Damn All this Progress!

by Don Boudreaux on October 16, 2011

in Country Problems, Creative destruction, Hubris and humility, Myths and Fallacies, Seen and Unseen, Technology

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Capitol Hill

Dear Ms. Lee:

Fred Barnes reports in the Weekly Standard that you refuse to use computerized checkout lanes at supermarkets (“Boneheaded Economics,” Oct. 24).  As you – who are described on your website as “progressive” – explain, “I refuse to do that.  I know that’s a job or two or three that’s gone.”

Overlooking the fact that you overlook the lower prices on groceries made possible by this labor-saving technology, I’ve some questions for you:

Do you also avoid using computerized (“automatic”) elevators, riding only in those few that still use manual elevator operators?

Do you steer clear of newer automobiles equipped with technologies that enable them to go for 100,000 miles before needing a tune-up?  I’m sure I can find for you, say, a 1972 Chevy Vega that will oblige you to employ countless mechanics.

Do you shun tubeless steel-belted radial tires on your car – you know, the kind that go flat far less often than do old-fashioned tires?  No telling how many tire-repairing jobs have been destroyed by modern technology-infused tires.

Do you and your family refuse flu shots in order to increase your chances of requiring the services of nurses and M.D.s – and, if the economy gets lucky and you and yours get seriously ill, also of hospital orderlies and administrators?  Someone as aware as you are of the full ramifications of your consumption choices surely takes account of the ill effects that flu shots have on the jobs of health-care providers.

You must, indeed, be distressed as you observe the appalling amount of labor-saving technologies in use throughout our economy.  It is, alas, a disturbing trend that has been around for quite some time – since, really, the invention of the spear which destroyed the jobs of some hunters.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

….

(HT my buddy Lyle Albaugh)

UPDATE: My friend Wilson Mixon, from over at Division of Labour, e-mails to me this reaction to my letter to Rep. Lee:

The spear didn’t just destroy jobs. It (and even worse, the bow and arrow) dehumanized the whole process. How much more fulfilling it must have been to take on a boar mano a mano (or mano a colmillo). Think of the empathy and respect  between predator and prey that the old fashioned way must have generated. No wonder we’re losing touch with nature and with our deeper, truer, fuller self. Ah, the (in)humanity!

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{ 229 comments }

Economic Freedom October 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I love it. She hates labor-saving technology because it “costs jobs,” yet she has a Web site!

Think of all the billboard painters who have been put out of business by that one choice of hers alone!

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I love it! Like +2

Chris O'Leary October 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I use the self-service lanes whenever possible because they are MUCH faster and I don’t have to wait for some incredibly slow, chatty checker.

Is it just me or do supermarket checkers seem to have gotten slower over the years (making the automated solutions that much better)?

Krishnan October 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm

The quality of the supermarket checkers is inversely related to the state of the economy and directly proportional to the age of the checkers …

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I wish I had your satisfaction. I have found that use of the self service lanes are a 50-50 crap shoot. Half the time I get out quicker and problem free, and the other half I wind up dealing with a regressive, broken brained, sadistic, nanny computer that hates humanity, particularly me, and refuses to allow me to check out with out completely insane delays.

Emil October 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I think not using them because they don’t work is a valid point, not using them to safe the jobs of the cashiers is not

T Rich October 16, 2011 at 7:26 pm

I have had the same experience as Vid. I use the self checkout if I have less than 3-4 items, more than that and there is almost always a problem. The worst is when it is a very lightweight item and it isn’t sensed by the belt behind the scanner. I would say unaided success rate is about 50% for more than 5 items.

Every time I have trouble with them, I inform the manager that the system isn’t ready for primetime.

As to quality of the checkers, I don’t see any demographic cues for quality. I can spot the ones that have a work ethic though, and most of the time I guess the right checker to go to – unfortunately, the person in line ahead of me is invariably a nincompoop of some variety.

khodge October 17, 2011 at 11:47 am

thereby keeping therapists employed.

Don Lloyd October 16, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I find the exact opposite to be true. The self service lines are much slower for more than a couple of items and they give up the advantages of the division of labor and parallel processing. I load the belt and pay with my debit card and the cashier rings up the items. We usually finish at about the same time.

Regards, Don

brotio October 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Two of my favorite one-liners by my father, speaking to checkers:

“If you moved any slower, they’d be throwing dirt in your face.”

“Do you move so slow because you make minimum wage, or do you make minimum wage because you move so slow?”

Bill October 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Years ago, had a friend who was upset when the USPS introduced zip codes and automated letter sorting. He refused to put zip codes on letters because he didn’t want to contribute to putting manual sorters out of work.

Krishnan October 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Re: Bill – Did he use a horse/buggy or perhaps simply walk over to deliver those letters personally? Or did he hire someone locally (and pay him/her) to do the delivery? That way he created/saved a job?

Wonders never cease. Amazing how some people think no matter what.

Krishnan October 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm

She should introduce a “Moratorium on Brains” “Henceforth, in the State of California, any invention/idea that will result in the elimination of even one job, will be banned. Those inventions (or more accurately, retrograde inventions) that can be demonstrated to create or save any existing jobs will be eligible for a substantial award from the State of California. Those individuals that can help us return to the simpler, more prosperous days when we did not have to travel or rely on others to travel and transport food and other things we use, will be rewarded”.
l

Andy Wagner October 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Actually, many grocery stores are switching back from automated checkout, in part because of the high maintenance (aka labor) costs.
By boycotting automated checkout, she’s favoring lower paying cashier jobs over high skill technician jobs. What a shame!

Don Boudreaux October 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm

“By boycotting automated checkout, she’s favoring lower paying cashier jobs over high skill technician jobs. What a shame!”

Superb point.

These “Progressives” are deluded into thinking that they can understand the world merely through their own immediate sensory perceptions.

vikingvista October 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm

In addition, they tend to employ broken abstractions with NO rooting in sensory perceptions.

juan carlos vera October 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

So these guys think … They usually say “… we must protect the poor …”. What they mean is “… Poor people choose us, then we must preserve and promote poverty …”.

T Rich October 16, 2011 at 7:33 pm

JCV – for. the. win!

Neil B October 20, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I love the scanners – once I used them enough that I can make everything work all of the time. Plus, at the stores where I shop, they have an assistant for each four or eight scanners to help people get used to it. I love not having to wait in long line-ups like most of the people using checkers do. If there are no lines, I’ll use the checkers, if there are, I’m with the scanners. It’s all about freedom to choose.

Price B October 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I had a similar conversation with a friend of mine that’s been participating in the occupation.

She told me that her fantasy is for everyone to live in small tribal-like organizations- as early humans did.

I told her that we’d have to eliminate 95% of the population, so she’s advocating genocide on a terrifying scale.

She defended herself with the broken window fallacy… I summarized her argument as “Let’s destroy everything and murder everyone so we’ll be rich. Capitalism is evil though.”

Krishnan October 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Re: Price B – this has been mentioned on these pages before – but there was a BBC/PBS (??) where they “recreated” a house of the 1900′s (??) and had a family move in – that family discovered how difficult it indeed was to “go back” as it were …

These “progressives” want ALL the technology they can get their hands on – what ticks them off is that ordinary, riff/raff, the great unwashed enjoys amazing technology at amazing prices – they cannot stand to see themselves NOT be unique/elites

Economiser October 17, 2011 at 11:17 am

That’s “The 1900 House” – http://www.pbs.org/wnet/1900house/

The family wound up hiring a full-time maid (allowed by the show) because the women got fed up with all the housework involved. Hooray for jobs!

Greg Webb October 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

She told me that her fantasy is for everyone to live in small tribal-like organizations- as early humans did.

Price B, ask your friend to go camping for a week as a trial run to help her determine if her fantasy is consistent with reality. Remind her that she can only eat what she kills, catches, or gathers, and she has to take her bath in the cold stream.

