Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.


By Spencer (2009)


The issue of a jobless recovery is getting a lot of attention recently.

I’ve found the best way to look at the issue is to compare the change in real growth and productivity over the long run. There have been three periods of different productivity trends in modern US economic history.

Prior to about 1973 productivity growth averaged 2.8%. In the second or low productivity era, running from 1974 to 1995, productivity growth slowed to 1.5% before rebounding to 2.4% since 1995.

But real GDP growth also slowed over this period. As a consequence, the ratio of real GDP growth to productivity growth fell from 68% in the early strong productivity to 50% in the weak productivity era before rebounding to over 80% in the most recent era. Basically, real GDP growth equals productivity growth plus hours worked or employment growth. A consequence of stronger productivity in an era of weaker GDP growth this suggests that each percentage point increase in real GDP growth generates a much weaker increase in hours worked or employment. Currently, a percentage point increase in real GDP growth now generates under a 0.2 percentage point increase in hours worked versus 0.3 in the pre-1974 era and 0.5 percentage points in the low productivity era.

But to a certain extent comparing productivity and real GDP is comparing apples to oranges. To be accurate one should look at productivity versus output in the nonfarm sector. GDP includes the farm sector of course, but also the nonprofit and government sectors where productivity is assumed to be zero.

If you look at what happened in the 1990s and early 2000s recoveries in the nonfarm business sector, you see that productivity growth significantly outpaced output growth in the early recovery phase of the cycle. As a consequence hours worked or employment fell, generating the jobless recoveries. It looks like the problem in these two cycles was much weaker growth rather than strong productivity.

This shift to an environment of stronger productivity and weaker real growth generated an interesting development that has received little attention among economists or in the business press.

This development was a secular decline in labor’s share of the pie. Prior to the 1982 recession there was a strong cyclical pattern of labor’s but it was around a long term or secular flat trend. But since the early 1980s labor’s share of the pie has fallen sharply by about ten percentage points. Note that the chart is of labor compensation divided by nominal output indexed to 1992 = 100. That is because the data for each series is reported as an index number at 1992=100 rather than in dollar terms. So the scale is set to 1992 =100 rather than in percentage points. But it still shows that labor payments as a share of nonfarm business total ouput has declined sharply over the last 20 years and prior to the latest cycle we did not even see the normal late cycle uptick in labor’s share.

If this chart gets a lot of attention it will be interesting to see how the libertarian and/or conservative analysts who keep coming up with all types of excuses to explain away the weakness in real labor compensation in recent years explain this away. If you really want to raise a stink you could look at this as a great example of the Marxist immiseration of labor that Marx believed was one of the internal contradictions of capitalism that would eventually lead to its self destruction.

additional chart in response to comments.

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Labor market rents can cause business cycles

Robert Waldmann

I’m not sure whether (more likely wherE) this has been noted in the literature, but wage differentials not due to differences in workers’ skill are enough to generate a business cycle. A verbal “model” after the jump.

update: additional model with fixed capital added.

The key reference from which this is not quite obvious is Kevin Murphy Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny (1989) “Industrialization and the Big Push” Journal of Political Economy vol 97 pp 1003- which contains three models only one of which is The Big Push. Another discusses wage differentials not due to worker characteristics. Since Murphy is one of the authors, they are assumed to be compensating differentials not labor market rents but it doesn’t matter (except for welfare analysis).

OK the problem: Assume that workers all have the same skill yet different wages are paid in different industries. Can this imply multiple Pareto ranked steady states ? Can this imply that there are sunspot equilibria in which GNP changes just because people expect it to change ?

To make the problem hard, assume that everyone is rational, that there is perfect competition (except for the wage differentials) and that all goods are non durable so consumption must equal production and the real interest rate just makes aggregate demand equal aggregate supply.

The last assumption is needed, because a model with two sectors can have a sunspot equilibrium due to the effect of (spontaneous just because people expect it) sectoral shifts on the real interest rate (Boldrin and Rusticchini in Econometrica). I find models which rely on the effect of changes in the real interest rate on the rate of growth of aggregate consumption or labor supply to be unconvincing as there is almost exactly no sign of such effects in the data (that criticism applies to 3 published papers with my name on them).

