Tag Archives: Skilled labor

The U.S. Economy In a Nutshell: When Critical Parts Are On “Indefinite Back Order,” the Machine Grinds to a Halt, by Charles Hugh Smith

For want of a nail . . . From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

A great many essential components in America are on ‘indefinite back order’, including the lifestyle of endless globally sourced goodies at low, low prices.

Setting aside the “transitory inflation” parlor game for a moment, let’s look at what happens when critical parts are unavailable for whatever reason, for example, they’re on back order or indefinite back order, i.e. the supplier has no visibility on when the parts will be available.

If the part that blew out is 0.1% of the entire machine, and the other 99.9% still works perfectly, the entire machine is still dead in the water without that critical component. That is a pretty good definition of systemic vulnerability and fragility, a fragility that becomes much, much worse if there are two or three components which are on indefinite back order.

This is the problem with shipping much of your supply chain overseas: you create extreme systemic vulnerability and fragility even as you rake in big profits from reducing costs. Speaking of costs, let’s look at the costs of having a large, costly, complex mechanism sitting idle in a non-functioning state due to some broken element for which there is no substitute available. Whatever productive capacity the mechanism, process, etc. had is now stuck at zero.

Buying a new replacement is extremely costly, and that’s not always available for all the same reasons that parts and components aren’t available. Finding someone to fabricate a new component is not easy due to the wholesale transfer of manufacturing moxie and capability overseas.

You might be able to find someone to weld a replacement strut, but try finding someone to fab a new bicycle derailleur or better yet, a multilayer semiconductor chip. What about 3-D fabrication? Doesn’t that solve this problem? If the part can be “printed,” yes, but there are limits on what can be 3-D fabbed. You can’t 3-D fab a complex thermostat or controller, for example. You can’t 3-D fab a rubber gasket, either, or a great many other bits of petrochemical-based manufacturing.

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The Sources of Rip-Your-Face-Off Inflation Few Dare Discuss, by Charles Hugh Smith

There are many highly skilled jobs for which AI is completely unrealistic. There is shortage of people who know who do such jobs, and their wages are reflecting the shortage. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

We’re getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up–way up.

Inflation will be transitory, blah-blah-blah–I beg to differ, for these reasons. There are numerous structural sources of inflation, which I define as prices rise while the quality and quantity of goods and services remain the same or diminish. Since the word inflation is so loaded, let’s use the more neutral (and more accurate) term decline in purchasing power: an hour of your labor buys fewer goods and services of lesser quality than it did a decade ago or a generation ago.

While the conventional discussion focuses on monetary inflation, i.e. expansion of money supply, the real rip-your-face-off sources have nothing to do with money supply. The rip-your-face-off sources are scarcities that cannot be filled by substitution or globalization.

Consider skilled hands-on labor as an example. Let’s say some essential parts in essential infrastructure require welding. There is no substitute for skilled welders. But wait, doesn’t economic dogma hold that whenever costs rise, a cheaper substitute will magically manifest out of a swirl of dust? That dogma is false in cases such as skilled labor.

The only substitute for a skilled welder is another skilled welder, and while theory holds that there will be cheaper welders who can be brought in from elsewhere, this is also not true: due to deficiencies in education and a cultural bias against manual labor, there is a shortage of skilled welders virtually everywhere.

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