kitchen table math, the sequel: sticky wages redux

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

sticky wages redux


Having become something of a sticky wage aficionado, I was amused to see this story, which may be the ultimate sticky-wage scenario:
Wolf, a 120-pound canine cross between a wolf and a malamute, paced his pen, staring out with amber eyes. In a few hours, his work shift would begin.

He's part of a squad of wolf dog hybrids working nights at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a local answer to the kinds of budgetary strains felt at many of the nation's prisons.

Nobody yet has tried to overpower or outrun them. Lou Cruz, 55 years old, who's serving life for a murder he committed in Jefferson Parish near Gretna in 1981, said inmates are keenly aware of the four-legged security force prowling the perimeter.

"You might run," he said, "but they're going to catch you."

The wolf dogs, as they are called here, are the brainchild of Warden Burl Cain and his staff, and they were brought in last year in response to a steady decline in the prison's annual budget from $135 million five years ago to $115 million today. The prison, which is known as Angola, has laid off 105 out of 1,200 officers, and 35 of the 42 guard towers now stand empty on the 18,000-acre prison grounds.

The animals regularly guard at least three of the seven camps that make up the complex.

Mr. Cain says the wolf dogs are a strong psychological deterrent. "The wolf ate Grandma," he said.

They also save money. The average correctional officer at Angola earns about $34,000 a year, a prison spokesman said. By comparison, the canine program, which includes about 80 dogs—the wolf hybrids along with other breeds for other tasks— costs about $60,000 annually for medical care, supplies and food.
Prison's Guards Are Part Wolf, All Business By GARY FIELDS
So we have wolf dogs earning $750 a year working side by side with humans earning $34K.* And the warden is collecting his retirement salary along with his regular salary.

Having Googled a bit, I haven't found reports indicating that the prison cut wages or imposed furloughs before laying off people and hiring dogs. But even if they did, sticky wages are in play.

Assuming total compensation is $50K per officer, the prison could hire back all 105 employees if they reduced compensation of the 1095 remaining employees by $4,375. (Somebody check my math, please!)

That never happens.

* I don't know whether $34K includes benefits.

Not your father's bell curve


JimH said...

I think a more equitable wage reduction would be a percentage reduction. If wages were reduced by, say, 5 percent, then the person making $200K would have wages reduced by $10K, and the person making $40K would have wages reduced by $2K. Even a sliding scale could be a possibility. If everyone is making sacrifices, then it's fair to consider cutting the $200K wage earner by 10 percent and the $40K wage earner by 3 percent.

Speaking as the head of a single income family, $40K is barely a living wage in many parts of the country. Reducing a $40K wage by $4k could be devastating for a family.

Your argument is definitely worth consideration, and union leaders would have a meltdown if they were asked to consider it.

Anonymous said...

This might be illustrating sticky wages.

It also might be illustrating getting more "bang" for your buck. Also called efficiency.

The goal of the prison system should not be to spend the most money possible (of all that is available) while guarding the prisoners. If 80 dogs can replace more than two humans (all other things being the same, of course), the taxpayers benefit.

-Mark Roulo

Independent George said...

I'm curious about why wolf dogs in particular are used; depending on the wolf content, they're notoriously un-biddable. While I suppose that might help as a deterrent ("Sorry, once he gets at you, I can't really call him off"), I have to imagine handling is a lot more difficult.

Aside from the intimidation factor, I can't think of any task a wolf dog does which can't be done better by a Malinois or Doberman.

Catherine Johnson said...

Independent George - I had the EXACT same thought.

As far as I can tell, this program is working (assuming it's working!) in spite of the wolf-dog concept, not because of it.

Don't know if you read the article, but the first batch of wolf-dogs they bred didn't work out (as I recall).

They also say that the wolves obey **only** one master, which is a flapping red flag as far as I'm concerned.

I have to look at that story again. I **think** they showed one of the dogs being attached to a ----- how does that work?