John Dewey October 17, 2011 at 9:24 am

Good point, Greg. My generation included thousands of hippies who tried out communal farms, attempting to rid themselves of the evils of capitalism, technology, and the many devices which “soiled” the planet. Almost all of them gave up within 2 or 3 years because the life was just too hard.

Jon October 17, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Exactly, Greg. Have these people ever killed an animal in order to eat, or die? Built a shelter without an axe or saw? Don’t we spend billions in humanitarian relief efforts to rescue people from these conditions? I don’t think they have thought this through and are just say what sounds good to them.

This is beyond complacency. How do they think their lifestyles are possible? Sometimes, I think people that say stuff like this just believe it is possible to live “tribal-like” and their iPhones, electric cars, and locally grown produce will just somehow be magically provided.

Hey Price B, tell your friend nothing is stopping her from realizing her fantasy now.

Brad Hutchings October 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I hope your friend is hot, because otherwise, she sounds pretty intolerable.

Bastiat Smith October 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Like!

Krishnan October 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I can anticipate what Rep Lee (and others like her) would say (if they did)

“You are making fun of a real problem. We are just making a point that technology is not always good and causes some jobs to be lost. I am not against ALL job losses and against all technologies but those that have caused the greatest harm to the greatest number of people. We have lost such an important piece of Americana by the absence of those humans in the checkout lane”

(that is – they will ALWAYS use the particular to generalize – and if you press them on what technology they are comfortable with even if that led to loss of jobs, they will not tell you – they will, as always, demagogue the issue about how technology degrades and loss of jobs and so on … even as technology has improved people’s lives and allowed so many to escape the drudgery of doing so many things that can be done by machines – these “progressives” hate HATE the idea that men/women can use their minds for many things and that creating new things, ideas is something they cannot stand)

Invisible Backhand October 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Sounds fake, and it comes from Fred Barnes.

and Lyle Albaugh sounds like he’s from Patrician central casting

Activities Parenting, Show jumping
Other Riding Far, LLC, I Pledge To Take Back America and Get Out The Vote, Bloomspot, Michelle Malkin, The Fund for Personal Liberty fan and information page, Tucker Carlson, John Stossel, Political Integrity Now, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Koch Family Foundations & Philanthropy, Tangent Arts, DoiMoi, National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), Central Asian Free Market Institute, Freedom to Trade and 40 more

Andrew_M_Garland October 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Keynes, Digger of Holes

=== ===
During a 1934 dinner in the U.S., one economist carefully removed a washroom towel from a stack to dry his hands. Mr. Keynes swept the whole pile of towels on the floor and crumpled them up. He explained that his way of using towels did more to stimulate employment among restaurant workers.
=== ===

Methinks1776 October 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm

He explained that his way of using towels did more to stimulate employment among restaurant workers.

Which is great, so long as he did so at the restaurant owner’s expense, not his own.

As in the recent debate between Morici (one mouse ear headband away from looking like a cartoon character) and Boudreaux, Keynesians loudly advocate doing whatever it takes to empty other people’s bank accounts in the name of “full employment”, but never volunteer their own.

Invisible Backhand October 16, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Funny, Hayekians loudly advocate that the little people lose their jobs to free trade, but never volunteer to lose their own.

Methinks1776 October 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm

How does one volunteer to lose one’s job to free trade, unemployable imbecile?

Invisible Backhand October 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

?

MWG October 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Funny you would say that on a blog whose owners are college professors. If you’ve stepped foot on any typical US campus on a school day you’ll notice the faculty is largely made up of… GASP!…foreigners.

Krishnan October 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm

The ultimate barrier to free trade is that of people – today, people cannot move freely between nations and take their skills where they may be best rewarded. Education (mainly K-12) is very highly controlled by a select few – who are able to keep wages high even as quality drops and parents can do almost nothing. In higher education, there are several choices even within states – and hence there is a semblance of competition for people, skills (yes, I am aware of many structural problems that have ossified higher education and market pressure will force changes in the near future). Those that argue for free trade but want to restrict free movement of people are not really free traders.

Gil October 17, 2011 at 12:05 am

Libertarians are the supercreators and will be the ones always be building the future and will never be so underproductive to be worth less than the minimum wage.

Andrew_M_Garland October 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm

To Gil,

Progressives are insightful planners. Their policy to promote employment grudgingly relies on amoral businessmen.

They decry the greed of the businessman, while forming public unions to raise their own salaries at every opportunity. They say they deserve the money, and even more, for doing good work and being compassionate. They want only a salary, benefits, health care, and pensions, not an evil profit deriving from social gambling (investment).

They specify a minimum wage which is higher than many workers would accept, placing a restriction on the workers. When employers won’t hire them at that wage, they offer unemployment payments while agreeing that this is not a solution; a job would be better.

As the government goes broke and everyone becomes poorer (less “demand” from the unemployed), they consider further plans to force employers to hire. Then, they wonder why businessmen (private planners) see the government as hostile, and why businessmen are unwilling to fully invest in the less-profitable businesses which would employ workers with less skill, the people who Progressives want to help.

Union Hires Non-Union
(At the link, use further link at the upper right)

- – -
Union Rep:  [shouts] Make Walmart pay a living wage with benefits!
Picketer:  But, you hired us to picket at minimum wage without benefits.
Union Rep:  We couldn’t help the working man as much if we paid you more.
- – -

Dan J October 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm

it is called ‘reassignment’. Quills get replace by pencils. Pencil factories get relocated into region X so that the former men in Pencil factory can go on to making ink pens. Ink pen makers can go on to keyboard factories. Keyboard factory workers can move on to…… etc., etc.,……. Sure, it sounds nice to get a job at factory X and stay there for 50yrs with no changes. Everyday is the same…… make product Y with same amount of people, in the same fashion, with same materials, in the same place, but with increasing pay……..
actually, that sounds absolutely boring and horrid. Also, it is unrealisitc.

Mike from Shreveport October 21, 2011 at 3:12 am

“Hayekians” advocate no such thing. Free trade does not cause “the little people” to lose their jobs; if anything it allows jobs to move around to even “littler people” who are able to produce more for less, provide better/higher quality for the same price, or who have more streamlined and efficient manufacturing processes, resulting in lower prices for everyone, effectively raising their standard of living.

Economic Freedom October 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Mr. Keynes swept the whole pile of towels on the floor and crumpled them up. He explained that his way of using towels did more to stimulate employment among restaurant workers.

It wasn’t an economics-related dinner; it was a bathhouse. And Keynes performed that little bit of vandalism so that the washroom attendants would have to bend over to pick everything up.

Keynesianism makes sense once we understand a few simple psychological facts about Lord Keynes.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 17, 2011 at 7:37 am

whether work has “value,” like art and truth, are in the eye of the beholder

Ken October 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Nick,

Which is exactly why all political attempts to control the economy and force people to buy things they don’t want (like health insurance) or make expensive the things that people want (like gasoline) are doomed to make people’s lives worse off and the economy less efficient. All political controls are attempts by politicians to replace consumer preferences (the value in the eye of the consumer) with the politicians’ preferences (the value in the eye of the politicians).

Regards,
Ken

Dan J October 17, 2011 at 1:39 pm

*like*

Andrew_M_Garland October 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm

My comment posted here, in the wrong place.

rhhardin October 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Self checkout lanes avoid high school baggers with colds fingering your food packages.

Suddenly you don’t get colds anymore in wintertime.

A big job loss for the cold remedy industry!

Brad Hutchings October 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I’d never thought of that. But the pimply faced future grocer apprentices always bag my stuff to ensure maximum work once it gets home. I use self-checkout so I can self-bag and save work later.

T Rich October 16, 2011 at 7:39 pm

True. I beat the system by trying to arrange my items on the belt so that the items go to the bagger in a sequence to optimize their bagging and keep the crushables away from the heavy stuff.

Alas, they occasionally “outsmart” me and put potatoes on top of the red grapes.

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Sir Don,
Though I do understand why you use the invention of the spear to make your points, I do wish you would not, because the analogy fails.

