China’s labour movement and China’s future

Over the past several weeks there’s been a lot of press focused on working conditions at several of China’s big-name factories, notably, Foxconn and Honda.

A rash of suicides at Foxconn, maker of products for big names such as Apple, Sony, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard, has focused media attention on the company’s huge profits and, by our standards, grossly low wages. The Taiwanese company employs over 800,000 people across China with an average wage of under $200 month, just a touch over standard Chinese minimum wage rates.

(And while that may sound horrific, keep in mind that China’s poverty line, measured in purchasing power parity by the World Bank, is approximately $1.25 per day. To be more realistic given inflation and a more realistic basket of urban goods and services, that figure is likely closer to $5/day in urban centres, and some would argue even more.)

Over at Honda Motors, a strike by 1,900 workers at a Chinese transmission plant over low wages shut the plant down for two weeks. Wages at the plant ranged from $131 to $219 per month.

In both cases, management has responded with wage hikes – 30 per cent of basic wages at Foxconn, and a 24 per cent increase at Honda. Other companies are likely feeling the pressure to follow.

Great, right? Well, maybe not. Read the rest of this entry »

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Baseball and US healthcare

If you’re a baseball fan than you’re likely mourning the end of the season and likely familiar with the concepts of “moneyball” and “sabermetrics” and the use of statistics to infer trends, future performance and player investment or drafting strategies. It counters the traditional methods of judging future performance on the basis of personal observation and informed opinion. The concept is most closely associated with Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, and (in theory) explains why small-market teams such as Oakland are able to compete with large-market teams whose budgets dwarf the latter.

This concept of statistic-driven outcomes has its equivalent in healthcare: evidence-based medicine. Yet despite its theoretical value, it’s still rarely used and tough to access. As Billy Beane, Newt Gingrich and John Kerry note in a recent New York Time op-ed, “a doctor today can get more data on the starting third baseman on his fantasy baseball team than on the effectiveness of life-and-death medical procedures.”

All this despite the fact that the US spends more than twice per capita on healthcare than any other country in the world, ranks amongst the worst industrialized countries on health quality, and sees nearly 100,000 Americans killed every year by preventable medical erros. You’d think a moneyball/evidence-based medicine approach to healthcare would gain more traction. Read the rest of this entry »