OK the “model.” Time is continuous. People are free to borrow and save at interest rate r. They have a rate of time preference rho

There is no capital. There are two non-durable goods produced with labor alone. There is nothing odd about good 1. One unit of it is produced with 1 unit of labor.

1) C_1 = L_1

where C_1 is consumption of good 1 and L_1 is employment in the sector which produces good 1.

The price of good 1 is normalized to 1. There is perfect competition so w_1 (the wage paid in sector 1) is equal to 1.

One unit of labor is needed to produce good 2

2) C_2 = L_2

total labor supply is fixed L_1+L_2 = L

However for some reason (it’s ok except for the welfare analysis if its a comepensating differential, that is it is more unpleasant to work in sector 2)

3) w_2= a > 1

there is perfect competition so the price of good 2 P_2 = a.

update 5: I am assuming that each individual worker moonlights working in both sectors and that they all spend the same fraction of their time in each sector. In other words I am making assumptions so that all individuals have exactly the same income. This is silly but makes things simpler.

Now a knife edge very special case for clarity. The goods are perfect substitutes

U = aC_2+C_1

This means that any C_2+C_1 = L can be a steady state equilibrium.

Welfare equals (L + (a-1)C_2)/rho = (aL-(a-1)C_1).

For this knife edge special case, there are a continuum of Pareto ranked steady state equilibria. People are better off if they work in sector 2. Any number can work in sector 2.

Well that’s an extreme example. Now how about this one Good_1 is an inferior good. This means that for fixed relative prices (and relative prices must be fixed) there is an interval of total consumption over which consumption of good 1 declines.

update 3: I think I was totally confused here
update: Assumption immediately below is a correction of the assumption in an earlier version. Sad to say the new assumption is the assumption which I hate.

Consumption/permanent income decreases as the interest rate increases

permanent income is the expected discounted value of the flow of income. Call it pY.

Oh no now I need a graph.

Figure 1

figure 1

Consider possible steady states. Consider income and consumption of good 1. The line shows income as a function of consumption (and production) of good 1 . The curve shows consumption of good 1 as a function of pY.

Note there are two steady states and one is Pareto better than the other (C_2 is higher).

OK now figure 2 shows Y as a function of pY.

figure 2

Define total consumption as C = C_1+aC_2

So there are two steady states one with high output Yg and the other with low output which I will call Yb.

What’s more the economy can jump from one to the other. let’s say it switches according to a poisson alarm clock with the sunspot causing a switch arriving at rate p. Or hell let’s say time is discrete and they switch each period with probability p.

In each steady state consumption equals to income so that the identity C=Y and the equations which give C_1 and C_2 as a function of y (for P_2 fixed and equal to a from the supply side) and Y as a function of C_1 and C_2 both hold.

Furthermore the economy can jump stochastically from one to the other. How ? Well lets say we are in the good state. The national income identity means C=Y. However individuals are free to borrow and save at interest rate r. They decide consumption given permanent income. This means that r can’t equal rho. They know that their income might fall so if y=Yg all agents will try to save if r=rho. They can’t. we must have C=Y because there is no way to invest.

So r must be lower than rho. This means that they are satisfied if the expected marginal utility of consumption increases. It does it jumps up to the higher marginal utility of consumption in the bad steady state with rate p. For any p r can be calculated so that people neither want to borrow nor save if they are currently at the good steady state.

Similarly at the bad steady state. Here r must be greater than rho since income and consumption might jump up.

update 4: Now I add capital to the model. The model above is very strange as there is no fixed capital or trade so consumption must always be equal to production. Also one of the stylized facts about wages, and, in particular, wages which are surprisingly high given worker characteristics is that they are high in industries with a high capital labor ratio. In the model above, both industries have a capital labor ratio of 0.

So now there is a third good K in addition to C_1 and C_2. At any given time total capital equals K = K_1+K_2 where K_i is capital used in sector i. Y_1 and Y_2 are production of each type of good no longer equal to C_1 and C_2. Y = Y_1+Y_2 and C=C_1+C_2

The assumption about wages becomes

5) w_2 = (w_1)a

since now wages depend on the capital labor ratio.

