Well, this comes as little surprise:
On Monday morning, every single Barnes & Noble location – that’s 781 stores – told their full-time employees to pack up and leave. The eliminated positions were as follows: the head cashiers (those are the people responsible for handling the money), the receiving managers (the people responsible for bringing in product and making sure it goes where it should), the digital leads (the people responsible for solving Nook problems), the newsstand leads (the people responsible for distributing the magazines), and the bargain leads (the people responsible for keeping up the massive discount sections). A few of the larger stores were able to spare their head cashiers and their receiving managers, but not many.
Just about everyone lost between 3 and 7 employees. The unofficial numbers put the total around 1,800 people.
Go here to read the rest. This is the type of decision that a chain makes just before it goes under. A mass firing of experienced full time people, and attempting to replace them with cheap part timers, is never a long term solution, but rather an attempt to prop up the corporate bottom line just before a corporation heads to the La Brea tarpits. I knew that the chain was not long for this world last year when it stopped having new books in separate sections in each subject category. This, of course, ticked off customers who would have to search for the new books among the old books. For Barnes and Noble this served two purposes: force the customers to take another look at the old books in hopes they will buy them, and disguise the fact that the number of new books they were getting in was dwindling. This is the type of cutting off your nose to spite your face move that a business makes only in extremis.
The idiots at the top of Barnes and Noble have been making bad decisions for a very long time, including losing out to Amazon Kindle, disastrous marketing of their Nook e-reader, filling their stores with cheap junk to cater to non-book readers, selling overpriced food and drink, and the list could go on and on. I confess to some sadness over this. Memories of going to the big box bookstores, remember Borders, with my bride and kids are quite pleasant, but sentiment and business are two separate things. This is an opportunity for small chains like Half-Price Books, and no market niche remains unfilled for long in a capitalist system. Amazon is going in for the kill with brick and mortar stores and we will see how many Barnes and Noble store locations they acquire after the inevitable bankruptcy.
Atlantic columnist Megan McArdle makes the case for why abolishing the corporate income tax (and then taxing capital gains and dividends at the same rate as other income) is a proposal that both liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on:
The incidence of “corporate” taxes is not necessarily progressive. The “employer half” of the payroll tax, for example, is thought by most economists to fall pretty much entirely on the worker; corporations compensate for the extra cost by lowering the wages they offer. Taxes on corporate profits are exactly the same for middle class families who have some shares in a 401(k), and multi-millionaire heiresses.
If we get rid of the corporate income tax, we could eliminate the special treatment for dividends and capital gains. Continue Reading
President Obama will propose several new tax cuts and incentives for businesses on Wednesday, September 8th, including one which is billed as having a decidedly right-leaning flavor:
President Barack Obama, in one of his most dramatic gestures to business, will propose that companies be allowed to write off 100% of their new investment in plant and equipment through 2011, a plan that White House economists say would cut business taxes by nearly $200 billion over two years.
The proposal, to be laid out Wednesday in a speech in Cleveland, tops a raft of announcements, from a proposed expansion of the research and experimentation tax credit to $50 billion in additional spending on roads, railways and runways. But unlike those two ideas, both familiar from Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, the investment incentive would embrace a long-held wish by conservative economists that had never won support from either Republican or Democratic administrations.
The Wall Street Journal has been running a series on the business of online “spying” for marketing information about web browsers. From today’s installment:
You may not know a company called [x+1] Inc., but it may well know a lot about you.
From a single click on a web site, [x+1] correctly identified Carrie Isaac as a young Colorado Springs parent who lives on about $50,000 a year, shops at Wal-Mart and rents kids’ videos. The company deduced that Paul Boulifard, a Nashville architect, is childless, likes to travel and buys used cars. And [x+1] determined that Thomas Burney, a Colorado building contractor, is a skier with a college degree and looks like he has good credit.
One thing my study of economics has taught me is that businesses will tend to act in whatever way they think will bring them the most profit. There may be rare exceptions, and of course businessmen often have mixed motives. But the overall tendency in this direction is very strong.
My guess is that if you surveyed people, many more self-described progressives would say that they agreed with the statement than self-described conservatives. Indeed, progressives often criticize conservatives and libertarians for being insufficiently attuned to the rapacious self-interest motivating businessmen.
Yet oddly enough, it seems to me that one of the main problems with progressive thought is that they don’t take the idea that businesses act to maximize profit seriously enough. For a group that claims to have a low opinion of businessmen, progressives have a strange habit of advocating policies that will only work on the supposition that businesses won’t act to maximize profit, and then react with shock when they proceed to do so.
I ran across this Boston Globe article about a Boston College professor who believes she has successfully identified a new form of civil disobedience, or as she terms it “economic disobedience.”
