Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.



January 2013

Economic Luddites Blame Obama Economy On Technology

Written by , Posted in Economics & the Economy

Many of us mocked the president when he blamed ATM’s for his poor economy. Now, a pair of Luddites at the AP are working hard to continue the attack on technology as the source of our economic ills, conveniently distracting attention away from the failed policies of the president.

They write that, “The uncomfortable truth is technology is killing jobs with the help of ordinary consumers by enabling them to quickly do tasks that workers used to do full time, for salaries.” The horror! They go on to make sure you understand that your greedy and selfish desire to save time and live a more prosperous life are to blame:

Use a self-checkout lane at the supermarket or drugstore? A worker behind a cash register used to do that.

Buy clothes without visiting a store? You’ve taken work from a salesman.

Click “accept” in an email invitation to attend a meeting? You’ve pushed an office assistant closer to unemployment.

Book your vacation using an online program? You’ve helped lay off a travel agent. Perhaps at American Express Co., which announced this month that it plans to cut 5,400 jobs, mainly in its travel business, as more of its customers shift to online portals to plan trips.

Software is picking out worrisome blots in medical scans, running trains without conductors, driving cars without drivers, spotting profits in stocks trades in milliseconds, analyzing Twitter traffic to tell where to sell certain snacks, sifting through documents for evidence in court cases, recording power usage beamed from digital utility meters at millions of homes, and sorting returned library books.

You see, all your newfangled technology has eliminated jobs! Don’t you feel bad yet?

Of course, if the AP really believes that hiring expensive workers to do what can be done cheaper and better by technology is the way to promote a strong economy, then they should lead by example. I have some suggestions:

  1. Require employees to use a pulled rickshaw instead of cars. How can they morally justify driving when they are depriving someone the opportunity to pull them around wherever they want to go?

    Backward is forward!

  2. Burn all company computers, replace them with typewriters and hire typists to take dictation. It’s not fair for writers to also transcribe their words, depriving someone else of the opportunity to do so. Nor should they benefit from modern conveniences like word processors and spellcheck, which reduce the amount of editors needed.
  3. Ban the pushing of elevator buttons by employees and instead hire operators. It’s unconscionable to take advantage of technology that allows riders to operate elevators when it used to require someone standing on an elevator all day pulling a lever.
  4. Speaking of which, every door must have its own doorman and bathroom its own attendant. Want to open a door or wipe your butt for yourself? You must hate jobs!

On and on it could go. The list of activities made easier, and jobs made obsolete, by technology is nearly endless. And contrary to the new economic luddites, it’s neither new nor alarming.

Great leaps forward in prosperity and standards of living come on the heels of massively disruptive technological advances. It once took the vast majority of available labor just to feed the nation’s population. When technology made farming less labor intensive, the work force was freed up to produce in new ways. The industrial revolution was the result. As advances in manufacturing have over time continuously allowed us to produce more with less, labor has been freed up to engage in other activities. The information revolution soon followed.

But from now on, we are lead to believe, those freed from one task by technology have no other task to tend to. History stops today. There is nothing left to do. We’ve built everything. Invented everything. Provided every service. Created every piece of entertainment.

Does anyone really believe that?

When all is said and done, the only real “evidence” provided in the piece for the end-of-all-new-jobs thesis is that job growth is slow at present. But might not there be other explanations? Just spitballing here, but how about an onerous and recently passed health care law? A cumbersome and destructive tax code? A critical mass of costly regulations?

Or we can just blame the robots.