I will assume that the share of capital is constant and the same in each industry. This means that the relative prices of the goods will be constant. For further simplicity I am going to make assumptions so that constant is 1 so P_2 = P_1. This is all for tractability and is not realistic. In fact not only is K/L high in high wage industries but so is the share of capital (capital income)/wL which will be just rK/wL here. But I assume that rK/wL = alpha in both sectors cause it makes things easier. I equations I assume

5) y_1 = A(L_1)^(1-alpha)(K_1)^alpha


6) Y_2 = A(aL_2)^(1-alpha)(K_2)^alpha

So both sectors have similar Cobb-Douglas production functions. For the same amount spent on labor and capital (which means fewer physical hours of work in industry 2 since each gets a higher wage) the sectors have the same output so the two goods are sold for the same price which I set to 1. This makes everything relatively simple and means that the crude definitions like Y = Y_1+Y_2 make sense.

I want to keep things simple so I will assume that you can create 2 units of K from 1 unit of good 1 and one unit of good 2. This is an absolutely rigid no substitution allowed leontief type function. capital depreciates at rate delta. so

5) dK/dt = -deltaK + 2min(Y_1-C_1,Y_2-C_2)

This means that

6) dK/dt = -deltaK + (Y-C)

and the price of one unit of capital is 1, that is equal to the price of one unit of consumption good 1 which is equal to the price of one unit of consumption good 2.

I assume that delta is high enough that no one ever wants to convert K back to consumption goods (or that they can do that which is silly but standard). Also I assume either that delta is high enough that no one ever wants to take capital from sector 1 and add it to sector 2 or that this is possible. Again silly but standard.

Note that a shift of labor from sector 1 to sector 2 will increase demand for capital and will give a higher marginal product of capital r for the same total amount of capital K.

Finally I will make an assumption about tastes. For p_1/p_2 = 1 (which it must be given the supply side) C_1 and C_2 as a function of total consumption are given by figure 3. As C goes up from zero the ratio C_2/C_1 is constant for a while, then C_2/C_1 increases then it is constant with a higher C_2/C_1.

In the regions where C_2/C_1 doesn’t change with total consumption C, this model behaves just like a standard Solow model. However, when C_2/C_1 is higher it is as if there has been labor augmenting technological progress since labor is more productive in sector 2.

Recall I am assuming all workers divide their time and work in both sectors and have equal identical income. I also they are the saver/ investors and all have equal wealth so everyone always has the same income. Silly but standard in macro.

This means that, for the right a and assumptions about tastes, there can be two steady states again. In each steady state the real interest rate is equal to the rate of time preference r=rho, but in the good steady state C_2/C_1 is higher than in the bad steady state so the K/L needed to make r=rho is higher and output is higher and consumption is higher so, given tastes the ratio C_2/C_1 is higher.
Define the two steady state levels of capital as Kg and Kb with Kg>Kb and may use the subscripts the same way for other variables.

It is no longer possible to jump from one steady state to another. K is a state variable and changes slowly. C can jump.

There is a sunspot equilibrium where the economy spends much of it’s time near one of the steady states.

If K is just above the good steady state K (Kg) then rrho.

If it jumps the economy finds itself on the path of dC/dt and dK/dt which leads to a point with K just below bad steady state K. Once it gets real close to this point, the sunspot begins giving a jump up signal which arrives at rate p again. This makes consumption remain constant if the jump up signal doesn’t arrive at a point where r>rho so K below Kb.

If the jump up signal arrives then C jumps up to the region with high constant C_2/C_1 to exactly the point where the dC/dt and dK/dt equations lead it to the original point with K a little bit greater than Kb.

Also now the economy can have much more complicated dynamics. It is possible to make an equilibrium in which it can jump at any time and not just when close to a steady state.

update 3: I think everything below is totally confused

Note again two steady states. Also note that for the Pareto better steady state (with higher Y) dY/dpY >1. This means that this steady state is a stable steady state with Y = Yg (for good). if Y starts slightly above steady Yg then it will converge to steady Yg. This means that there is a sunspot equilibrium in which Y bounces around Yg just because people expect it too (rational animal spirits).

update 2: The assumption which I hate that, given permanent income, consumption decreases in the interest rate is not needed for there to be a stable steady state and sunspot equilibria. It is just needed so that the good steady state is stable. If, in contrast, consumption increases in the interest rate for given permanent income, then the bad steady state is stable. There is a very general result that when you pass from zero steady states to two (as in the figure) then one of the steady states is stable and one is unstable.

