Our smartest president evah says employment is struggling because of the likes of — wait for it — ATMs (the relevant discussion begins at the 2:00 mark):
For those who can’t/won’t watch the video, here’s what he said:
There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.
He went on to say some other, noncontroversial things about retraining people with the skills they’ll need in the future. But his starting point for the necessity of such retraining is revealing.
First, his ATM example isn’t even true: Jonah Goldberg at NRO takes a look at the actual labor statistics and finds that, not only did the number of bank tellers grow even as ATMs became much more prevalent, but the number of bank tellers is forecast to continue to grow during the years to come.
Second, as RedState’s Erick Erickson points out, President Obama is perfectly happy to see some jobs (in fossil fuel energy) disappear.
Third, the displacement of certain lines of work by new technology has been going on for centuries. This is nothing new. And neither the cotton gin nor the automobile killed the economy because they displaced workers or made certain other technologies obsolete. On the contrary.
Erickson also cited a particularly germane section from Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”:
Among the most viable of all economic delusions is the belief that machines on net balance create unemployment. Destroyed a thousand times, it has risen a thousand times out of its own ashes as hardy and vigorous as ever. Whenever there is a long-continued mass unemployment, machines get the blame anew. This fallacy is still the basis of many labor union practices…
The belief that machines cause unemployment…leads to preposterous conclusions. Not only must we be causing unemployment with every technological improvement we make today, but primitive man must have started causing it with the first efforts he made to save himself from needless toil and sweat…
Though it’s not an exact parallel, I’m also put in the mind of a famous Milton Friedman story, recounted by economist Mark J. Perry:
While traveling by car during one of his many overseas travels, Professor Milton Friedman spotted scores of road builders moving earth with shovels instead of modern machinery. When he asked why powerful equipment wasn’t used instead of so many laborers, his host told him it was to keep employment high in the construction industry. If they used tractors or modern road building equipment, fewer people would have jobs was his host’s logic.
“Then instead of shovels, why don’t you give them spoons and create even more jobs?” Friedman inquired.
I can see it now: “Obama 2012: A spoon for every worker!”
– By Kyle Wingfield