The invention of the spear, just as its predecessor the club, actually expanded the numbers of people who could become hunters, I hold that self evidence of reason and study of anthropology would lead any one to my conclusion. Human life in those days pretty much hung on a thin thread of subsistence, and the more people carrying spears, the more game could be brought in, cooked, and possibly stored.

Invention of the bow and arrow meant even more successful hunting and even weaker poorly fit humans could successfully hunt.

The thing about nature it is reasonable to recognize and understand is that nature is random, unpredictable, and ever changing, cycling through favorable climates and unfavorable climates (like may be happening now), and no life was capable of predicting or estimating how much stored nourishment it would need to get through the winter months, times of drought, or whatever could be thrown their way. So, life in general tends to seek as much nourishment it can get, when it can get it.

In those days there wasn’t a whole lot of leisure or part time jobs in the group.

Just saying.

Darren October 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm

It sounds like the spear might be analogous to the calculator. It allowed more people access to a ‘higher’ profession. This in turn brought the ‘wages’ of that profession down.

juan carlos vera October 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Excellent post !!!…

Methinks1776 October 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm

The spear didn’t just destroy jobs. It (and even worse, the bow and arrow) dehumanized the whole process.

And so begins the alienation of man!

NGEddy October 16, 2011 at 2:26 pm

She’s just confused because arugula doesn’t have a bar code

Publius October 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

LOL! You may have hit the nail on the head, NGEddy!

Marty Mazorra October 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

A (hypothetical) Thousand Miles Per Gallon
A scientist in Tuscaloosa, in collaboration with his engineer cousin in Tallahassee, designs the most fuel efficient gas engine known to man – it gets 1,000 miles per gallon… They sell the technology to GM for $billions, Ford and Chrysler invent their own versions (then successfully defend the patent-infringement suits) and over the next decade, economic life, as we know it, improves dramatically…

Gas prices plummet, consumer discretionary income soars (creating huge growth [and jobs] in other industries), tax-revenue sky-rockets, the government balances its budget, yada yada yada…

Now hang on a second… what about the oil industry? What about the worker who’ll lose his job as demand and, consequently, profits plummet? What’s he supposed to do? Oh that’s right… and what about all those stagecoach operators? What are they supposed to do?

I.e., while innovation virtually always disrupts a certain labor pool, innovation, without exception, created that pool to begin with…

Bottom line, society at large always (always) benefits when we find more efficient, less expensive modes of producing the goods we desire…

Jon October 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm

“Bottom line, society at large always (always) benefits when we find more efficient, less expensive modes of producing the goods we desire” – Yep

Dave E October 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Huh?! Does she eat food? Does she realize all those machines farmers use put hired hands, veterinarians, and others out of work? She should not eat anything not produced by hand.

W.E.Heasley October 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Rep. Barbara Lee wants to put the romance back into politics. You see, by avoiding computerized check out, Barbara rides into town and saves us from the villainous computerized check out. Further, she leads by example and is not bashful in letting us know how virtuous she really is by advertising her apparent virtuosity on her web site. Thank you Barbara!

Of course the romance quickly fades, the visual of the knight on the charging white stallion fades (as explained by Dr. Boudreaux above) as Barbara was so “progressive” as to cheery pick one aspect (computerized check out) and forget the zillion other examples that are applicable to one Barbara Lee.

Yes, Barbara Lee, sage-at-large.

Bill October 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I assume the firms that manufacture/supply the checkout machines are not in Ms. Lee’s congressional district?

T Rich October 16, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Let us not forget that the congresswoman is from California. How many stage coach/train/auto/ship workers, hotel employees, restaurant workers does she put out of work every time she takes a cross-country flight rather than travel by some more primitive fashion.

In short, she is a poseur (on stilts no less).

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I had an excellent career as a galley slave, and then some son-of-a-bitch invented the sail.

Bill October 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Like!

juan carlos vera October 17, 2011 at 3:13 am

Great!!!…

Andrew_M_Garland October 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Keynes, Digger of Holes
=== ===
During a 1934 dinner in the U.S., one economist carefully removed a washroom towel from a stack to dry his hands. Mr. Keynes swept the whole pile of towels on the floor and crumpled them up. He explained that his way of using towels did more to stimulate employment among restaurant workers.
=== ===

vikingvista October 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Truly, the nation’s biggest buffoons are in politics.

Ken October 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm

You sure they’re not in the entertainment business?

Regards,
Ken

Anotherphil October 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm

what’s the difference?

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Oooooooooh slam dunk!

Fred October 17, 2011 at 10:09 am

Mic Jagger originally planned to pursue a career in politics, but settled on being a rock star.

Publius October 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm

In addition, it is important to remember that labor-saving technology maximizes productivity, which has an upward pressure on wages. Focusing on the few that lose their jobs to to the technology rather than on the benefits to the majority in the economy as a whole is very, very bad economic policy.

Bastiat Smith October 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm

This is true, though such a vague generality lends itself to utilitarian comparisons; BE CAREFUL!!!

Martin Brock October 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I love automated checkouts at grocery and department stores. I always use them, because they’re typically faster and more convenient, presumably because the store can operate more checkouts at the same cost. They’re a hassle occasionally, but so is a human being operating a cash register.

And I can hardly imagine a more dull, repetitive and dehumanizing occupation than operating a supermarket checkout. Talk about Marxist alienation. Automating this task frees a human being to find more satisfying employment.

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm

“Automating this task frees a human being to find more satisfying employment.”

If you are satisfied with your job, how nice for you. What you are saying is that manual labor is dull, repetitive, dehumanizing, etc. Many people are only equiped to do menial type work. Freeing them from their jobs would make them unemployed. That doesn’t sound very liberating. Do you think a store clerk will suddenly become a nuclear physicist, or an overpaid CEO? You live in a librarian’s dream world.

It isn’t only the manual or menial jobs that are being replaced, jobs requiring advanced degrees are being automated or computerized. Think of an economics professor for instance. He can video tape all his lectures and make them available online for the next semester’s class. Should the professor continue to get paid for her work product? Of course not. Who needs her anymore? Redundant, redundant, redundant. Just as you are. Just as the trust fund babies are. You think you are better than a store clerk? I hold my nose.

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm

“Many people are only equiped to do menial type work. Freeing them from their jobs would make them unemployed. That doesn’t sound very liberating.”

Good description of your run-of-the-mill socialist.

BTW, for your future food stocks you might look at this deal:
http://www.cabelas.com/product/Shooting/Ammunition/Rimfire-Ammunition%7C/pc/104792580/c/104691780/sc/104536080/Federal-Champion-22-LR-375-Round-Value-Pack-Ammunition/1257366.uts?destination=%2Fcatalog%2Fbrowse%2Fshooting-ammunition-rimfire-ammunition%2F_%2FN-1100192%2FNs-CATEGORY_SEQ_104536080%3FWTz_l%3DSBC%25253BMMcat104792580%253Bcat104691780

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Whatever work you did for the U.S. military is probably now computerized. If you were born now you would starve to death because you are uneducable and obsolete. I can that tell by the drivel that you spew in your old age. I am totally in favor of making violent and evil “people” unemployable, and replaceable by decent people, or advanced machinery. Your bullet advertisement speaks to your violent nature. I hope that advances in genetics eventurally remove your DNA from the genome. I hope you donate your body to science, so that your Frankenstein gene can be excised from future subhumans.

Economic Freedom October 16, 2011 at 9:10 pm

The danger with advancements in weapons is that the wrong person (or persons) – a dangerous and violent type might gain access to those weapons. Do you feel comfortable with the Pakistanians, North Koreans, and the Iranians in possession of nuclear bombs and missiles? If Hitler had obtained the atom bomb before the U.S. did, history would have been altered disastrously, inflicting a fascist nightmare on humanity. I may not know much, but I know that.

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm

“I may not know much,…”

Your admission of your ignorance is refreshing. Punk , smug librarians usually think they know everything.

rmv October 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

HoC

What do you have against librarians? Every time I’ve ever needed to borrow a book, they’ve been nothing but polite and accommodating.