I will attempt to discuss the dynamics of Y near a steady state. I will use linear approximations (I have to do this to have any hope of writing out the explanation with plain ascii. That approximation is not necessary for the result.

There are two steady states Yg defined above and the one with lower Y which I now name Yb.

I will try to find the time derivative of Y, dY/dt for Y near a steady state. If d(dY/dt)/dY is negative then when Y is above the steady state Y falls down to the steady state. This means that the steady state is a sink, it is stable. It means that there are sunspot equilibria where the economy bounces around the steady state.

I will make an assumption about the utility function. First define total consumption

C = C_1+aC_2

note that C=Y.

Given the relative price P_2 = 2P_1, C_1 and C_2 are functions of C.

I assume that
the marginal utility of consumption of good 1 is equal to

4) U_1(C_1,C_2) = C^(-sigma)

This must be equal to (1/a) times the marginal utility of consumption of good 2.

Now consider the real interest rate r. Even though there is no saving and investment, there is a market clearing r such that no one wants to save or borrow.
Equation 4 implies that

5) (dC/dt)/C = (r-rho)/sigma = (dY/dt)/Y

(recall the national accounts identity is just C=Y).

now consider constant r (just for now)

permanent income at t (pY_t) is the integral as s goes from zero to infinity of exp(-rs)Y_(t+s)ds

Given 5 that equals the integral as s goes from zero to infinity of

exp(s(r(1-sigma)-rho)/sigma)Y_t so

6) pY_t = Y_t(-sigma/(r(1-sigma)-rho))= Y_t(sigma/(rho+(sigma-1)r)

if r = rho then pY_t = Y_t(sigma/sigma) = Y_t

if sigma is greater than 1, then pY_t/Y_t decreases in r. If sigma is less than one then pY_t/Y_t increases in r. Let’s assume that sigma>1 (the assumption I like). This means that Yb is a stable steady state.

OK so that wasn’t very hard, but the problem is that r_t changes as Y_t changes.

I’m working on it (update 3.1 not any more. I realize I was assuming that there was some way to save.

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Weekend charts: the destruction of the "goods-producing" payroll


The BLS establishment survey (nonfarm payroll) reports that the accumulated job loss since December 2007 is 5.02% (almost 7 million jobs), blowing the total job loss of the previous “biggie” recessions, the 73-75 and 81-82 recessions, out of the water by 2.5% and 2%, respectively. There’s no question that it has been bad, with almost every industry slashing payroll.

The chart illustrates the total accumulated job loss across the major industries spanning December 2007 to August 2009 (nonfarm payroll listed here). Assuming that the recession is over (the consensus and key indicators seem to indicate that a business cycle trough has been found), then there are just two men left standing (adding jobs over the cycle), education and health services and government (barely). Even the historical job anchors , other services, professional and business services, and financial activities, are down between 1.8 and 8%! The job loss is broad and deep.

However, the industry contributions to total job loss show that the job destruction is heavily weighted in manufacturing and construction, which account for roughly half of the total drop in nonfarm payroll (-2.5% of the total -5%). But manufacturing and construction hold just a 16% share of the entire payroll.

Productivity numbers, i.e., growing amid record output loss, would suggest (even manufacturing productivity saw growth in Q2 2009) that factories are running on skeleton crews, which is efficient given the drop in demand. And a resumption of aggregate demand may be partially satisfied by adding hours, but that will only go so far. Firms will need to hire, and hire soon after demand starts to grow again.

Rebecca Wilder

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The pre-labor report labor reports


Let’s investigate these pre-BLS reports.

There are many job reports out there, but here are some of the biggies that come out right before the official government BLS employment situation (not a coincidence).

  • Monster Employment Index (not seasonally adjusted) – an index geared toward online recruiting trends.
  • Challenger job cuts (not seasonally adjusted) – follows announced layoffs at large companies.
  • The ADP report (seasonally adjusted) – estimates private nonfarm payroll using their payroll data (very different from the BLS survey methodology).
  • WANTED Technologies report (no information on seasonal adjustments on the website, but it must be, right?) – estimates total nonfarm payroll (private plus public) using “hiring demand data” stemming from online job boards.

