Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ATMs destroy jobs?

So, President Obama went on the TODAY SHOW.

And, according to a couple of people I talked to, and some writers, he said that ATMs are destroying jobs. The quote is this:

There are "structural issues with the economy. ... You see it when you go to a bank you use the ATM, you don't go to a bank teller."

Here is the show excerpt. It's long; the relevant part starts at 3:00 or so.

And...that's not what he said. "Media Matters" has this right, I think. The President just did not say ATMs are costing America jobs. He didn't.

Still, I might not have said "structural problem," which is wrong. The fact is that economies are constantly doing things like replacing people with machines in some sectors and then hiring people somewhere else. That is not a problem at all, but a challenge.

I admit that for a command and control, "let's pass a law" guy like the President, it has to be a little scary to rely on the "creative" part of creative destruction. It's not clear where the new jobs will come from. It never is.

But he came close to telling the truth. The reason that business is not investing now is that investors are uncertain, and can't be sure if the economy is turning up. So they are sitting on cash. In the meantime, productivity (he called it "efficiency," which is accurate enough) is through the roof, so companies are making decent profits. And the Treasury is selling huge amounts of government debt, and companies can park their cash there and make a decent return in the short run.

Here's the thing. KPC BFF Mark Perry has the straight dope: fewer jobs but much larger manufacturing output.

But look at productivity:

ATMs are a good thing. (And the President basically said so). But losing jobs to productivity means that jobs must be created somewhere else, if the economy is to grow. The U.S. is still (by far) the largest manufacturing economy in the world. And U.S. manufacturing is (still) trending up, not down. That's not controlling for population, and not using any tricks. We are number one, by a lot.

Here's what the President should do.
1. Stop the class war rhetoric. Stop blaming business for the depression. He can blame his Wall Street butt boys at Goldman and Lehman, if he wants, but he would never do that and turn off the campaign contribution money pump.
2. Take real steps toward settling the budget and debt crisis. Force the bed-wetters who "lead" the Senate to pass a freakin' budget.
3. Reduce the uncertainty business faces in forecasting health care costs, taxes, and new regulations. The whole health care fiasco is a major cause of the extended recession. Republicans are just as much to blame, in that area. They obstructed without offering a better alternative, and now health care is still a big job-killing tax on new hires. But the President is the one who has to try to do something.

In 1936 and 1937, as Amity Shlaes chronicles in her book THE FORGOTTEN MAN, the Roosevelt administration went after business hard. They tried to pass new taxes, and they blamed business for (wait for it) sitting on piles of cash. The result was a second dip, where employment jumped back above 16%. It could happen again. ATMs are good; uncertainty is bad. And deficits are stupid.


Unknown said...

What is missing in the discussions are the countless jobs technologies create.

An analysis of this, based on the demand of the marketplace provide more jobs than productivity gains

WWW StL said...

There are only 3 problems with the 3 prescriptions. 1. Asking this administration to stop class warfare is asking it to stop demanding tax increases on the rich. The President is on the record as saying that even if such tax increases would REDUCE revenues to the Federal government he would support them because of "fairness". 2. Force Senator Reid to pass a budget? Any budget the Senate could pass the President would certainly Veto because of the "spending cuts". 3. Reduce uncertainty for business? This administration doesn't care about uncertainty just look at Boeing's new 787 factory located in a "right to work" state.

Daveb said...

You can talk all you want about manufacturing but approximately 90% of the jobs created in the past twenty years have been in the "services" sector. How do you create a jobs in the "services" sector? Primarily by consumer spending. What is the forecast for consumer spending: horrible. Unemployment is high, wage growth minimal, lack of savings to draw down, no ability to take equity out of housing, potential tax hikes (to fund existing government deficits) massive, potential higher cost for green energy and other regulation, etc. I don't see the end of the world but I do see a very long and slow regression to the mean.