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Aw shucks HOC, I knew you cared.

Actually twit, my specialty began computerizing back in the early 1960s.

When I was a kid receiving instructions from my elders I never got beyond the adage, “Eat”. There wasn’t any of this shit about, “or be eaten”. Pretty straightforward life style, eh, my petite?

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

rmv,

Beginning with the Dewey decimal system in 1876, librarians are becoming increasingly scarce, unnecessary, irrelevant, and obsolete. Perhaps specialized librarians are doing better, such as legal, or medical librarians.

dsylexic October 17, 2011 at 12:32 am

.people indulge in transactions that give them value.
if value, for you includes supporting your neighborhood store and dont mind paying what it costs to do that,go right ahead.
just dont expect others to share your values.

also,check if the horsecart drivers became nuclear scientists,librarians or something else when cars took over.

stedebonnet October 17, 2011 at 2:21 am

“The danger with advancements in weapons is that the wrong person (or persons) – a dangerous and violent type might gain access to those weapons. Do you feel comfortable with the Pakistanians, North Koreans, and the Iranians in possession of nuclear bombs and missiles? ”

@ Economic Freedom
While I tend to agree with many of the points that you make on this site, I think you are wrong for fearing Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea possessing Nukes. One of those countries, Pakistan, has tested Nukes in the past. Ultimately, I tend to side with Kenneth Waltz’s argument. The spread of nuclear weapons can (and does) make the world more stable. So to answer your questions, I (nor you) should feel uncomfortable if those states acquire weapons.

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 9:28 am

stedebonnet October 17, 2011 at 2:21 am
“The danger with advancements in weapons is that the wrong person (or persons) – a dangerous and violent type might gain access to those weapons. Do you feel comfortable with the Pakistanians, North Koreans, and the Iranians in possession of nuclear bombs and missiles? ”

@ Economic Freedom
While I tend to agree with many of the points that you make on this site, I think you are wrong for fearing Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea possessing Nukes. One of those countries, Pakistan, has tested Nukes in the past. Ultimately, I tend to side with Kenneth Waltz’s argument. The spread of nuclear weapons can (and does) make the world more stable. So to answer your questions, I (nor you) should feel uncomfortable if those states acquire weapons.

Thanks, stedebonnet. However, there now appears to be two “Economic Freedoms” posting to this board. I am the original one — the one whose points you tend to agree with. The imposter is “House of Cards” — the author of the previous post on nukes — who thought it would be fun to log in with my name.

Just thought I’d let you know.

Economic Freedom October 16, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Do you think a store clerk will suddenly become a nuclear physicist, or an overpaid CEO?

Those are the only choices?

You’re a blockhead.

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Your a rude child with no manners. You are also an ignoramus.

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 8:48 pm

You also are completely obsolete.

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 8:55 pm

People who “flame” on blogs or the internet, should be barred. If the owner’s of the blog don’t ban insulting, stalking, foolish trolls and twits like you, their blog will regress to a low state of inanity and uselessness. You are a walking profanity.

Economic Freedom October 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I’m sorry to have offended you. You are correct. If I lose my job at McDonald’s, I can always get a job at Taco Bell. Thank you for correcting me. I won’t insult you again. I should have called myself a blockhead.

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm

What do you propose that blockheads do for a living? Just asking.

Greg Webb October 16, 2011 at 11:53 pm

HOC, I do not believe that any human being is a subhuman as you previously suggested nor are they uneducable. Also, I do not think that menial jobs will ever go away. But, I am confident that, with technological advancements, workers in menial jobs will be more productive.

House of Cards October 17, 2011 at 8:51 am

And, for the sake of completeness, I should like to add that those who engage in subversive Alinskyite online tactics — for example, identity theft of another’s login name on a message board such as this — should not only be banned from a site, but should be publicly flayed, such humiliation to be videotaped and uploaded to a special link on the Drudge Report for all to see.

I happily admit that I’m a blockhead regarding economics — I’ve read very little and I understand even less — but I’ve got my opinion on right and wrong and it pretty much comes down to this: If I do something, it’s right; if someone else does the exact same thing, it’s wrong. I believe this position makes for the best kind of morality AND the best kind of politics. That’s why I’m a leftist — and proud of it.

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 8:59 am

What do you propose that blockheads do for a living?

Well, you’re a blockhead. What do you do for a living? I take it you neither sling hash nor perform neurosurgery. You probably do something in between those two extremes, right? Why can’t your fellow blockheads follow your example?

Anotherphil October 17, 2011 at 10:08 am

You think you are better than a store clerk? I hold my nose.

Absolutely not. But better than you? Definitely.

Don’t hold your nose. Enjoy the non-intellectual filth and excrement you swim in so eagerly. It the sane that need to hold their nose around you, as you emit such an odious “aroma”.

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 11:43 am

We are outrageous blockheads just like HoC. Although I promised that I wouldn’t insult him, I can’t control my urge to put people I hate down. You hate HoC and so do I. Freedom gives us the right to insult and hate. Every time we leave a comment, I feel as though we left a pile of dog poop. What do you do for a living? I suspect that you inherited a pile of dough like me, and that makes us feel superior to leftists that have to work for a living. We are,in reality, a drain on society, but I like my freedom to spend without restraint. I think I’d tax people like us more to encourage us get off our lazy rears and do something productive for once in our lives.

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Don’t forget that Keynes dropped a bar of soap in the bathhouse so that he could look at guys’ butts. He was a homosexual before he was an economist. We mustn’t forget that. He was a petty thief as well. A gay and a thief, that about sums him up.

House of Cards October 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm

No one is as a much of a blockhead as I am. That’s because I believe in complete equality — between the competent and the incompetent alike (I recognize no difference between the two). Left to my own devices, I am no more of a drain on society than, well, a drain; but I would very much like to be a real drain on society, by implementing confiscatory taxation on anyone who is more productive than I. I’m proud to be a moocher and a looter. That’s because it’s quite obvious to me and my brother-and-sister-blockheads (now occupying Wall Street) that someone can succeed economically under capitalism only by making someone else fail. I clean grease traps at McDonald’s for a living precisely because someone else is a managing director at Goldman Sachs. That much is obvious to any honest observer; only the dishonest would believe that it has anything to do with personal responsibility and native ability. Not only do those things not exist, but if they did, we’d have to get schools and government to stamp them out for the good of society. ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL! That’s my philosophy, and I’m going to do my best to make it everyone else’s philosophy, too.

House of Cards October 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Economic Loser,

You can’t even pretend to write like I do because you have the brain of 3 year-old.

House of Cards October 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm

On the other hand, since I myself only have the brain of a 2 year-old, Economic Freedom is up on me by one year.

I admit that I regularly make imbecilic remarks on this board and humbly beseech forgiveness by everyone here, with the exception of Economic Freedom, who can, if he wishes, continue to insult me with impunity. I deserve it.

Dan J October 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm

There will always be menial jobs and labor intensive positions. Their pay will represent the lack of qualifications and how easily replaceable they are. The Econ Professor can move on to teaching something else or doing something else and the cost of education can drop making it more affordable from more people. That is a good thing.
Herman Cain was in that menial position and better himself to be the CEO of a business…………. Your House of Cards has collapsed.
Im thru with you. sit down.

Donald Trump October 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm

With the economy that Bush, et al, destroyed, the Phd will compete with the high school dropout for the cashier job at Walmart. A PhD can usually add 2 and 2, so should get the job. This is not a certainty though because you can be overqualified for a position. So the dropout might get the position, and the PhD will go to the unemployment line. You’ve fall down on your job and you can’t get up. You’re fired! Loser.

Dan J October 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Learned that the economical situation goes well beyond GWB. If GWB is your bogeyman, you are not well informed, and not worth wasting time on.

Martin Brock October 18, 2011 at 8:41 am

What you are saying is that manual labor is dull, repetitive, dehumanizing, etc.

No. Some manual labor is dull and repetitive, and other manual labor isn’t. Scultpure and professional basketball are manual labor.

