Commerce Rolls On

by Don Boudreaux on May 26, 2009

in Standard of Living

I'm on the road today.  As I checked out of my hotel room — rolling my suitcase behind me — I wondered how many bellmen jobs were destroyed by the innovation that put wheels on luggage.

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{ 26 comments }

trumpetbob15 May 26, 2009 at 11:47 am

Don't forget the number of jobs destroyed when people realized they could push the buttons on the elevator by themselves.

Adam Malone May 26, 2009 at 12:00 pm

And it makes me wonder how many more people were able to stay in hotels because the prices could be cheaper since there was no bell hop, no elevator operator, no switchboard operator, automated reservation lines, etc.

Often the impact of technology is seen as negative to those people that count jobs. Even if they are right in believing that those people will never find other work, their analysis should at least include the benefits accrued to society when a greater number of people can use a service simply because technology lowered the price.

Larry Sheldon May 26, 2009 at 12:24 pm

At the risk of disclosing my political, economic, and common-sense proclivities, let me ask: whither cart? whither horse?

It looks to me (having lived through a lot of it at 3-score and ten) like the bottom tier (bellmen, elevator operators, porters, maid-per-five-rooms (as opposed to maid-per-two-floors) and so on began to disappear when their costs ("free" benefits, affirmative action, minimum wage, etc) began to exceed their utility.

And yes, I do belief that one can determine, if one is so inclined what the costs are, and what the utility is.

And in the process, we have trained our customers to expect less and less, which I think can be described as a bad thing, (For example: why stay at a "classy" hotel when the service levels are less than what you expect at a Motel 6? Particularly when you can park at your room's door?))

BoscoH May 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm

This nation is so hosed when people learn how to park their cars themselves.

Chris A. May 26, 2009 at 1:54 pm

At this rate, we're going to have convenienced and invented ourselves out of every need-based job we have! What are we going to do with all that extra money we're not spending? It's not like pleasure-based industries can just replace things like food, clothing and shelter! It has been said that the first man who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization, but clearly, the first man who fashioned a tool and put his fellow man out of a job was its destroyer. Down with progress!

Billy May 26, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I know someone who was visiting Chicago and was almost physically assaulted by a unionized bell man when he tried to take his own luggage into the hotel.

Chris in Austin May 26, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I'm never going to change my own oil again, think of all the jobs lost at Jiffy Lube!

ben May 26, 2009 at 3:12 pm

The humanity!

Methinks May 26, 2009 at 3:30 pm

(For example: why stay at a "classy" hotel when the service levels are less than what you expect at a Motel 6? Particularly when you can park at your room's door?))

better soap, shampoo, furniture, concierge, in-house spas, food and Pratesi sheets.

I_am_a_lead_pencil May 26, 2009 at 4:35 pm

"I'm never going to change my own oil again, think of all the jobs lost at Jiffy Lube!"

…that kind of work may be fully automated one day too. It won't be long before it goes the way of the lawn mower

Larry Sheldon May 26, 2009 at 4:40 pm

"better soap, shampoo, furniture, concierge, in-house spas, food and Pratesi sheets."

better soap — not so–same stuff
shampoo — don't use it
furniture — not so–same crap
The rest is either not true or not necessary.

The one place where the fancy place _might_ have a edge is the size and number of towels.

K Ackermann May 26, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Commerce rolls on, but the market is decoupling from the economy.

S&P 500 is trading at… what? 35 times earnings right now?

I have been reducing my holdings for a while, and finally have been parked all in cash for a few weeks now.

Trading patterns are too irrational for me at this point. I have no clarity on the market.

I see no significant data that says we are doing anything to create a base of any sort. Credit expansion is the last thing we need at this point (on a whole), but that seems to be the most active area of the economy.

Does anybody see anything that might lead to a solid base and higher employment?

Matt May 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Um, yeah, fewer people like you in the labor pool.

Lee Kelly May 26, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Doing things for yourself reduces "aggregate demand" and is, therefore, wrong. All good economists should know this by now.

Methinks May 26, 2009 at 6:56 pm

The one place where the fancy place _might_ have a edge is the size and number of towels.

Yeesh. I'm afraid to ask what you consider a "better place".

Gil May 26, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Maybe Libertarians can feel good about Eric Cartman when he was Afghanistan and he was in a taxi operated by a guy and a donkey, instead of saying "how quaint and lo-tech and job-saving this is", he said:

"What is this?! The friggin' Flintstones?!?!"

Chris O'Leary May 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm

"Don't forget the number of jobs destroyed when people realized they could push the buttons on the elevator by themselves."

At least some of the elevators at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis have human button pushers. I almost laughed out loud when I got on board and realized what the woman in the corner was.

K Ackermann May 27, 2009 at 1:27 am

Hey, Vanna still turns letters, and as far as I know, Sajak has cornered the market on selling vowels.

Vowels have remarkably stable prices.

Larry Sheldon May 27, 2009 at 9:44 am

"Yeesh. I'm afraid to ask what you consider a "better place"."

For the ones that seem to have been through our school system and hence are unable to parse and understand simple sentences….

I have been talking about two subgroups of one kind of place–one subgroup that provides essentially no services beyond a bed and a toilet at relatively reasonable prices, and a subgroup that provides the same level of service at outrageous prices.

There is a group that actually provides the kinds of service I used to expect, but they are hard to find, and I have changed my travel planning and practices to avoid hotel stays of more than a few hours per stop.

DAVE May 27, 2009 at 10:46 am

"Doing things for yourself reduces "aggregate demand" and is, therefore, wrong."

Tongue in cheek obviously, but on a serious note what I never understood about this theory is that if I save myself money won't there be an increase of demand on my end for goods and services that I can have in lieu of the oil change?

How do they answer that? I'm not trying to be rhetorical.

Methinks May 27, 2009 at 11:08 am

Larry, it's not that I can't understand your sentences, it's just that I guess I don't stay in the same hotels you stay in. I thought the comparison was Four Seasons or the Peninsula and Motel 6. I guess you're comparing Holiday Inn to Motel 6. Blech to both and I'd rather stay home.

cjc May 27, 2009 at 11:54 am

My old building in New York retained an elevator operator/doorman for the manually controlled elevator. It was an old 17-story co-op building, where they couldn't quite come up with both a good reason and money to automate it. The thinking was that this was a good security measure, since it tends to restrict random people from getting around inside the building. And, the doorman is sitting around anyway, why not give him something to do in the meantime.

Some of the subway stations in Washington Heights had human operated elevators (these were very deep stations that used an elevator instead of stairs to get people out to the street), but I believe these weren't automated because of the transit worker's union.

Methinks May 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm

cjc,

That's interesting. Buildings with a large number of very observant conservative Jews would also hire elevator operators to push the buttons on the Sabbath when they could do no work.

Larry Sheldon May 27, 2009 at 1:48 pm

I've stayed at Hiltons, Meridiennes, a number of other "upscale" hotels on somebody else's dime. If I'm paying the bill, I'd rather the Motel 6 (the Super 8, actually).

Larry Sheldon May 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

And "staying home" is not always the easy option you might think. I do take it when ever it is offered.

David T May 27, 2009 at 4:27 pm

My favorite weapons of mass job destruction:
- Turbotax (bye bye accountants)
- Word processors (sorry admin assistants)
- Snow blowers (no need for teenagers)

Now, if we could just agree on a way to govern ourselves, we could dismantle most of the Federal government!

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