Well, they are all generally trending in the positive direction – i.e., the “it’s getting worse less quickly” story. This is consistent with the BLS report. The trend is about all that they can match, the level value seems more like a hit or miss to me. (Note: except for the Challenger cuts, all of this data has been revised). Correction: Just heard from Charles Thibault over at WANTED – he says: “We do not ‘revise’ forecasts ex-post like ADP”. Will update if that changes. RW: Maybe there’s something to this one.

But I am a skeptical as to the exact value added from these reports. Although the ADP report does not explicitly claim this, I imagine that they do like the idea that markets generally use their number as an indicator of the upcoming BLS report on Friday.

WANTED Technologies is explicit in their claim to forecast the BLS report more consistently than does the “consensus”. And furthermore, they present a root mean square error of their forecast (a measure of how close the forecast comes to the actual data) as something below that of the BLS (see Table at the bottom of their methodology page). I am not quite clear on how they calculate the error, since they revise their data as does the ADP (again, correction: according to WANTED, they do not revise their forecast ex post, and the MSE comparison may be quite meaningful).

This gets me back to my first point, what is the value added of these pre-labor labor reports? I always thought that the various reports should focus on what are their comparative advantages. For example, the ADP payroll figures likely have information on wages that cannot be ascertained from the BLS’ survey approach. Or WANTED uses online job applications – perhaps it can provide an earlier indication of labor prospects than can the survey as a whole.

We will see what happens tomorrow.

Rebecca Wilder

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G-20 to talk about ‘exit strategies’…

Rebecca Wilder

With the developed and developing economies printing money like it’s going out of style, the exit strategy – i.e., taking back the hundred percent increase in the monetary base (at least in the US) – is rumored to be the topic du jour at the G-20 summit later this month.

According to Reuters, the “G20 countries have agreed it is too soon to withdraw measures to end the global economic crisis and will discuss coordinating policy to wind up the trillions of dollars in support at talks in London this week.”

The article focuses on fiscal policy, but only a delinquent discussion of exit strategy leaves out the record monetary easing of late. However, I would most certainly agree that it is too soon.

The global labor market is plummeting.

And global sticky wages are consequently growing at snail-speed rates.

I’ve always been a big believer in the output-gap story. And until that unemployment rate starts to fall, I just don’t see how global inflation is going to be much of a problem.

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Dear US Citizen, It is your labor being conscripted

by Divorced one like Bush

I just have to get this out because I fear we will not learn from this experience if we do not face up to what really is being put on the line in this crisis: Our labor. I am angry. And I am making this personal. It is personal. I’m speaking to you We the People.

What every solution is proposing in its most boiled down pure form is the conscription of our labor. It is nothing less. Only, it is not conscription for altruistic reasons. It is conscription in service of the most basic of needs: survival.

From this point forward, any gains in productivity will no longer be applied in total toward our quest for a more perfect union and the pursuit of happiness. Think about how much progress will have to be made in labor productivity rise just to offset the $900 billion already tallied and the now additional $700 billion such that we do not lose our current standard of living. If we can not make the increase, how much lost standard of living does this represent? How much more do I have to work, or how much of what I work now will go toward this crisis resolution instead of bettering my life? These are the questions we as citizens should be asking. It’s not like we can all just pay this off by writing a check from our savings. Even if we could, it represents future gains in our personal growth lost.

It is not money. It is not the taxes to be paid. It is not the wealth lost. It is the most basic of human life sustaining and rewarding experiences being taken: labor. Our labor. That which provided the bases for the value of our nation’s worth.

That this crisis resolution is being talked about in dollars does a complete injustice to all of the labor that has come prior to this historic moment. The failure of the system, the loss of value, the loss of the integrate of the system is a testament to the abuse (physical and emotional) that the US citizen has been enduring. That the discussions (and I understand that we have to discuss the mechanics to resolve the crisis) by our elected does not come from the perspective that it is our labor being taken, being assigned is the lie we have allowed ourselves to live. We have not made what takes place in our country personal. It is always abstract in our national discussions.

WAKE UP! KNOCK, KNOCK, HELLOOOOOOOO…this is real. This is happening. You are going to be working, laboring, sweating, getting tired, getting fustrated, longer years of work, more worn out in our retirement from now on. No one else is going to be paying this off. You and I will be paying this off.

