29 March 2006

Britain and France Build Robocarrier/ Politics of Make-Believe

Britain and France Build Robocarrier
by James Dunnigan
March 25, 2006
Britain and France finally signed the deal to build three new aircraft carriers. This followed several years of negotiations. What's surprising about all this is not the large size of the carriers (about 58,000 tons, the largest ships ever for both navies), or the unique cooperation (two of the carriers are British, one is French, and both nations will cooperate on design and construction, with the Brits taking the lead.) No, what is amazing about all this is the aggressive plans for automation. These "Queen Elizabeth" class carriers are planning on having a ships crew of 800 (or less) and an air wing complement of 600 personnel. Currently, you need a ship crew of about 2,000 for a carrier that size. The reduction in size of the air wing personnel is even more aggressive.

These carriers are going to cost about $4 billion each, and are to be in use for half a century (including several refits and refurbs). But the biggest cost will be personnel. Currently, it costs the U.S. Navy a bit over $100,000 per sailor per year. Do the math ($7 billion in crew costs over the life of each carrier.) So the smaller the crew, the greater the savings, and the more you can spend on upgrading the ship, buying new aircraft and the like.

The carriers will haul 34-45 aircraft and helicopters and be able to handle about 110 flight operations every 24 hours. That's with current aircraft. The F-35B will be the primary warplane on the British carriers. But it's also likely that many, or all, of the next generation of aircraft on these ships will be robotic. But first, the ship has to be equipped with an unprecedented degree of automation. While 250,000 ton oil tankers can operate with a crew of under 40, all those large vessels do is move their cargo from place to place. An aircraft carrier must fight, and find the enemy, and do a lot of other stuff. The new class of 100,000 ton American CVN-21 carriers are trying to get their ship crew down from 4,000 to 2,500.

WOW. That sounds IN TEResting! You can link to the above article above via the title but Now check this article out:

The Politics of Make-Believe
The student protesters in France think that if they march long enough or burn enough cars, they can make the future go away. No such luck.
By Robert J. Samuelson
April 3, 2006 issue - To anyone who cares about Europe's future, the French demonstrations and street riots protesting the government's new labor law must be profoundly disturbing. It's the French against France—a familiar ritual that mirrors Europe's larger predicament. Hardly anyone wants to surrender the benefits and protections of today's generous welfare state, but the fierce attachment to these costly and self-defeating programs prevents Europe from preparing for a future that, though it may be deplored, is inevitable. Actually, it's not the future; it's the present.

The dilemma of advanced democracies, including the United States, is that they've made more promises than they can realistically keep. Their political commitments outstrip the economy's capacity to deliver. Sometimes the commitments were made dishonestly. Sometimes they were made sincerely based on foolish assumptions. Sometimes they've been overtaken by new circumstances. No matter. The dilemma is the same. To disavow past promises incites public furor; not to disavow them worsens the country's future problems.

Look at France. Its needs are plain: to assimilate a large and restless Muslim population of immigrants and their children, to pay for the rising health and pension costs of an aging society and to compete in the world economy. But its economy is lackluster. From 2001 to 2005, annual growth averaged only 1.6 percent. By accident and design, the French have discouraged work. In a recent study, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris reported the following:

From 1994 to 2003, unemployment among prime-age adults, from 25 to 54, averaged 9.9 percent; for those 15 to 25, the average was 24 percent.
In 2003, French workers spent an average of 1,431 hours on the job, the third lowest among 26 advanced countries. Italy (1,591 hours) was 11 percent higher, the United States (1,822 hours) 27 percent and South Korea (2,390 hours, the highest) 67 percent.
Among those 60 to 64, only about one in six have jobs. In the United States, the comparable figure is about one in two; for all OECD countries it's about four in 10.
This cannot continue indefinitely. In 2005, France's labor force was 2.7 times as large as its 65-and-over population; by 2020, it's projected to be only twice as large. France's policy is to have a shrinking share of its population, working short hours, pay for rising pension and health costs. In 2004, the average retirement age was 59. Average taxes are already about 50 percent of national income; effective marginal rates (the rates on additional income) can hit 60 percent. How much higher could these go without crushing work incentives? Sooner or later, France will have to adopt policies that lower unemployment, lengthen work hours, raise retirement ages and cut promised benefits.

Probably later. Efforts to face these issues provoke protests. The present flash point is a new law that allows employers to fire young workers (those hired under age 26) for the first two years. Of course, U.S. firms can fire workers of all ages within the bounds of union contracts and the anti-discrimination laws. But in France, the Labor Code gives most full-time workers an employment contract that makes layoffs costly. Legal standards must be met. Workers can appeal to labor courts. By one study, companies lost 74 percent of those cases. All these protections perversely—but predict-ably—stifle job creation. Companies don't hire because it's hard to fire. They don't want to be saddled with unwanted workers. That's one cause of high unemployment.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's new law tries to disarm that logic. The two-year probationary period gives employers flexibility. They don't have to keep workers they don't want. It also gives young employees a motive to work hard. The change stemmed from last fall's rioting among young Muslims and complaints about their high jobless rate. Whether the law might work as intended—or inspires temporary two-year jobs—is unclear. Protesters said it would make them "the Kleenex generation," to be discarded at will. Either way, the change is minor. The outsized political reaction is telling and has happened before. In the 1990s, prime ministers Edouard Balladur and Alain JuppĂ© withdrew controversial proposals in the face of mass protests and strikes.

All this bodes ill for Europe, because other countries share France's situation. Governments seem incapable of reconciling political commitments and economic realities. The street protesters are given to much make-believe—the illusion that if they march long enough and burn enough cars, they can outlaw unwanted change. The concessions that governments make to the future are usually small and slow. France is raising full eligibility for retirement benefits from 40 to 42 years of contributions; the change occurs between now and 2020. This suggests a messy process of grudging accommodations that neither placate public opinion nor improve economic vitality. Europe, which is insecure and unconfident now, will probably become more so."

.... and you thought that WE had problemsin our manufacturing sector! It's a good thing they're in with the Brits creating some jobs to build that robocarrier.

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