Many people are only equiped to do menial type work.

“Menial” is your word, not mine. Operating a grocer’s checkout is not menial. It seems dull and repetitive to me, but it’s not menial.

Freeing them from their jobs would make them unemployed.

It requires them to find other employment. I’ve found other employment several times in my career, and I’ve always ended up better off, so I fear this prospect less than I once did.

Do you think a store clerk will suddenly become a nuclear physicist, or an overpaid CEO?

No. Why? Do you think so?

You live in a librarian’s dream world.

Your straw man lives in your dream world. In the world I inhabit, all the wagon wheel makers and subsistence farmers in the U.S. lost their jobs a century, and their descendants are better off as a consequence, including the grocery store checkout operators.

It isn’t only the manual or menial jobs that are being replaced, jobs requiring advanced degrees are being automated or computerized.

Technological progress continually creates more jobs than it replaces; otherwise, the U.S. economy could not employ four times as many people today as it did in 1900, at much higher wages, despite all the unemployed wagon wheel makers.

Think of an economics professor for instance. He can video tape all his lectures and make them available online for the next semester’s class.

You’re right. Employment in the professorial profession might be falling if not for the massive state subsidies in education and corresponding entitlement to employment for vested interests, and the cost of education might be falling with it. I have three kids in college at the moment, so this potential progress interests me very much.

Should the professor continue to get paid for her work product? Of course not.

Professors do not cease to exist in your scenario. They become more productive. Fewer professors produce more.

Who needs her anymore? Redundant, redundant, redundant.

Why do you believe that no one needs an unemployed worker?

Just as you are.

I’ve worked in IT R&D for my entire career. The work I did twenty-five years ago was redundant twenty years ago. The work I do today will be redundant five years from now.

Just as the trust fund babies are.

I’d like the trust fund babies to get a job, but that’s a separate issue.

You think you are better than a store clerk? I hold my nose.

No. Your straw man thinks he’s better than a store clerk, and you suffocate yourself addressing him while pretending to address me. I only think that operating a grocery store checkout all day would be painfully dull. That’s a statement of fact about my personality, not a judgement of anyone else’s intrinsic value.

Very few grocer’s checkout operators make a lifelong career of it. The vast majority of them change employment without being made redundant. Some move up in the grocery business. Others move on to other employers.

Jim October 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm

i just had an epiphany (for me anyways). I always thought that the idea of green jobs was a arguably wrong, since it needed subsidy to survive.

How silly of me. Now I know what they mean! They are just ‘creating’ jobs! It is as simple as that.

Winfred October 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Donald once again illustrates his vocabularly inanity, as his indictment simply equivocates luddite with someone who chooses to interact with a real person, instead of a computer, because the real person represents a job that would otherwise be lost.

Alas… the brainwashed inbreds here have no clue how simplistic and asinine Donald’s syllogistic inanity is, and will no doubt promptly embrace this fetwah on people who appreciate doing business with other people.

rmv October 16, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Please please please explain to use what a Luddite is.

I really want to read what you have to say.

rmv October 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

use = us

Winfred October 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm

“Please please please explain to use what a Luddite is.”

Please please take a second jab at whatever it is you’re trying to demand with this incoherent babbling!

LOL

I’m guessing you’re asking me for the definition of Luddite… as you don’t have an English dictionary among your Right-wing New Speak guides to reference it yourself.

Is this really it?

You pathetic and psychotic stupids simply pretend you don’t know what words mean when you’re too much of a bunch of rhetorically impotent cowards to argue whatever?

You make Donald “New Speak Master” Bourdeaux proud.

Seriously… I re-read Donald’s post, and am perfectly willing to admit my initial post is wrong, and Donald is right mocking Rep. Lee for this trivially pious blurb.

I retract my previous post, and concede that I am wrong, and Donald is right, mocking Rep. Lee.

Learn from my example, half-wits. I realize you simply don’t do humility, and simply pile on the stupidity when you’re wrong, trying to obfuscate away from it or otherwise intimidate anyone who points out how pathetically stupid you are, … but this is how us normal/sane types roll. We admit we’re wrong and move along.

Surprisingly, I always expect that you pathetic morons are going to jump all over me ad-nauseam for my bad. But acknowledging what others have said is contrary to your infinite regress of red herring stupidity.

rmv October 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm

You’ve surpassed my expectations

Thank you

T Rich October 16, 2011 at 7:52 pm

You called his bluff and found out he had no pairs, no straights, and a staggering hand of 8 high. You’re correct, rmv, he surpassed expectations. Just, … WOW.

Ken October 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Ha! He admits he’s wrong and that Don was right, but insists you’re the stupid one for pointing that out. Classic.

Regards,
Ken

Greg Webb October 16, 2011 at 11:57 pm

rmv, nicely done!

Winfred, LOL!

Anotherphil October 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Donald once again illustrates his vocabularly inanity, as his indictment simply equivocates luddite with someone who chooses to interact with a real person, instead of a computer, because the real person represents a job that would otherwise be lost.

Since you used “equivocate”, rather than “equate”, we’ll accept your mastery of “vocabularly inanity”.

Lerxst von Syrinx October 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Why did you bother replying to someone who just grabbed his thesaurus and as eloquently as he could said, “nuh-uh, you’re wrong!”

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Are you really stupid enough to think that any one starts a business with the sole intention of creating jobs?

Really, how freaking dumb can a looney lefty be.

The really intelligent businessman is the one who can maintain or improve his profit margin while shedding costs, including employees, as he improves.

The really really stupid ones are looney lefties that think business and charity are one and the same, and if not then the government should step in and kill the ones that are not charity.

Which are you Whinefred?

House of Cards October 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm

We’ve gone from spears to nuclear missiles. Talk about progress.

vidyohs October 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm

And along the way we picked up useless twits like Picasso and House of Cards, talk about regress.

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Regarding regress:

It’s socially regressive that modern corporations under capitalism find it to their economic benefit — which is the immoral and greedy pursuit of profit — intentionally to substitute shoddy construction materials for sound ones, or purposely to use tainted, poisonous ingredients in products like toothpaste and candy, just to cut a few corners on their costs of production. Despicable!

Hey, did I ever tell you the time that I ruined part of my left kidney when I bought some Chinese-made White Rabbit candy? I love telling and retelling that story. So remind me to tell it or retell it to you sometime.

House of Cards October 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

You too? The exact same thing happened to me — except it was my right kidney . . . and for the same reason!

Darn capitalism for succeeding by making dangerous products!

Donald Trump October 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Economic Failure,

Your attempt to imitate people who are intellecturallly superior to you is also an epic failure. Where do you find the time for your asinine behavior? Don’t you have a day job? You’d never work for me because I’d say, You’re fired! Loser.

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm

@ Donald Trump:

You’d never work for me because I’d say, You’re fired! Loser.

I’d never work for you because I follow a strict “No A$$h¢le” policy regarding potential employers.

I also make it a point not to work for fossilized mercantilists.

mark October 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm

While Barbara Lee may be incorrect in her understanding of the effects of self serve checkout lanes, it is interesting that there was recently news that some supermarkets such as Albertson’s are abandoning self-checkout lanes because they feel it diminishes the shopping experience. However, other chains such as Kroger’s remain proponents of self-checkout lanes.

http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/10/02/3413453/self-checkout-disappearing-at.html

Personally I am a fan of the self checkout lane and i generally head straight towards the self checkout lanes whenever I only have a few grocery items. However I found interesting the reasons why some grocery chains are abandoning self checkout:

* “diminished shopper experience.”
* self checkout results in increased intentional and unintentional theft.
* self checkout can sometimes slow the checkout process and slow lines when used by non techie shoppers.

John Dewey October 17, 2011 at 10:17 am

Albertson’s is a joke, IMO. They were once the 2nd largest U.S. supermarket chain, with 2,500 stores nationwide. They’re down to about 200 today.

My guess: they don’t have the capital to continue developing their self-service checkouts, and are using “diminished customer experience” to explain to shareholders why they cannot keep up with Safeway and Kroger.

