Now Screening: A tragic drama of the London Living Wage

After months of campaigning, no less than 13 strikes and support from the likes of Ken Loach and Eric Cantona, Brixton Ritzy Picturehouse cinema staff have finally secured a commitment to be paid the London Living Wage.

Unfortunately, this means that a quarter of the payroll is now facing the sack:

Picturehouse Cinemas said that the cost of increasing basic wages at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton to £8.80 an hour would be absorbed by reducing the number of staff by at least 20, with a redundancy programme starting next month.

Two management posts will be axed along with eight supervisors, three technical staff and other front-of-house workers from its workforce of 93.

Naturally, Owen Jones has some insight into the situation:

The message appears transparent: if you fight for a living wage and workers’ rights, then you face the sack. Or we will crush you if you dare to stand up for yourselves.

In fact, the message is even more clear than this. If wages are set higher than it is productive or profitable to do so, the firm will have to account for the cost in other ways. We often talk about the unintended consequences of things like price controls and wage demands, but in this case the consequence of such a pay rise was pretty damn clear. As the Picturehouse explains:

During the negotiation process it was discussed that the amount of income available to distribute to staff would not be increasing, and that the consequence of such levels of increase to pay rates would be fewer people with more highly paid jobs.

The Ritzy previously paid staff £7.53 an hour with a £1/hr customer satisfaction bonus—far higher than the National Minimum Wage of £6.31, whilst union pay negotiators pointed out the Ritzy staff do actually like working there. This makes the idea that job cuts are bitter, tit-for-tat ‘payback’ seem rather perverse. Indeed, to make something sound so heartless and threatening when it is basically Econ 101 is bordering on the petulant.

 In a perfect world low pay simply would not be an issue. In the meantime if employers can afford to give the LLW (or can benefit enough from the PR!), then fantastic. But paying 93 staff £8.80 an hour is no small commitment, and unfortunately pushing company policy in one direction all too often means something’s got to give elsewhere.

Whilst the effects of a National Minimum Wage aren’t always easy to spot, this is a concrete example of the London Living Wage actively putting Londoners out of a living. In personal experience Ritzy employees are friendly, intelligent and helpful, but sadly that’s no guarantee of them getting another job. And if unions continue to push for the LLW in such an aggressive manner, this is unlikely to be the only casualty.

Curzon cinemas have just announced that they will pay their staff the LLW, even though it is loss-making. They say they hope that the cost will become self-financing through the better quality of work which paying people more will achieve. It will be interesting to see if that’s the case.  In any case—grab the popcorn, this show’s going to get interesting…

From the Annals of Bad Research: rock stars die younger

Around here we’re all culturally savvy enough to have heard of the 27 Club: the list of those rocks stars who have died or drink, drugs, suicide etc at the age of 27. We’ve always taken this to be a rather cheery finding: that if you give some 18 year old all the money, booze, drugs, success and sex they could possibly want then it still takes them 9 years to kill themselves through overindulgence. Rather puts into perspective the prodnoses complaining about our having a second glass of sherry before dinner.

However, we’ve just had the release of a report indicating that popular musicians do indeed die younger, on average, than the general population. And thi8s really should be included in our compendious volume, The Annals of Bad Research. For the contention is that the average age at death of rock and roll, rock and pop, stars is lower than that of the general population. But as Chris Snowden points out, we cannot actually know that:

You see the problem here, I expect. Rock stars didn’t exist until the 1950s and since many of them are still alive, we don’t know what their average age of death is. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if they die earlier on average, but the graph above tells us very little about whether this is so. When Chuck Berry (aged 88), Jerry Lee Lewis (aged 79) and Little Richard (aged 81) pop their clogs, the average is going to go up, especially if they keep breathing for another twenty years.

And, who knows? They might. Perhaps the higher risk when young is counter-balanced by the boost to longevity of having lots of money and the best healthcare in old age?

Be that as it may, you clearly can’t work out the average lifespan of a rock star until at least the first generation of rock stars are dead.

Quite: you can only work out the average age of death of any particular cohort when all of that particular cohort are dead. If you try to do it before that has happened then you’ll be counting all of those who die young but not all of those who don’t: meaning that what you’ve actually calculated is the average age at death of those who die young. And, you know, people who die younger die younger isn’t really all that amazing of a research finding.

Breaking news: Paul Ehrlich still wrong about population


There’s a story floating around about how new studies show that even if there’s another world war, or some mass pandemic, the human population of the world is going to keep on rising. That’s true, for most of those who are going to have children in the coming decades are already alive and we’ve a reasonable enough idea of how many children each of them is likely to have.

