Frank Koller, the author of [amazon_link id=”1610390539″ target=”_blank” ]Spark: How Old Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation[/amazon_link], emailed me this week in response to reading (on VoxEU) about the book I edited on the teaching of economics, [amazon_link id=”1907994041″ target=”_blank” ]What’s The Use of Economics? Teaching the Dismal Science After the Crisis[/amazon_link].
Frank’s book is about businesses with no-layoff employment policies, and particularly about a company called Lincoln Electric – I’d never heard of it but it’s the global number one in arc welding. Lincoln has a formal guaranteed employment programme as well as rewarding employees with bonuses and incentives. The company history sets out its longstanding (since 1895) commitment to employees and customers as well as shareholders. According to its latest results, published last week, employees got an average bonus of $33,915, the 79th annual bonus in a row, a bonus pool of $99.3m (the pool normally represents 32% of pre-tax profits).
[amazon_image id=”1610390539″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Spark[/amazon_image]
Spark has sold very well but the depressing news is that Lincoln’s CEO John Stropki told Frank that not a single other senior US executive has asked him the secret of the firm’s combination of phenomenal financial success with employment practices so good they sound like something out of a fairy tale. Why the lack of interest? Maybe – and this is where economics comes in – it’s because the reality demonstrated by Lincoln and the handful of other companies with such a strong commitment to what by now seem to be extraordinarily good employment practices is inconsistent with the belief system so many people hold about the way business works and the imperative of free markets. If so, the charge sheet against the narrow version of economics grows even longer.
[amazon_image id=”1907994041″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]What’s the Use of Economics?: Teaching the Dismal Science After the Crisis[/amazon_image]