Productivity—the Japanese Way


Economists are forever telling us that we need to increase productivity in order to improve our standard of living. Productivity is one of those concepts that are so loaded with meaning and implications that is very difficult to define, much less explain. Not surprisingly then, improving “it” is one of the most difficult tasks facing business. More to the point, the time for improvement is quickly running out. Industrial performance is being outstripped at a frightening pace by the Japanese. In fact, it has reached the point where their productivity performance is so superior that they can literally pick any product and any market and quickly come to dominate it.

The idea that Japanese are uniquely gifted in only a few related areas has been debunked by their proven successes in industries as diverse as automobiles and semi-conductors. As well, the facile suggestion that the Japanese are somehow culturally inclined to be productive doesn’t wash. Japanese managers have taken over factories in Europe and the US and greatly improved productivity records. Productivity has also been high in their North American plants.

If corporate managers believe that their workers can be as competitive as anyone else in the world, and technically, there’s no valid reason why they can’t be, then they must find better ways to help their employees realize their potential. In that sense, study of Japanese methods is a jumping-off point that can lead to adaptations that will produce unique ways of improving productivity.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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Consumer Sovereignty


Mainstream economics uses some simple starting points; it believes that they are the best possible. First is that agents have more wants than they can attain, so that they feel scarcity; in fact, for practical purposes, wants are assumed to be endless. Second, third and fourth are that agents are self-interested, rational, and the best judges of their own well-being. These four assumptions are indeed usually good starting points, rather than starting by assuming that agents are completely fulfilled, altruistic, irrational, and not well-placed to evaluate their own situation. They are not equally good as finishing points. Sometimes good arguments exist for not accepting them.

An assumption that agents are the best judges of their own well being is less questionable for businesspeople and corporations, given the resources they have for analysis. Debate focuses more on consumers. The phrase consumer sovereignty is sometimes read descriptively, to mean that consumers are sovereign, in that procedures are induced via profit-seeking and competition  to provide what consumers want. Sometimes it is read normatively, to mean that consumers should be sovereign, their wishes should prevail concerning what is good for them. The normative claim can rest on three different bases: that consumers do make good choices; that the alternative stance is worse – to use someone else’s judgments and estimates of what is good for a person and how good it is; or quite differently, that people have the right to make their own choices and mistakes.

Consumers will not make good choices automatically and unconditionally. Our wants are not simple; for example, some are wants to not to have other wants (such as the desire to smoke or a compulsion to gamble). Establishing a mature balance between wants involves skills. Choice is also unlikely to bring satisfaction if taken on the basis of weak information. Markets often do not provide consumers with full and reliable information, for it is hard to exclude people from information and therefore to ensure payment for it, so its market supply is weakened. Instead, in a commerce-dominated society, one of the main types of information that adults get will be images that say the good life is obtained through high consumption of commodities; there is too little counteracting public information.

The issue of consumer sovereignty goes beyond whether choices are good for the chooser. Other people are affected. Some wants may thus be unacceptable, notably wants that bring harm to others, including even wants to harm others. Mainstream economists have unfortunately often taken a don’t-want-to-know approach to ethics in which they confuse acceptance of all wants with a value-neutral stance.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Circular Flow


In a simplified world with only two types of economic agents, individuals and business firms, the relations between them can be pictured. Individuals and firms have dual aspects, and thus transact with one another in two distinct ways. Individuals are in one aspect consumers of goods, while firms are producers of goods. Thus, a real flow of consumption goods occurs from firms to individuals. But the goods must be produced. To permit this there must be a “real” flow of productive services, from the individuals in their second aspect as owners of resources to the firms as employers of resource services.

In a socialist command economy these flows of goods and resources might be directly ordered by a dictator. But in a private enterprise economy the relations are based on exchange and so must be mutual and voluntary. Hence, offsetting the “real” flows are reverse “financial” flows of claims that in a modern economy normally take the form of money payments. The consumers’ financial expenditures on goods become the receipts or revenues of the firms. The exchange of consumption goods between individuals and producing firms in return for financial payments take place in what economists call “the product market.”