I hope you noticed in the article the message that Kroger is “still bullish on self-checkout”. Furthermore, Kroger is testing the European style “metro checkout” which is much faster than cashier-scanned checkout lines, but which will require a capital investment Albertson’s just cannot afford. Revenues for Kroger, by the way, grew 24% over the past five years.

Winfred October 16, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Sometimes I do self-check-out, because I have only a few things… but when it comes to a variety of produce and such, not to mention the finicky problems of respective weight changes guarding the self-checkouts, flashing for help because it doesn’t think you moved an item from one end of the scanner to the other appropriately…

..you really can’t beat the personal touch when it comes to a large shopping effort.

But I don’t think Donald intended this to be a poll about self-check-outs

Donald wants to derive something about progressivism with this, as apparently any lack of technological savvy is somehow contrary to the the progressive political meme: focusing on what we can agree on rather than our differences.

Ken October 16, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Donald wants to derive something about progressivism

It’s not hard. From prominent “progressives” such as Lee and Obama’s own anti-ATM rhetoric, among other foolish Obamisms, that “progressivism” embraces Luddite philosophy as a sound basis for economic analysis.

Regards,
Ken

SMV October 16, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I think you are all missing the benefits to this type of thinking. Everyone that thinks like Rep. Lee should spend all day every day standing in an infinit check out line or paying 100 of their fellow travelers to scrub their floor with single brissle tooth brushes.

Think about all the damage avoided!

Ron H October 16, 2011 at 9:26 pm

That was probably correct before the invention of the Smart Phone – now damage can be done from anywhere.

Greg Webb October 16, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Excellent letter, Don! Thanks for making fun of another stupid politician.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 17, 2011 at 7:38 am

in the long run the representative is right

the crisis we face is a world with no jobs

Methinks1776 October 17, 2011 at 8:02 am

I disagree. Clearly, the crisis we face is a world with no brains.

Don Boudreaux October 17, 2011 at 8:11 am

Suppose you were alive in 1776 years ago when 90 percent of the U.S. population worked on farms. If someone had told you then of the soon-to-happen technological advances in farm machinery and chemical processes that would dramatically reduce the number of agricultural jobs, would you have worried that Americans in 1876 or Americans in 1976 – or Americans today – would have “no jobs”?

It’s a serious question.

muirgeo October 17, 2011 at 8:54 am

Yes you would be concerned because that has been the downside of modern capitalism. Ideally increased productivity improves the lives of everyone but in reality many many …billions…. are left behind. That’s a real problem that capitalism and society need to resolve. But elitist attitudes as expressed by methinks above are used to justify the state of things and predictably lead to societal upheaval and disaster.

There are indeed many many people not as intelligent or smart or productive as methinks or Don or myself and yet they are good, honest hardworking people. Leaving results to the mercies of the market makes a society as brutal as any authoritarian regime and its not even as efficient.

ErikOlsen October 17, 2011 at 9:12 am

Does this mean you think the world is worse off now than in 1776, that there is more poverty etc.? Do you think that the average or even the lowest standards of living in the U.S. are below those of the average in 1776?

Krishnan October 17, 2011 at 9:23 am

Re: ErikOlsen – there are many who believe precisely that. To them, humanity started going downhill the day fire was invented – and it got worse as the bow and arrow were created (see elsewhere in this post) – the only true good age was when humans had to struggle to eat and live and die when they were very young

muirgeo October 17, 2011 at 9:32 am

Erik,

I make the argument that there are now 1.5 billion people living in abject poverty today which is more people than ALL that existed in 1776. So from the perspective of the 1.5 billion HAVE things improved? No one here likes this argument… they like to ignore it along with the 1.5 billion inconvenient people.

Slappy McFee October 17, 2011 at 11:26 am

So now the question is what do we do with the 1.5 Billion in poverty? Do we engage in free and open trade for their labor so their lot improves or do we follow the progressive mantra and eliminate them?

Ken October 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

muirgeo,

All the while you ignore the 5 billion that have been lifted out of abject poverty. The primary difference is that most people in 1776 lived in abject poverty. Today most don’t.

Why do you ignore the lives of 5 billion?

Regards,
Ken

Ken October 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm

muirgeo,

This is like saying that the modern world is worse off today because more people die each today than did in 1800.

The world population in 1800 was around 1000 million, with less than 500 million living above the abject poverty line. Today there are 6.5 billion with 5 billion living above the poverty line.

This is why rates are used when discussing disease and medicine. Don’t you claim to be a doctor? I guess I just expect someone claiming to be a doctor to understand fractions. After all, they are taught in third grade.

Regards,
Ken

Darren October 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Do you think that the average or even the lowest standards of living in the U.S. are below those of the average in 1776?

Focus on the lowest standard of living. I don’t think anyone (left, right, up, or down) disagrees that the *average* standard of living generally improves with trade.

brotio October 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm

there are now 1.5 billion people living in abject poverty

I wonder why most of those 1.5 billion live in areas using agricultural methods like those used in 1776?

Methinks1776 October 17, 2011 at 9:16 am

Head in hands. Cannot believe this has state-sanctioned power to mess with children.

muirgeo October 17, 2011 at 9:59 am

Absolutly because people like yourself mostly concerned with money who look down on the lowly ignorant patients make aweful aweful doctors and thaAbsolutely because people like yourself mostly concerned with money who look down on the lowly ignorant patients make awful awful doctors and thats why you could never be or would ever be allowed to be a doctor. Its just a shame that so much of our resources go to supporting Wall Street paper pushing useless profiteers like yourself rather than more doctors, nurses and caretakers. Some day you yourself will be under the care of overworked understaffed hospital workers because of this poor utilization of resources that you support. Especially, after talking to people out hereon the east coast… wow I’m glad I’ll be in a California hospital with much better nurse to patient ratios.
ts why you could never be or would ever be allowed to be a doctror.

Fred October 17, 2011 at 10:08 am

muirgeo is proof that those who graduate at the bottom of the class in medical school can still become doctors.

scary

vikingvista October 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm

It makes you wonder just what it takes to flunk out of med school, doesn’t it.

Fred October 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm

It makes you wonder just what it takes to flunk out of med school, doesn’t it.

Some people get through school not by actually learning the material, but by pleasing the instructor. Sometimes the two are related, but not always.

brotio October 17, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Some people get through school … by pleasing the instructor.

Oh, come on, Fred! Have you seen Yasafi’s picture?

vikingvista October 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm

I can’t imagine muirde pleasing anybody.

Fred October 17, 2011 at 9:36 am

not as intelligent or smart or productive as methinks or Don or myself

You are neither smart nor productive and have no business comparing yourself to those people.

muirgeo October 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Fred,

As I’ve told many here I could back your position into a corner in short order if we were to debate one to one.

Fred October 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I’ve seen you debate. You’re a joke.

Greg Webb October 17, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Yep, I kicked George’s butt the last time he made such a silly claim.

B.Stone October 17, 2011 at 11:51 am

“Ideally increased productivity improves the lives of everyone but in reality many many …billions…. are left behind. ”

The reality is you likely owe your very existence to capitalism.

“But we may say by and large that of eight people living today in the countries of Western civilization, seven are alive only because of the Industrial Revolution. Are you personally sure that you are one out of eight who would have lived even in the absence of the Industrial Revolution? ” – Ludwig von Mises

muirgeo October 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

The reality is YOU and I owe our lives to the success
of our mixed economy.

Greg Webb October 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Nope, George. Wrong again!

Ken October 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm

muirgeo,

There is a difference between being left behind and being held down. That Americans and the West left the rest of the world behind doesn’t make those in the rest of the world worse off. In fact, that the West left the rest of the world behind made the rest of the world better off through trickle down economics.

You want to hold people down because you don’t want to be left behind. You would cut the fastest runners Achilles tendon thinking that his speed makes you slower.

Regards,
Ken

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 12:15 am

“There is a difference between being left behind and being held down.”

