Sunday, April 22, 2018
Opinion

U.S. is producing more, but costs remain high

It only took about three months for the new refuse service in Spring Hill in Hernando County to get my Monday and Thursday trash pickups and Friday recycling collection working smoothly. The new service seems to be functioning acceptably these days. I do notice differences. Real differences.

These days a shining, new, blue, technologically-advanced garbage truck swings into our cul-de-sac. The driver deftly dashes out of the driving station on the right side of the cab, picks up my 40-gallon trash can, expertly dumps its contents into a low-receiving trough, drops the trash can on the straggly grass growing along the asphalt, jumps back onto the truck and is gone. The whole operation takes about 15 seconds. Real hustle. The old, green garbage truck is history. And with it, the crew of two or three trash-can handlers and the truck driver who never left the cab.

The same amount of trash gets collected but the new system is so much more efficient. I would guess the old system with its three or four workers had a wage cost of at least $60 per hour with wages, fringes, and all. The lone driver-trash-handler probably costs a third as much.

Doing more with less. The American word for it is: Productivity. Still I wonder. What happened to the three guys I would say "Hi" to when they collected my trash? And how does our governor add 700,000 new jobs in Florida with this kind job loss taking place?

During a recent five-year period the U.S. achieved an 8 percent gain in productivity. This means doing the same amount of work with fewer workers. The report also indicated that this 8 percent productivity gain was distributed thusly — 1 percent went to the workers who achieved these productivity gains and the remaining 7 percent went to corporate profits. I am not about to argue if this distribution of newly created wealth is good or bad; however, none of us can avoid asking what this trend will mean for all of us over the long haul.

When we hear that our manufacturing jobs are being shipped to China, we need to keep in mind that, by value, the U.S. remains the world's largest manufacturer. We are not producing less. U.S. manufacturing jobs are not disappearing because we are manufacturing less; manufacturing jobs are disappearing because we are making more stuff with fewer workers. The issue is: How will we distribute the incredible gains we achieve in productivity? How will our society manage the huge social cost of displaced workers? Political ads never address real issues like this.

My wife and I had to make a quick trip to New Jersey this summer. I was just about to cross the bridge into Pennsylvania when I looked at the fuel gauge on the dashboard of my Suzuki wagon. I did a quick U-turn and went back to a filling station I had just passed. (No, we don't call them service stations anymore because there is no service.)

I got out to top my tank, when somewhat sheepishly, I saw the attendant walk up and ask me how much gas I wanted. Oh yeah! This was New Jersey. Self-service is prohibited.

As he filled my tank I remarked to the attendant how amusing it was to see a spiffed-up woman pull up in a Cadillac to perform the menial task of filling her gas tank. I asked, "What happened to all those service attendants who used to check the oil and clean the windscreen while you remained seated in the comfort of your Buick?" He had no idea either.

"At least it makes gas cheaper," I said. Another gain in productivity. The labor we expend filling our own gas tanks never becomes part of gross national product.

Then I crossed into Pennsylvania where only self-service stations exist and gas was 10 cents more a gallon. A real productivity gain.

C.D. Chamberlain lives in Spring Hill.

Comments
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18