The revenues received from sales to consumers provide firms with the wherewithal to buy productive services from resource-owners. This closes the circle; the firms’ payments for productive services become income to the individuals, available once more for spending on consumer goods. Purchase and sale of productive services take place in what economists call “the factor market,” again really a number of distinct markets for the various types of productive services.

Looking within the box representing the firms as economic agents, what takes place there is the process of production, the physical transformation of resources into products. Within the box representing individuals, consumption of the produced goods takes place. Here again the circle is closed by the fact that consumption is necessary to reiterate the main productive resource—labor power—for the next cycle.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

 

Inflation


Inflation is a rise in the general level of prices. The most commonly reported measure of inflation is the annual percentage change in the consumer price index (CPI). The consumer price index tracks changes in the prices of a group of goods and services that most consumers buy. Prices are increasing when the CPI is positive and decreasing when it is negative. One major cause of inflation is the relationship between wages and productivity. Productivity is the output per worker hour. When wages increase faster than productivity, the result is inflation. The amount we can consume of any product depends upon the amount we produce. When wages go up but output does not, we have more money income but not more purchasing power. This occurs because the total supply of goods available for purchase has not increased as rapidly as the amount of money in circulation. The combination of rising wages and constant or sagging output exerts an upward push on prices.

Wage increases in one industry often put pressure on other industries to increase wages. Another cause of inflation is the expectation that inflation will continue in the future. Labor unions demand wage increases in anticipation of expected increases in the cost of living. Manufacturers raise the prices of their products in anticipation of future labor and raw material; cost increases. Consumers borrow money to finance today’s purchases in the belief that prices will be higher tomorrow. Some economists argue that inflation subsides only when people believe that it will subside.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Divulging on Resources


The level of want satisfaction that an economy can achieve is limited partly by the quantities and qualities of its known resources. Resources are the means available for producing goods that are used to satisfy wants. Hundreds of different kinds of resources exist in the economy. Among these are labor of all kinds, raw materials of all kinds, machinery, buildings, semi-finished materials, fuel, power, transportation, and the like.

Resources can be classified conveniently into two categories: a) labor or human resources, and b) capital or nonhuman resources. Labor resources consist of labor power or the capacity for human effort, both of mind and of muscle, used in producing goods. The term capital can be misleading since it is used in several different ways not only by non-economists as well. But here it is used to include all non-human resources that can contribute toward placing goods in the hands of the ultimate consumer. Specific examples are buildings, machinery, land, available mineral resources, raw materials, semi-finished materials, business inventories, and any other non-human tangible items used in the productive process.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Incentives for Professional Employees


Professional employees are those whose work involves the application of learned knowledge to the solution of the employer’s problems. They include lawyers, doctors, economists, and engineers. Professionals reach their positions through prolonged periods of formal study.

Making incentive pay decisions for professional employees can be challenging. For one thing, firms usually pay professionals well anyway; for another, they’re already driven—by the desire to produce high-caliber work and receive recognition from colleagues. In some cases, offering financial rewards to people like these may actually diminish their intrinsic motivation—not add to it.

However, that’s certainly not to say that professionals don’t want financial incentives, particularly those in high demand jobs like software and systems developers for information technology firms. Many are offering benefits that are highly attractive to professionals, including better vacations, more flexible work hours, equipment for home offices, and improved pension plans.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Laws of Preference


Scientific analysis always uses theories and models as simplified pictures of reality. Irrelevant details are stripped away to permit us to concentrate upon essentials. The economist’s simplified picture or theory of preference is based upon two axioms:

  1. Axiom of Comparison: Any two distinct baskets A and B of commodities can be compared in preference by the individual. Each such comparison must lead to one of three following results: a) Basket A is preferred to basket B, or b) B is preferred to A, or c) A and B are indifferent.
  2. Axiom of Transtivity: Consider any three baskets A, B, and C. If A is preferred to B, and B is preferred to C, then A must be preferred to C. similarly, if A is indifferent to B, and B to C, then A is indifferent to C.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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