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The Law of Diminishing Returns
How Increased Security, Harms Society.

 This Web-page is mostly a draft and many supporting points are yet to come but as the concept is an important one,
in this day and age, it is posted so people who can consider the idea.

The law of diminishing returns or the more you increase the effort or what you are doing, the less you get and that results can even be very counterproductive (over time), can be applied to how much security or law & order we can afford.  That at a certain point the effort of even trying, can ruin those making the effort.  Example, you want your garden to produce more vegetables,  you add more fertilizer.  In the short term it works, as you only add a little fertilizer and get more vegetables but then you want more.  So you more and more fertilizer.  The garden is not producing vegetables as it once did, so you add more fertilizer, till the ground is so poisoned that nothing will grow and you & your family, starve.  People would see it coming & people are not that dumb to do that in real life, you say?  Common sense you say?  Not always.

There is no nation, so strong that politicians can not destroy it.

The idea that increasing security without knowing or stating what is a reasonable limit, is the issue.  What is a reasonable limit?  How was it discovered?  What is its effect and most important what are the signs that  security measures are negatively affecting our Democracy, society or economic development? How much of a Democracy can be removed in the name of security and still remain a Democracy?  Will security be increased or imposed on us till we get royally upset and then only scaled back a little bit.  Is it one straw less then what will break the camel's back?

Democracy is about a balance between Chaos & Order.
The best recipe for long term survival for any nation.

The most common examples of showing the law of diminishing returns involves the number of workers used to do a job.  In the short term adding a few extra workers to a job can help get the job done faster or increase production but there comes a point where doing so, reverse this.  "Eventually adding more employees might even lead to an overall decrease in production as they become bored with nothing to do and begin to interfere with production."  That in turn becomes "a barrier to economic development".  In other words, the effort defeats the intentions and at what point does living behind the walls of your security or paranoid fears make a persons live barley worth living.  That those, who you fear will strike you, can claim victory as you live in fear of them, always?  They control your life and if you enjoy it.

Adding more society to the mix, affects society (and your quality of life), the economy and government at every level.  The security workers, guards, police and those who review the backgrounds of people looking for jobs or are working in certain areas, all affect a countries economy.  One good example of how this can play-out is the USSR and how it destroyed itself.

The USSR was the first electronic dictatorship and as history shows, its collapse came as a surprise to everyone.  It had a security network (the like the USA wishes to build, on a world wide scale), and it crushed the spirit out of soviet citizens.  The big joke was "they pretend pay us, we pretend to work."

The future is found in our history.

The morale of a society or worker force is the focusing point.  It is politically correct to for people to say they do not mind the increase in security as it makes society safer.  In fact, those who would say differently are not given the same air time.  The more security guards who search your luggage, increases the chance items will be stolen or damaged and you pay the price.  The more laws that allow the police to arrest a person on vague or trumped-up charges, if not outright false charges - the more innocence people lives are ruined because they end up with a police record that denies them full employment.  That a person has no privacy of their person, security can search them at will.  Say no and you are arrested on false charges, I know it happened to me!  Even the key stone of a Democracy, liberty is stripped away a bit at a time.

There maybe a gain in economic terms resulting from false arrests, meaning more people have spend their life saving for lawyers.  That all these security machines and guards will show as a growing economy and employment in the short term but is it reasonable for the long term?  How can this cost be justified in the long term?  In the past nations accepted that sometimes there would be costs for having a Democracy and a open society but that the cost was worth it.  It an acceptable cost.  But with the Media showing close-ups of every victim and pulling on our emotional strings as best they can, which translates into more profit for them.  Is it no wonder that dead bodies are all but thrown at your TV screen?  The Romans called it mob rule, people acting with little intelligence or long term considerations.

To live in fear of your government is distracting and to think that not doing anything wrong will save you from being arrested, is a fools paradise.

Many security jobs are government jobs and good paying, so people would not want to lose them.  But to keep them, there has to shown the results to justify keeping so many doing what as been in the past shown, not to be a cost effective operation.  Would not some security staff knowingly make wrong judgments, resulting in arrest or denial of jobs, to justify their continued seat on the government gravy train?  Especially as they are hidden from sight and accountability, while imposing rules that are so broad and open to interpretation that they are of the same nature, that motivated people to replace the governments that used those kind of laws, in the past,  with the laws of a Democracy.

You can not have a Democracy based on the laws of a dictatorship!

The idea of what are acceptable loses to a society is key to understanding what should naturally limit the level of security in a society.  This is also true for a business.  If a business were to try and control or end all its loses, then the cost of which, will bankrupt it.  That is just common business sense.  But the USA is trying to sell us that it never wants loses, again, from what it calls terrorism.  The cost of which to Americans and the world is far greater then the loses suffered and will create the same kind of hell on earth that the USSR did, that in the end, its effort at protecting its society from the USA, destroyed it.  The idea that the world will be safer when the USA creates a bigger and better electronic dictatorship is mind boggling stupid.

