Thursday, June 16, 2011

ATMs and Unemployment

The president has been taking more than a few shots for his unfortunate comment about ATMs and airport kiosks and stubbornly high national unemployment numbers.  Most of the shots have been unfair.  He was, after all, only using the ATM as a single example in order to make a larger point.

That point, of course, was that in an earlier time an actual human being would have been employed to cash your check or check your bags and that same human being has now been replaced by automation. Multiply the case of the ATM by the number of similar cases across the economy and you have uncountable jobs once performed by people now being accomplished by machines.

Those who criticize the president for his hypocrisy in this are correct to do so.  Obama and the Legion of Lefties he represents are the ones always arguing, for example, that going "green" is not a job killer.  Instead, they insist that pursuing what they deem to be environmentally friendly policies will release the American entrepreneurial spirit.  Newer, safer, more efficient, less fossil-fuel dependent technologies will be developed as a result.

The problem is that I don't believe them.  The country they envision as a consequence of following their often draconian rules and regulations is not the country of some Stephen Spielberg sci-fi dream (I'm thinking of the pristine landscapes depicted in, for example, Minority Report and AI), but is, rather, a return to an America that existed prior to industrialization.  Heck, if they're lucky, maybe even prior to the arrival of the evil white man altogether.

But, aside from the hypocrisy, what the president's comments reveal is a way of thinking that is fairly typical of lefties.  When they consider things economic (which ain't often), their thinking is both static and narrow.

Focus just on the case of the ATM.  It's true, the advent of the ubiquitous ATM meant the end of employment for a very large number of tellers across the country, across the world in fact.  That hard fact is what the president and most lefties focus on.  Regrettably, they focus on that fact alone.

They rarely think further about the efficiency and convenience brought along with the ATM.  Most of us can still remember a time when, if you needed some cash at other than what used to be called "bankers hours", good luck.  Now, 24/7 and virtually everywhere, it's available.  Available cash is cash to spend on other things, things produced and sold by other people, perhaps even former bank tellers, employed to do so. 

Moreover, the end of the need to hire as many tellers as before means that banking is relatively cheaper than it would be otherwise.  Because of competition in banking those savings are invariably passed on to the consumer, savings the consumer can now spend, again, on something else.  Oh, I don't know, a Sea-Doo maybe, the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of which also requires the employment of people, again, maybe former tellers.

I've not even mentioned the obvious point that someone, some real human being, a good number of them in fact, must be employed to produce, distribute, and maintain the ATMs themselves.  Should I say it again?  I should.  Maybe even former bank tellers.

Automation, and the indispensable liberty to fuel it, should never be feared.  Instead, it should be embraced.  An economic policy that intends seriously to create jobs is one that should encourage it.  Chiefly, I might add, by getting the government the heck out of the way.    

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