Zoe Williams and economics

This was salient for a number of reasons: for a start, that month followed one of the worst quarters on record for new private sector jobs, with just 5,000 posts filled between June and September 2011. From an economist\’s perspective, that is as good as standing still.

Err, no, from an economist\’s perspective that would be an unmitigated disaster. For the economy chews through about 10% of all jobs each year. 3 million or so disappear, 3 million or so are created. Unemployment rises when the disappearing (which tends to be a fairly constant rate, it\’s the creation which tends to vary) is higher than the creation, fall when vice versa.

Call it 750k a quarter, just as a round number. If there were only 5k jobs created then this would indeed be terrible. What Zoe is looking at is not job creation though. She\’s looking at the net number between destriuction and creation, a very, very, different thing indeed.

You might call me a pendant for saying this: but I mention it precisely because I think that Zoe is ignorant of this point.

If Reliance can do Ordnance Survey\’s admin and catering for less money than OS did it themselves, or Boeing can do IT for the Ministry of Defence, and that\’s cheaper, it seems like an obvious boon. But, especially in low-skilled work, you have to wonder how it comes to be cheaper. Nobody\’s invented a quicker way to do cleaning; it\’s more likely that wages are forced down, job security is destroyed, pensions are axed.

Well, there\’s specialisation, division of labour, these sorts of things. And as to no one inventing a quicker way of doing cleaning.

Umm, Zoe is indeed female? One who does her own housework? Has, say, a mop, a broom, a vacuum cleaner? All of which are quicker ways of doing cleaning than a damp rag and a carpet beater?

And might we, just possible, postulate that a team of cleaners who spicialise in nothing but cleaning, say, offices, might have high value, high performance, specialist, such machines in a way that an individual directly employed cleaner might not?

No, of course, I don\’t know and I don\’t insist that it is true but it is possible, no?

18 comments on “Zoe Williams and economics

  1. also on how outsourcing of things such as catering, think about how far the Ordinance Survey (say) management team are from having expertise in it. The savings are not just from specialisation of the outsourced team, it allows the management of the company doing the outsourcing to concentrate more on drawing maps (say).

  2. Portemat has the most relevant point on outsourcing.

    If you waste time managing things you are not expert at, you will face massive opportunity costs.

  3. Classic, the caption under the picture of an old upright Hoover is “Nobody’s invented a quicker way to do cleaning”. So how did the hoover get created then. Cretins.

  4. ‘Nobody’s invented a quicker way to do cleaning’

    Or pick spuds, or transport people, or produce cars.

    She’s a fucking idiot.

  5. “I don’t insist that it is true but it is possible, no?” No: in Williamsworld it is axiomatically impossible. Because she says so.

  6. “It’s time to start insourcing.”

    The reason we started doing outsourcing was because we could.

    I know a massage therapist who made two of her receptionists redundant and replaced them with a booking agency. They’re on a shared calendar on the web. She takes a day off? She blocks it out and they don’t book it. They book an appointment? It appears in her calendar.

    People would have loved to have done this 20 years ago, because it’s a lot cheaper than having staff who are not especially busy most of the time, but they couldn’t because the technology just didn’t exist.

    Trouble is that people like Guardian writers just don’t get this, because none of them have been involved at any serious level in commerce. Their whole vision of business goes back to their childhoods.

  7. Wm. Connolley:

    “Pendant” for “pedant” is an old, inside joke in these parts. Gets a newcomer now and again.

  8. The vacuum cleaner was an essential prerequisite to the liberation of women from domestic servitude (before its invention, the likes of Zoe Williams or Emmeline Pankhurst needed to employ another woman to do the housework). But nowadays there are further advances in mechanisation which a professional cleaning firm can use – mechanical floor washers, polishing machines, wheeled megabins for the contents of wastepaper bins, etc that would be uneconomic for the in-house cleaners employed by a small firm for a small office.
    It seems to me that Zoe has never worked late enough to actually meet the cleaners ….

  9. What Portemat said is the mian point, however there’s also the point that part time staff are more expensive.

    How long does it take to clean the OS office? I don’t know but lets guess at 2 people for 2 hours. That’s two part time staff then, plus supervisory time etc. Then there’s the office next door, same rate of cleaning and so on.

    So now our 2 cleaners can work 8 hours so the overall cost of employment comes down, as well as getting those specialising efficiencies.

  10. Rereading Polly’s ‘Pendant’ rant is enjoyably bizarre – it really is a classic of her oeuvre:

    “Anonymity is the problem. Why don’t all of you say who you are? Why hide your names and email addresses?”

    “Critics should have the courage to identify themselves. … Are you men or women?”

    Only Polly would spend two paragraphs complaining about anonymous commenters and then use “Tim Worstall” as an example.

  11. “Pendant” for “pedant” is an old, inside joke in these parts. Gets a newcomer now and again.

    But he’s not new around here. He’s been around for long enough to have seen the joke and the mild slaps administered numerous times.

    You’ll find him on any climate change thread arguing that Tim is a “denier” even though he believes in AGW (and possibly even CAGW) because he believes in an economic solution rather than a bansturbationist one.

  12. We also forget that the reason why cleaning firms may be more “efficient” is because most of their employees are illegal immigrants working cash in hand or legal immigrants with highly subsidised living arrangements.

  13. @James G #16
    Have you never worked late enough to watch the cleaners? Or bothered to read earlier posts like #12?
    *Some* cleaning firms may employ illegal immigrants but mostly they are efficient because they use machines. When I was a bachelor, I used to wash my kitchen floor by hand before doing the ironing but I should never suggest that was an efficient way to clean an office floor.

  14. John77,
    I have in fact worked late enough to watch the cleaners, and was amazed – when I chatted with them – at how well my American Spanish still is, after all these years, . It’s such a relief not to have to speak Spanish with a lisp.

    Not to mention the dulcet tones of sub-Saharan French, which is actually easier to understand and speak than its Continental cousin, as spoken exclusively by some cleaning crews.

    I also had a mate from back home (the US) who was a union organiser – yes, a questionable occupation – who came over here for about a year on an exchange programme with TGWU (ISTR) because the unions here were looking towards the new immigrants (legal and illegal) as potential recruits. He had a lot of relevant experience recruiting illegals to his union in California and Florida, but wasn’t nearly so successful here. I think the illegals here understood their comparative advantage of working under the table, or the big housing subsidies if they weren’t.

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