The use of electronic means to control and protect is foolish.  It will only do what has always in the past happened.  That the people who control the machines will abuse their power for their own profit.  Even if that means just keeping a government job at your expense.  The public sees how people are being locked up without rights, charges and if there is a trial, key evidence will be kept secret.  That is not done in a Democracy. This affects how people think and feel.  They are stressed and that makes them more likely to get sick or hurt on the job, etc.  The cost of security is taken from many social programs, which can literally be killing people. The negative affects of increased security have not be reviewed in a meaningful way.

Democracy was created to limit the ways that government could, at will, barge into your life, as the greater access the government (police, etc.), have to your personal life - the greater the likelihood of abusive harassment.  This is why the idea of liberty is so important.

Many politicians have got elected saying they will run government as a business.  That is generally not a good idea as the quality of human life should not be properly measured in dollars and cents.  But more importantly, a business would not try to operate with zero tolerance toward what it considers to be threats to it.  Like shop-lifting.  What would happen to a stores sales if it searched & questioned everyone entering & leaving?  Their sales would drop sharply as few would want to endure that violation of their person & liberty.  The government feels that it can force it on us and we will have no choice.  The lesson of the USSR clearly has not been learned.

People should not think that things will only get as bad as they are now.  Now, is just the beginning and the government has not yet fully turned our country into a prison.  The worse is still coming on line.

In terms of the economy, which directly affect a persons quality of life, history again provides a good example for why following the USA lead is very foolish.  Countries or nations exist only so long before make the changes or bad choices that spelled out their doom or the seeds of their own destruction.  In the beginning for the USA, it was created on the radical idea of giving its citizens LIBERTY.  Along with the right to greater powers of ownership and keeping the fruits of their labours.  This in turn created the economic power house that the USA become but that is changing as the US government is becoming the same kind of government that it replaced.  One that feels the need to control and interfere with the lives of its citizens, at their expense, with little to no accountability.

Three more technical explanations, each longer then the one before;

1).    From the Columbia Encyclopedia.

2).    By Paul M. Johnson, Dept. of Political Science, Auburn University.

3).   By Chris Rodda

Some emphasis added.

From  -

The law of diminishing returns

    in economics, law stating that if one factor of production is increased while the others remain constant, the overall returns will relatively decrease after a certain point.  Thus, for example, if more and more laborers are added to harvest a wheat field, at some point each additional laborer will add relatively less output than his predecessor did, simply because he has less and less of the fixed amount of land to work with.  The principle, first thought to apply only to agriculture, was later accepted as an economic law underlying all productive enterprise.  The point at which the law begins to operate is difficult to ascertain, as it varies with improved production technique and other factors.  Anticipated by Anne Robert Jacques Turgot and implied by Thomas Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), the law first came under examination during the discussions in England on free trade and the corn laws.  It is also called the law of decreasing returns and the law of variable proportions.   See W. J. Spillman and E. Lang, The Law of Diminishing Returns (1924).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.  2001.

From  -

Diminishing returns, law of

    Sometimes also referred to as the law of variable proportions, this "law" is really a generalization economists make about the nature of technology when it is possible to combine the same factors of production in a number of different proportions to make the same product.

The law states:
    When increasing amounts of one factor of production are employed in production along with a fixed amount of some other production factor, after some point, the resulting increases in output of product become smaller and smaller.

    (That is, first the marginal returns to successive small increases in the variable factor of production turn down, and then eventually the overall average returns per unit of the variable input start decreasing.)  Since the law assumes that the available quantity of at least one factor of production is fixed at a given level and that technological knowledge does not change during the relevant period, the law of diminishing returns normally translates into a statement about the short-run choice of production possibilities facing a firm (since in the longer run it is virtually always possible for the firm to acquire more of the temporarily "fixed" factor -- building an additional factory building, buying additional land, installing additional machines of the same kind, installing newer and more advanced machinery, and so on.)

    A simple example of the workings of the law of diminishing returns comes from gardening.  A particular twenty by twenty garden plot will produce a certain number of pounds of tomatoes if the gardener just puts in the recommended number of rows and plants per row, waters them appropriately and keeps the weeds pulled.  If the gardener varies this approach by adding a pound of fertilizer to the topsoil, but otherwise does everything the same, he can increase the number of pounds of tomatoes the garden plot yields by quite a bit (notice the amount of land is being held fixed or constant).  If he adds two pounds of fertilizer (rather than just one), probably he can get still more tomatoes per season, but the increase in tomatoes harvested by going from one pound to two pounds of fertilizer is probably smaller than the increase he gets by going from zero pounds to one (diminishing marginal returns).  Applying three pounds of fertilizer may still increase the harvest, but perhaps by only a very little bit over the yields available using just two pounds.  Applying four pounds of fertilizer turns out to be overdoing it -- the garden yields fewer tomatoes than applying only three pounds because the plants begin to suffer damage from root-burn.  And five pounds of fertilizer turns out to kill nearly all the plants before they even flower.

