9/19/2014 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…
The results of the Scottish referendum on independence are in, and in the maneuvering leading up to the vote as well as the results themselves, the Scottish question has brought to light a new dynamic that many economists, including yours truly, have been late to properly identify: The astronomical rise in the cost of labor that is on the horizon.
What do Scottish/English politics and the labor market have in common? Nothing, really, save the dynamic between an overlord (England/Employer) and underling (Scotland/Employee), and the rapidly changing status quo.
First, a brief overview of the Scottish referendum from an economic standpoint. Astute readers will note that we have an extremely basic understanding this. That said, the little we do understand serves our metaphor. As such, we dare not risk deepening our understanding at this point.
Our aforementioned understanding is the following: As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland enjoys a £32 Billion per year block grant, for which it cedes approximately £7 Billion per year in North Sea oil tax revenues, and approximately £16 Billion in other taxes rendered to England, bringing England’s net subsidy to Scotland to roughly £9 Billion per year. You can read more about the economics of Scottish Independence at the ever Clairvoyant Market Oracle.
As you can see at the end of the above video, the chances of Scotland actually voting “Yea” for the referendum were extremely far-fetched and rightfully cause for panic. Furthermore, we observe that the reaction of the English, predictably, was to cave to Scottish demands for autonomy and, ultimately, an increase in the net subsidy in exchange for remaining part of the UK.
As the Scottish economy represents roughly £160 billion annually, it is clear that the £9 billion hit in terms of the subsidy loss would be devastating. Devastating as it may have been for the Scottish people, the loss was at least calculable and to some extent containable.
On the other hand, while England appears to have forfeited a good deal of autonomy, not to mention being out a net £9 billion on the Scottish subsidy, their zeal to keep Scotland in the UK is explained by one simple fact:
Scotland is irreplaceable, and for England to forfeit its allegiance now is not only to turn its back on a union forged over the course of 300 years, it is to look forward to a future of Balkanization and an incalculable demise in its political and economic power as the sun finally sets on an Empire that at one time could rightfully claim that the sun never set upon it.
Do you now see how the metaphor applies to the labor market fellow taxpayer? In simple terms, Employee (Scotland) threatens to leave Employer. Employer reacts by giving employee more autonomy and pay.
This scenario is playing out across certain cross sections of the US Labor market and is about to have a tremendously disruptive effect on what many have come to understand to be the status quo in terms of Corporate employment.
While it may be true that, unlike Scotland, most employees are replaceable, it is also true that with each employee that walks out the door, an incalculable amount of synergies and institutional knowledge leaves with them. Couple this loss of intangibles with the fact that the employee that will be hired to replace them is likely to be 1) More expensive, 2) Less productive, and 3) Less loyal than the one that just walked out the door.
Like Scotland, many employees are finding that, while they have something to lose by leaving their employer, the loss is calculable and often more than compensated for by the potential gains awaiting them as the current game of musical chairs disrupts the low cost of labor, a hidden subsidy that many corporations have come to rely on.
While it may appear that employees, like Scotland, have much to lose and little to gain by declaring their independence and seeking new alliances, in reality it is the corporate status quo, such as England, that stand to lose the most in this latest game of musical chairs.
In the end, England will pay dearly for maintaining its alliance with Scotland. Will your employer pay dearly for you? You may be surprised by the answer.
Stay tuned and Trust Jesus.
Key Indicators for September 19, 2014
Copper Price per Lb: $3.13
Oil Price per Barrel (WTI): $92.41