It is our fault too, because we are the government. WE ARE THE GGOVERNMENT! (Please keep saying this until it is as natural an understanding as is drinking water to stay healthy.) And, that is the dichotomy to this crisis. In the end the abuse we have endured, the labor we have wasted, the labor we will now forfeit to future social maturity is our own damn fault because, for what ever reason or excuse, we failed to labor within the primary structure of our life’s existence that supports all we believed about our wealth: One Voice, One vote.

So learn the lesson. Remember the lesson. Teach the lesson. To not learn, to forget is to forfeit via conscription your most personal possession: Your labor.

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Valuing "Women’s Work"

One of the hardest things in the world is to value that which is not otherwise measured. The old observation that a man who marries his housekeeper reduces GDP is both sexist and accurate.

Still (via Erin), the estimate that being an at-home parent is worth $117,000 p.a. seems a bit high. And we know why:

The biggest driver of a mom’s theoretical salary is the amount of overtime pay she’d receive for working more than 40 hours a week. The 18,000 moms surveyed about their typical week reported working 94.4 hours — meaning they’d be spending more than half their working hours on overtime.

Working moms reported an average 54.6 hour “mom work week” besides the hours they spent at paying jobs.

Still, as a proxy, you can hire an au pair (maximum 45 hours a week) for about $350/week. Add some incidental costs (car insurance, school costs required by the State Department, extra food) and you’re probably at $500/week.

So if you hire two, you’ve covered 90 hours for $1,000 a week, or $52,000 per year. Add in some gaps in the process (e.g., required vacation) and you might be around $70,000.

There seems to be an arbitrage opportunity here, unless the additional housing would cost about $50,000. But even that seems as if “women’s work” adds a lot of intangible value to the economy.

Rdan here: Given this is way down the line now, I have added a link to the post instead of comments. I hope you do not mind Ken. This is at Blog her

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Labor’s fighting back

Seems Colorado wants to change to a “right to work” state. They have been trying for at least a decade. Funny phrasing. I always thought I had a right to work. You know… pursuit of happyness, freedom and all. What does it mean for me if I have no right to work? Would I need to have permission to say, clean my toilet? Or feed myself? Or help you shovel the snow from your steps? So, I guess some in labor have finally woken up to the mind game of such laws which manifests as lower wages.

Labor now has a couple of measures of their own:
Initiative 62: Just cause for employee discharge.
The definitions of just cause:

a. Incompetence;
b. Substandard performance of assigned job duties;
c. Neglect of assigned job duties;
d. Repeated violations of the employer’s written policies and procedures relating to jobperformance;
e. Gross insubordination that affects job performance;
f. Willful misconduct that affects job performance; or
g. Conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude.
h. filling of bankruptcy by the employer or;
i. simultaneous discharge or suspension of ten percent or more of the employer’s work force in Colorado

I know, start firing away about the need to not tie the bosses hands so tight, free markets in labor…etc, etc, etc. Personally, I see this as a step toward moving labor from an identity of “commodity”. Besides, the labor department has been against labor for about 8 years now.

Ah, but this one is the one that I find interesting especially as we have discussed the need for holding the top of the companies responsible, initiative #74:

(1) A business entity is guilty of an offense if:
(a) The conduct constituting the offense consists of an omission to discharge a specific duty of affirmative performance imposed on the business entity by law; or
(b) The conduct constituting the offense is engaged in, authorized, solicited, requested, commanded, or knowingly tolerated by the governing body or individual authorized to manage the affairs of the business entity or by a executive official acting within the scope of his or her employment or in behalf of the business entity.

They do provide a defense for those charged. They just have to have reported the offense prior to being charged. They have to blow the whistle first! Just imagine what it would take to keep an entire board and the officers mum now that the individual won’t be protected unless they blow that whistle. How much would you gamble that just one (it only takes one) would not tell?

There is an even tougher version of this initiative # 57:
This one goes a step further and allows a Colorado citizen to file suit against the company or it’s executive officials. Any awards after expenses goes to the government agency THAT IMPOSED BY LAW THE SPECIFIC DUTY TO BE PERFORMED BY THE BUSINESS ENTITY. It’s a means to prevent frivolous actions.

So, if this passes they will have required by law that every executive official has a duty to be the whistle blower and they will have enabled every citizen to be the cop.

Nothing like competition in the market place…is there? Think some in Colorado are learning from the right’s play book on how to get voters to the polls?

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