@Ken
Unless being left behind is an effect of being held down. Then there isn’t much difference. To suggest that the West left everyone behind is complete ignorance toward 300 years of human history (think Slave Trade and colonialism as 2 easy examples). Somehow, we are supposed to believe that an entire continent was pillaged and plundered by the west, yet wasn’t held-down? And that Africa was (or is) better off for it?

Many people find better circumstances today than in 1776. I’m not trying to deny that. Capitalism and entrepreneurial innovation are central to many of these improvements. Yet to suggest the world is “better-off” would likely depend on who you were asking and how that person defines “better-off.”

Ken October 18, 2011 at 6:07 am

stedebonnet,

To suggest that the West left everyone behind is complete ignorance toward 300 years of human history

No it isn’t. The west did leave the rest of the world behind, but even more than that, the west brought the rest of the world prosperity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had. The slave trade that you so blithely and ignorantly refer to was alive and well before westerners came to Africa. Westerners didn’t enslave Africans to be brought to the new world; Africans enslaved other Africans, which they’d been doing for thousands of years (before westerners showed up), then sold those slaves to westerners and whoever else was willing to buy them. But even more than that westerners ended the slave trade in most parts of the world. No other culture on earth even recognized that slavery was wrong, much less tried to end it.

I admit many societies were pillaged and plundered by westerners, just as all other societies in history had done. The primary difference between westerners and all other societies is that westerners actually produced prosperity wherever they went. Native Americans and South Americans lived in poverty much like the rest of the world before westerners showed up and built the modern world.

Many people find better circumstances today than in 1776.

This is an extreme understatement. Due to the west, even those living in abject poverty in parts of the world have access to things like advanced medicine (whenever the corrupt government lets them in anyway). There is no doubt that everyone in the world is better off today than all those who lived in 1776. You can point to people living in misery today, but this ignores those who lived in misery in 1776 and had no options to try to get to places as prosperous as the US.

Instead of accusing me of being ignorant of the last 300 years, perhaps you should pick up a history book on the last 300 years and recognize that the west isn’t holding anyone down. The west really did leave the rest of the world behind and brought much of the rest of the world with it kicking and screaming into the modern world. The prosperity the west brought gave prosperity to those who historically were poverty stricken. Something no other culture in history was interested in doing.

Regards,
Ken

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 9:16 am

Ken,

I am well aware of the internal slave trade in Africa, and understand that it was operating before the West arrived on the shores of Africa. However, to suggest that the west and African varieties are one in the same just isnt the case. I’m not attempting to argue against African agency during the slave trade, as it clearly happened.

What I am doubting; however, is that 12 million people would have been uprooted from their homelands in commercial servitude without the west’s involvement. I also think, as Stanley Engerman and Eric Williams have pointed out, that the Industrial Revolution can trace many of its roots to the wealth accumulation that occurred because of the slave trade. So the west certainly got ahead, but its not like you can separate this from many of the atrocities that allowed them to get there.

While basically everyone was living in poverty by our standards pre-1776, they were at least living. We didn’t drag Native Americans, South Americans, Africans, Indians, and pretty much everyone to where they are today. We murdered, killed, and subjugated millions to position ourselves in this place of prosperity. Though I’ll admit that we’re all “better-off” for it, I can’t agree that a ton of people haven’t suffered needlessly getting to this point.

Ken October 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

stedebonnet,

to suggest that the west and African varieties are one in the same just isnt the case

That’s correct. Westerners by and large treated slaves far better than African and Middle Eastern slave owners. The depravity of African and Middle Easterners with regards to their slaves is legendary, but largely ignored since they aren’t white.

Your second paragraph is absurd. Here’s why: slavery has been around since the beginning of ALL civilizations and have been used by ALL civilizations, including westerners before the industrial revolution. In light of this, it is obvious that technical innovations are responsible for the wealth of the west, not slavery. For your claim, and Engerman’s and Williams’s, you’d have to account for why the accumulation of wealth didn’t occur before when using slaves and why other cultures didn’t accumulate wealth despite the use of slaves.

Additionally, the history of the United States shows this claim to be false. The poorest states in the nation have been in the South, where wealth was held primarily held in the form of slaves in the pre-Civil War era. The richest states have been in the North, where slavery ended relatively early and was heavily industrialized. Only recently have many of southern states become as wealthy as northern states and after slavery ended 150 years ago.

As to your third paragraph, it again is absurd and completely ignores the ruthless wars and barbaric atrocities committed by the native populations on other native populations. Genocide and torture were common well before any westerner ever set foot in the New World. The idea that westerners were somehow worse is mere anti-west sentiment and resentment.

Regards,
Ken

John Dewey October 18, 2011 at 10:25 am

Ken: ” completely ignores the ruthless wars and barbaric atrocities committed by the native populations on other native populations. Genocide and torture were common well before any westerner ever set foot in the New World. “

Absolutely correct, Ken. I would guess that many younger adults are completely unfamiliar with the real pre-European Native American culture. History texts have been sanitized to remove such politically incorrect facts.

T. R. Fehrenbach, in Comanches: the Destuction of a People, explained how ritual torture, scalping, and slavery were practiced not just by Plains Indians, but by just about every tribe in North America. Many were cannibals. The word “Mohawk”, for example, in Algonquin tongue means “flesh eater”.

Ken October 18, 2011 at 10:47 am

JD,

Thanks for the book title; it’s in the queue:-) I think it’s interesting that the title of the book now is Comanches: The History of a People. If you look at the book on amazon, the hardback book has the title you gave, while the paperback has the title above. I wonder if there are significant changes in the book.

Regards,
Ken

John Dewey October 18, 2011 at 11:28 am

Ken: “I wonder if there are significant changes in the book.”

I’ll check tonight. I have the softcover version on my nightstand right now. I didn’t see a new copyright date on the book, so I suspect there were no changes.

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

Ken,

There’s a significant difference between slavery (which has existed since the beginning of time) and the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Thus, my third paragraph and why I take care to say the “slave trade,” rather than just slavery. While slavery had existed prior to the slave trade, it had never existed to that extent. This was the largest forced migration in human history, with over 12 million people moved to the Americas. Slavery was far more commercialized and widespread, and had never existed to those levels either before or after. There is no reason to account for why wealth wasn’t created earlier, because slavery was a completely different institution prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

This is really just an argument of the causes of the Industrial Revolution, which we will likely never agree on. You see technological innovation and are certain that’s the cause. I see technological innovation and say, why in Britain? Why in the west? I recognize that its impossible to separate these advancements in England’s society and economy from the slave-based Atlantic economy.

I will concede the point about Native American and South Americans. But you also assume that these groups wouldn’t have developed independently into a different, perhaps better society than today without the west’s intervention.

Ken October 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

stedebennot,

I see technological innovation and say, why in Britain? Why in the west?

Everyone asks this question, not just you. Slavery, even commercial slavery isn’t the reason. It begs the question. What happened in the west that gave rise the this commercial slavery? Why didn’t other cultures develop to the point to give rise to commercial slavery? Europe in general and Britain in particular began to outpace much of the world in technological developments and wealth creation before this commercialization of slavery. This commercialization of slavery really didn’t get started till after 1500, yet the Renaissance began in the 1300′s.

I recognize that its impossible to separate these advancements in England’s society and economy from the slave-based Atlantic economy.

It is entirely possible to separate these two issues.

The primary reason has much to do with the historical development of the west, which started in Greece who were the first to think of free inquiry and embrace the ideas of freedom, liberty and the sanctity of the individual. Greece stood at the precipice of the industrial revolution, but succumbed to war, and declined after the Peloponnesian War. Rome took over the mantle as Greece declined. After roughly 500 years of ascendancy, Rome changed from a republic to an empire. Rome began to decline as the emperors stood heavier and heavier on the neck of the citizen. Again, just as Rome stood at the precipice of the industrial revolution, it declined. The ideas of freedom, liberty and the sanctity of the individual lived on in Byzantium and zig-zagged here and there around Europe, landing finally on Britain, which got a big step forward in the Magna Carta, then its child, the US.