    Another similar example of diminishing returns in an industrial setting might be a widget factory that features a certain number of square feet of work space and a certain number of machines inside it.  Neither the space available nor the number of machines can be added to without a long delay for construction or installation, but it is possible to adjust the amount of labor on short notice by working more shifts and/or taking on some extra workers per shift.  Adding extra man-hours of labor will increase the number of widgets produced, but only within limits.  After a certain point, such things as worker fatigue, increasing difficulties in supervising the large work force, more frequent breakdowns by over-utilized machinery, or just plain inefficiency due to overcrowding of the work space begin to take their toll.  The marginal returns to each successive increment of labor input get smaller and smaller and ultimately turn negative.

    The law of diminishing returns is significant because it is part of the basis for economists' expectations that a firm's short-run marginal cost curves will slope upward as the number of units of output increases.  And this in turn is an important part of the basis for the law of supply's prediction that the number of units of product that a profit-maximizing firm will wish to sell increases as the price obtainable for that product increases.

Copyright © 1994-2000 Paul M. Johnson
Dept. of Political Science
7080 Haley Center
Auburn University
Auburn, AL 36849

From -

The law of diminishing (marginal) returns
by Chris Rodda

When one of the factors of production is held fixed in supply, successive additions of the other factors will lead to an increase in returns up to a point, but beyond this point returns will diminish.

This famous law was first written about by a Frenchman, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot and then alluded to by Thomas Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798).  The law was discussed in England during debates on free trade and the Corn Laws.  Sometimes textbooks call it the law of decreasing (marginal) returns or the law of variable proportions.

Imagine a farm growing wheat.  There are a number of jobs that need doing at harvest time and these must be done quickly before weather ruins the crop.  First the wheat must be cut and gathered, the wheat and chaff must then be separated.  The wheat has then to be carted to a barn, weighed, dried out in some instances, and then stored.  All the farm machinery needs maintained, the paperwork completed and last but not least breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared.  One man working alone will have difficulty doing all these tasks.  By dividing the labour there will be gains in productivity (see division of labour).

If a second worker is employed the tasks can be shared.  This means that productivity increases.  They each become more skilled in the tasks that they specialise in and save time previously wasted by switching between tasks.  However both have to stop when a piece of machinery breaks down or one of them stops for lunch.  Employing yet another person may once again improve their productivity.  The harvest may continue as they take their lunch in rotation for example.  But employing a fourth worker might mean productivity begins to fall (diminish).  The gains made by employing the 4th are not as great as employing the 3rd worker. Eventually adding more employees might even lead to an overall decrease in production as they become bored with nothing to do and begin to interfere with production.  The table below shows what happens as each extra worker is employed. Marginal means the next unit.  So the marginal physical product (MPP) is the amount by which production rises when one extra worker is employed.  MPP is calculated by measuring the change in total physical production per worker.   The average physical product (APP) is simply the total physical product (TPP) divided by the number of workers

( There are other tables on the Web-site, that are not included here. )

In the example the factors of production land and capital are constant but the amount of labour is being varied.  The marginal physical product, (MPP) increases to start.  When the 4th worker is employed the total still increases from 90 to 120 tonnes, but the increase of 30 tonnes is not as great as the previous increase of 60 . It as this point that we say the marginal return diminishes.

The diagram and table shows that when the marginal physical product curve reaches its peak and then changes direction downwards that this is the point of diminishing marginal returns.  On the total physical product curve diminishing returns do not occur at the peak of the curve (a common mistake), but where the gradient of the curve instead of becoming steeper changes and becomes less steep (known in math as the point of inflection).

When MPP becomes negative this means that additional workers are causing a reduction in the total production and the TPP curve changes direction downwards.

The relationship between the marginal and average curves is important to understand.  Notice that MPP intersects the APP when APP is at its maximum point.  The reason is merely a simple mathematical relationship between marginal and averages.  Think of a class of students.  The average age in the class is 17.  If another student comes in the room and they are 18, what will happen to the average? – It will of course increase.  On the other hand if the student were 16 the average age in the class would fall.  So in the graph, as long as the marginal is higher than the average the average curve goes up and when the marginal is below the average.  The average falls.

The demonstration of the law above rests on a couple of assumptions.  First we assume that each unit of labour is homogenous.  That is that each worker has the same skills and works equally hard.  Second, all the other factors of production are held fixed in quantity.

The law of diminishing marginal returns has two main applications for IB students.

1. The shape of the short run cost curve is determined by the principles above and,

2. Diminishing marginal returns in agriculture act as a barrier to economic development

C Rodda 2001

 First posted May 2, 2004.

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