidence. And, in fact the USA’s output has grown substantially over this period. It has just grown more slowly than that of China (as has every other country), and so while output in the USA has grown the percentage with China has shrunk. The percentage of manufacturing output by the USA (excluding output from China) was 29.3% in 1990 and 29.6% in 2008. The second chart shows manufacturing output over time.

charts showing the top manufacturing countries output from 1990-2008Chart showing the output of the top manufacturing countries from 1990-2008 by Curious Cat Management Blog, Creative Commons Attribution.

The 2008 China data is not provided for manufacturing alone (the latest UN Data, for global manufacturing, in billions of current USA dollars). The percentage of manufacturing (to manufacturing, mining and utilities) was 78% for 2005-2007 (I used 78% of the manufacturing, mining and utilities figure provided in the 2008 data). There is a good chance this overstates China manufacturing output in 2008 (due to very high commodity prices in 2008).

Hopefully these charts provide some evidence of what is really going on with global manufacturing and counteracts the hype, to some extent. Global economic data is not perfect. These figures are an attempt to capture the economic reality in the world but they are not a perfect proxy. This data is shown in 2008 USA dollars which is good in the sense that it shows all countries in the same light and we can compare the 1995 USA figure to 2005 without worrying about inflation. However foreign exchange fluctuations over time can show a country, for example, having a decline in manufacturing output in some year when in fact the output increased (just the decline against the USA dollar that year results in the data showing a decrease – which is accurate when measured in terms of USA dollars).

If the dollar declines substantially between when the 2008 data was calculated and the 2009 data is calculated that will give result in the data showing a substantial increase in those countries that had a currency strengthen against the USA dollar. At this time the Chinese Renminbi has not strengthened while most other currencies have – the Chinese government is retaining a peg to a specific exchange rate.

Korea (1.8% in 1990, 3% in 2008), Mexico (1.7% to 2.6%) and India (1.4% to 2.5%) were the only countries to increase their percentage of manufacturing output (other than China, of course, which grew from 3.9% to 18.5%).

Related: posts on manufacturingGlobal Manufacturing Data 2007Global Manufacturing Employment Data – 1979 to 2007Top 10 Manufacturing Countries 2006Top 10 Manufacturing Countries 2005lean manufacturing resources