The interview changed the way Dodson talked with other supervisors and managers of low-income workers, and she began to find that many of them felt the same discomfort as the grocery store manager. And many went a step further, finding ways to undermine the system and slip their workers extra money, food, or time needed to care for sick children. She was surprised how widespread these acts were. In her new book, “The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy,” she called such behavior “economic disobedience.”
I’m perplexed as to why Prof. Dodson is so surprised by this. Continue Reading
What started as a “Ha, do you libertarians endorse this?” dare by Mike of Rortybomb has turned into a somewhat interesting discussion between him and Megan McArdle about to what extent it’s possible to protect people who are not good at understanding complex financial products (the elderly, or people who just aren’t good at understanding complicated service agreements) from being victimized by banks without in the process hurting the people you’re trying to help. This as the new credit card legislation is going into effect, trying to crack down on banks which raise interest rates quickly if you’re late paying, have hidden fees, or move due dates around (theoretically in an attempt to keep people from paying on time.)
Mike suggests that banks should be required to offer a “plain vanilla option” of products such as credit cards or checking accounts.
And that solution would be mandating financial services to provide Vanilla Option financial products. Boring, low-reward trap-fee products you’d probably have to pay a yearly fee for.
So much of our financial services are predicated on tricks and traps but also have a lot of benefits. You get free checking, but if you overdraft you lose more than you gained. Now with a vanilla option, you could pay more upfront to not take the risk of losing later. This is banking how it used to be, boring. And this is exactly the kind of product that people with weak cognition would want to have available. Someone approaching older age, but before getting there, could opt for the “extra boring” financial services package. People buy renter’s insurance; some might view a yearly-fee on their checking account or credit card as a “trap insurance.”
Megan doesn’t think the idea would be very successful: Continue Reading
Having at times been a bit critical of my co-contributor Joe’s enthusiasm for Employee Owned Companies (EOCs) and “economic democracy” in general, it seems only fair that I spend a moment looking at the good sides — and there do definitely seem to be good sides to the employee owned company model.
Being entrepreneurially-minded, employee ownership is certainly not something that I’m in principle opposed to, it’s more that I think it probably works well in certain situations, but is not a panacea.
Where It Doesn’t Work
It seems to me that certain business characteristics will make it particularly hard for EOCs to prosper. This does not mean that employees at such companies should not have company issued stock, but the amount of stock distributed to employees by the company should probably be limited to the traditional 10-20% maximum.
Companies which require large amounts of capital investment (early stage startups which are trying to grow very fast, research-intensive companies) are generally not going to be good candidates. The traditional return for investment is stock — either by the general investing public through a public stock offering, or through specific investors in a privately held company. Such companies often reserve a portion of stock for issue to employees as an incentive (or sell to them at a discount via stock options) and have company performance based compensation, but their need for capital makes it impossible for them to reserve 50%+ of company stock for employees.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey attracted quite a bit of ire a few months back when he wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal in which he advocated that Obama and the congress consider an approach to health care reform similar to the health benefits which Whole Foods provides its employees (centered around high deductible coverage and health savings accounts.) Within days, several progressive sites were calling for boycotts of Whole Foods, seeing Mackey as giving aid to anti-Obama forces. Mackey himself is somewhat bemused by the firestorm his editorial caused.
“President Obama called for constructive suggestions for health-care reform,” he explains. “I took him at his word.” Mr. Mackey continues: “It just seems to me there are some fundamental reforms that we’ve adopted at Whole Foods that would make health care much more affordable for the uninsured.”
Though he’s not gunning to cause any more controversies, Mackey has an interesting weekend interview in the Journal where he talks, among other things, about his philosophy regarding capitalism and business, and how it’s changed over the years since he founded Whole Foods with $45,000 in friends and family-raised seed funding in 1978.
“Before I started my business, my political philosophy was that business is evil and government is good. I think I just breathed it in with the culture. Businesses, they’re selfish because they’re trying to make money.”
With people focused on the economic downturn, many have found it a good time to give a little extra thought to whether other people are making more than they ought to. The president has spoken out several times against “excessive compensation” of executives, and a number of people have floated the idea of adjusting the top marginal income tax rate to effectively cap total compensation at ten million dollars a year. MZ tackled the question somewhat humorously here.
Beyond question, $10 million is a lot of money. Most of us will never see anything like that much money, and so it seems entirely reasonable to demand: Why should anyone be paid so much? What’s so special about CEOs and actors and baseball players that they deserve tens of millions of dollars? Aren’t they running off with the money that we should be getting instead?
I certainly wouldn’t claim that executives are not often paid more than they are worth. A board of directors is still a group of people with emotional commitments (including wanting to assure themselves that they made the right pick in choosing the current CEO) and they will certainly not always do what is in their own best interest. Though we may be comforted that in a free economy the incentives are in place to automatically punish them for not doing so.