The bit that caught my eye though is that the paper is edited by Paul Ehrlich. That’s usually a sign that there’s going to be something wrong with it. And so there is:

Amoral wars and global pandemics aside,
the only humane way to reduce the size of the human population
is to encourage lower per capita fertility. This lowering has been
happening in general for decades (27, 28), a result mainly of
higher levels of education and empowerment of women in the
developed world, the rising affluence of developing nations, and
the one-child policy of China (29–32). Despite this change, environmental
conditions have worsened globally because of the
overcompensating effects of rising affluence-linked population
and consumption rates (3, 18).

It’s that “despite” that grates. For while female education and empowerment are indeed correlates of lower fertility, they are not the causes. It is that rise in affluence that is behind all of the three. In a subsistence economy there is no spare capacity to educate anyone, let alone women. And a subsistence economy is also going to be a human and animal powered one, an economy in which there’s not going to be much empowerment of the physically weaker sex. It’s only when a society gets richer that we can all start, male and female alike, using that attribute that makes humans different, our brains, as we leave the heavy labour to the machines. and it’s also that greater wealth that leads to the falls in child mortality, the education of women, those correlates of falling fertility.

That is, Paul Ehrlich is still getting the drivers of human population numbers wrong.  Not that we should be too hard on him: probably a bit late in his career for a fundamental rethink, isn’t it?

Size might not matter but age definitely does

It’s ironic that politicians are so obsessed with creating jobs, given that many interventions – such as employers’ national insurance contributions and a politically determined minimum wage – achieve the diametric opposite. Yet it remains a key metric for determining political success and failure, and it drives much that passes for entrepreneurship and enterprise policy.

When it comes to job creation there is a debate about whether small or large businesses contribute more. Those representing small businesses can claim that micro businesses account for around 95% of all private sector companies, while those representing large businesses can counter that despite making up less than 0.1 per cent of the total private sector stock, large businesses account for more than half of all turnover and more than 40% of UK private sector employment.

It’s a complicated debate. Nesta research suggests a small proportion of businesses are responsible for the majority of job growth, with the data showing that “just 7% of businesses are responsible for half of the jobs created between 2007 and 2010.”

Elsewhere, Nesta suggests focussing government resources on supporting what was then “the vital 6%” . But it isn’t obvious that this is the right conclusion from the data. It’s entirely possible that current polices are limiting the size of this so-called vital 6% job-creating companies. If this were the case, instead of focussing on those businesses and sectors already succeeding, the right policy would be the exact opposite: focusing on increasing that 6% figure by targeting companies not in the 6%.

Although the ideal ratio of small to large businesses might be indeterminable, we do know one thing. Size might not matter but age definitely does: we want new businesses. As the Kaufman Foundation explains: “Policymakers often think of small business as the employment engine of the economy. But when it comes to job-creating power, it is not the size of the business that matters as much as it is the age.”

Therefore, politicians and policymakers should want the entrepreneurial process to happen quickly; they should want to make sure regulations don’t inhibit the process of business creation and destruction; they should, to paraphrase the lean startup, want entrepreneurs to start fast, grow fast and fail fast.

Philip Salter is director of The Entrepreneurs Network.

Slow economic growth is the new normal apparently

So Gavyn Davies tells us over in the Financial Times:

The results (Graph 1) show an extremely persistent slowdown in long run growth rates since the 1970s, not a sudden decline after 2008. This looks more persistent for the G7 as a whole than it does for individual countries, where there is more variation in the pattern through time.

Averaged across the G7, the slowdown can be traced to trend declines in both population growth and (especially) labour productivity growth, which together have resulted in a halving in long run GDP growth from over 4 per cent in 1970 to 2 per cent now.

Obviously, for the sake of our grandchildren, we’d like to work out why there has been this growth slowdown. Fortunately, there’s an answer to that:

But run the numbers yourself–and prepare for a shock. If the U.S. economy had grown an extra 2% per year since 1949, 2014′s GDP would be about $58 trillion, not $17 trillion. So says a study called “Federal Regulation and Aggregate Economic Growth,” published in 2013 by the Journal of Economic Growth. More than taxes, it’s been runaway federal regulation that’s crimped U.S. growth by the year and utterly smashed it over two generations.

A version of that paper can be found here.

No one is saying that there’s not a case for regulation: there’s always a case for every regulation, obviously. There’s also a smaller class of regulations where the case made for it is valid: where it’s worth whatever growth we give up in having the regulation in order to avoid whatever peril it is that the regulation protects us from.

But this doesn’t mean that all regulations have a valid case in their favour: and one darn good reason against many of them is that we’re giving up too much economic growth as a result of the cumulative impact of all of those regulations.

If we want swifter economic growth, something we do want for the sake of those grandkiddies, then we do need to cut back on the regulatory state. Hopefully before all growth at all gets strangled by the ever growing thickets of them.