These people have deliberately bred EIGHTY wolf dogs they're keeping locked up in kennels many hours a day.

I foresee trouble.

Catherine Johnson said...

It also might be illustrating getting more "bang" for your buck. Also called efficiency.

Right, until you get sued for a gazillion bucks by the family of the first prisoner to get eaten by wolf dogs.

Catherine Johnson said...

OK, that was a joke. (Kinda.)

Assuming the dog watchers pan out (and I imagine it's possible this program would work well if they used actual dogs as opposed to wolf-dogs), then, yes, it's a more efficient use of money.

But you don't have to use dogs in order to spend the same money; you can adjust everyone's wages downward and spend the same money on humans you're spending now on humans and wolf-dogs.

That's the point about sticky wages.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think a more equitable wage reduction would be a percentage reduction.

Hi, Jim!

Don't think I've seen you here before.

By the way, I'm not **necessarily** making the argument that wages should be pegged to GDP in some way (so that in recessions wages automatically adjust downward, allowing everyone to continue to work).

I have a bias in favor of 'shared pain' but I don't know enough about how such programs work in reality to have an informed opinion.

Percentage reductions would probably be a good idea. NYU did that .... I'm trying to remember details. Oh, gosh. I need to ask Ed about it.

I don't remember the details, but the plan worked as you suggest: people with the lowest incomes took the least reductions while people with the highest incomes took the largest reductions. (I think these were reductions in cost of living increases --- but I don't absolutely remember.)

Catherine Johnson said...

I do remember that no one had a problem with it (as far as I know). People felt it was fair -- and regardless of whether it was or was not fair in some absolute sense, the belief that a wage decision is fair is incredibly important.

Catherine Johnson said...

I forgot the other point I meant to include.

I don't know whether wages should or should not be 'pegged' or adjusted in times of recession and stagnation so that everyone can keep working.

However, I definitely think that this concept should be:

a) understood to EXIST
b) considered

What I see, time and time again, is people assuming that wages are "fixed" but people are not. You can reduce employees, you can't reduce wages.

Independent George said...

Catherine - I don't have a WSJ account, so I haven't clicked through. And if they're only obeying one master, then I actually question whether they're truly even "obeying" in the first place. All of the northern breeds, including Malemutes, are notoriously stubborn and un-biddable by dog standards. So even the dog portion of the wolfdogs are a horrible fit for security/protective work; the wolf portion is just going to make it worse. The whole idea sounds like it was cooked up by someone completely clueless about both dogs and wolves.

*sigh* You know you've been fully immersed into the canine world when the first thing you think about when reading an econ article on a math blog is how they've gotten the dogs wrong.

Independent George said...

The other red flag from your quoted passage is "120 pounds". Wolves don't naturally grow anywhere close to that size, which makes me question how much wolf is actually in those supposed hybrids.

I will say, though, that wolves ARE scary; when you see those yellow eyes staring at you in the yard, I completely understand how that would deter a prisoner escape. True wolfdogs behave very differently from dogs, and we're genetically hardwired to spot the difference. The very thing which causes the intimidation is also what makes them so unruly. And the lesson from the Belyaev experiments is that you can't have both - the behavioral traits are tied too strongly to the physical appearance.

Catherine Johnson said...

Independent George - I think this particular article is free. (I'll send it to you, though - I think I still have your email...)

Interesting comments re: malamutes. I didn't know that, but it doesn't surprise me. (The more wolf a dog looks, the more wolf it actually IS.)

The whole idea sounds like it was cooked up by someone completely clueless about both dogs and wolves.

MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY. This program sounds NUTS.

It's gonna come to grief.

The red flag for me, apart from THEY'RE BREEDING WOLF DOGS, was the guy who said that wolves are 'pack animals.' I learned that wolves aren't pack animals back when I was writing Animals in Translation. The so-called wolf packs are wolf families: mom, dad, & two pups.