Britain picked up the ideas of freedom and personal liberty as no other had in the history of the world and became the greatest empire in the history of the world. The embracing of these ideas freed the unbelievable creativity and productivity of people from the constraints of being a serf in servitude of the state.

Additionally, the wealth in Britain had very little to do with slavery, much less African slaves. Slavery essentially ended in Britain with the rise of feudalism and Britains material rise coincides with the decline of feudalism. And the empire, where slaves existed in plenty, was essentially a wash for Britain as it cost about as much to maintain as it brought in, yet Britains became fabulously wealth after 1600.

But you also assume that these groups wouldn’t have developed independently into a different, perhaps better society than today without the west’s intervention.

It’s not really an assumption. Technological improvement in societies not directly in contact with the west are pretty much still in the stone age. The Incas and Mayan societal structure more resembled ancient Egypt, rather than the west. Ancient Egypt remained a stagnant empire for nearly 5000 years, with art and technology remaining largely the same from beginning to end. In half that time, the west began to rise about 500 BC, and in fits and starts, has continued that rise, with the obvious fall in the Dark Ages.

Regards,
Ken

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Ken,

I’m certainly aware that my question isn’t original. That was more me pointing out that there has been little historical consensus on the industrial revolution.

We will just have to agree to disagree on this one. You’ll never convince me that European expansion in the New World wasn’t central to the wealth formation that helped allow the Industrial Revolution. And you’ll never concede that point, because its linked (indirectly or directly) to the slave trade.

Ken October 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm

stedebonnet,

You’ll never convince me

Nice to see you cannot be swayed by anything, even historical facts.

that European expansion in the New World wasn’t central to the wealth formation that helped allow the Industrial Revolution. And you’ll never concede that point

What?! Your point was that the Industrial Revolution was caused by slavery when you said I recognize that its impossible to separate these advancements in England’s society and economy from the slave-based Atlantic economy. The American south had a slave based economy and were poorer as a result. It’s easy to verify this fact. The north was an industrial based economy and were wealthier as a result. Additionally, much of slaves went to South America, particularly sugar plantations in the Carribean, Mexico and Brazil, all much poorer than the northern US.

No where have I claimed that the New World had nothing to do with the advancement of the Industrial Revolution or wasn’t linked to the United States, which it most certainly was. My objection is that the slavery that occurred in the Americas did not advance it.

Regards,
Ken

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Ken,

I have never debated that the American South was poorer circa mid-19th century because of slavery. In large part it became poorer because of other region’s industrialization. I have instead argued that the origin of the IR was linked to the slave trade. You can’t separate the industrial revolution from European expansion in the New World.

And you can’t separate European expansion into the Americas without addressing the slave trade and the role of slavery in the New World’s development (circa 1600-1800). Without slave labor, the sugar plantations would have had no workers, the South American mines no miners, and pretty much every economic activity (that made the Americas profitable to investors/Europeans) wouldn’t have existed or to the level that it did. In fact, many of the innovations designed during the beginning of the industrial revolution were directly linked to intermediate goods produced by slaves. And if this didn’t happen directly, then the demand for goods that were bartered for slaves also stimulated interest in producing stuff more efficiently.

While you certainly have made some solid points, I tend to prefer going with legitimate, non-anonymous sources to form judgments. I have read and written extensively on the slave trade over the past few years, including a ton of primary documents (things like ship logs, newspapers, diaries of slaving merchants/sailors, and investors in the trade in England). Check out the writings by URochester Economist/Historian Stanley Engerman, Eric Williams (who was trained at Oxford and later became PM of Trinidad), and Joseph E. Inikori. If you want someone focusing more on African agency check out John Thornton’s work. Or for more classic overviews of the trade, you can’t go wrong with Phillip Curtin, Herbert Klein, David Eltis, or David Richardson.

You have raised some solid points throughout this discussion, and I respect your position. With that said, given my own credentials and academic experience in history, and those of the group listed above, I think I will agree to disagree with many of your points.

Ken October 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm

stedebonnet,

I have never debated that the American South was poorer circa mid-19th century because of slavery.

I know. You’re arguing the opposite. I’m arguing that they were poorer because they used slaves.

And you can’t separate European expansion into the Americas without addressing the slave trade

I never claimed you could. You seem to be claiming that the industrial revolution happened because of slavery, which is utter nonsense.

Without slave labor, the sugar plantations would have had no workers, the South American mines no miners, and pretty much every economic activity (that made the Americas profitable to investors/Europeans) wouldn’t have existed or to the level that it did.

This is the claim that is utter nonsense. Without slavery, the demand for products made in the New World would still be there. The necessity of providing those products provided pressure to innovate with or without slavery. Slavery was used since compulsion to menial labor can be more profitable rather than having to actual pay wage labor. The technologic innovations would have happened to move the Industrial Revolution forward. It would be different since the products made due to slavery would likely be different than for those due to wage labor.

To claim that slavery drove the Industrial Revolution, as I’ve pointed out before, simply begs the question. Slavery has been with us for a long time and saying that commercial slavery drove innovation begs the question because then you have to answer the question of why commercial slavery even rose. I’ve read some of the authors you’ve mentioned and not found their presentation very persuasive. And the counter arguments seem to be sounder.

I tend to prefer going with legitimate, non-anonymous sources to form judgments

Of course. I expect nothing less.

I think I will agree to disagree with many of your points.

That’s fair. I didn’t expect you to change your mind. Most don’t.

Regards,
Ken

Dan J October 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm

God Damn that Wheel invention! Millions of people would have jobs carrying things on their heads from point A to point B if it were not for the wheel. Now millions are left behind because of the wheel.
Just think of all of the losses from the discovery of fire. They had hundreds and hundreds of caveman progressives blowing hot air to warm the caves until some wretched innovater and over achiever decided to rub two sticks together. Damn those innovaters.
Protest innovation. Place a ban on NEW things.

Donald Trump October 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Well, since industrialization and other nasty things humans do are destroying life and burning up the planet, the answer is yes, the U.S. should have remained an agricultural nation. I’m not talking about polluting, inhumane, disgusting corporate mega-farms. The Indians might have something to say about murder, the theft of their land, the destruction of their culture and way of life. But, I’m billionaire, so I couldn’t care less. I only care about The Donald. Sound familiar?

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm

It’s a serious question, a very serious question:

you can argue about the time line but within 20 to 60 years there will be, literally, no jobs.

This is no crisis of capitalism, it is a fact of technology. We are very close to the point where machines will build and replace themselves. At that point, the only jobs will be, for a brief moment, delivering the parts and machines, but that too will end.

We are very close, for example, to having construction equipment that will build buildings and infrastructure by itself (3d manufacturing) (pieces of equipment that are, in effect, 3d printers) or machines that print “circuit boards” only on a vastly larger scale. Already, such machines exist for cement and for forming formerly machine tooled parts from metallic powders. Once machines become self-replicating, work ends.

rmv October 17, 2011 at 6:11 pm

The Matrix is only a movie

Darren October 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm

We already have machines that build other machines. Ever been to Detroit?

vikingvista October 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Machines capable of satisfying nearly our every need? You ever stop to think of how cheap that would make everything? Sounds like a wonderful utopia, if you understand economics.

Anotherphil October 17, 2011 at 10:12 am

the crisis we face is a world with no jobs

Hs anybody noticed since HOC, IB, W, et al starrted posting, er polluting, Muirbot is awful quiet?

Ah, the troll of a thousand pseudonyms..

Dan J October 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Thanks Karl….. Marx that is.

russell October 17, 2011 at 7:41 am

This is the same logic the President used regarding ATMs. I guess she didn’t notice all the ridicule that followed those comments.

Almost all of these dummies exhibit the same economic thinking:

“There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.” –F. Bastiat

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm

there is no rule of economics that says that technology creates new and better jobs at the rate it destroys old jobs

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 9:13 pm

there is no rule of economics that says that technology creates new and better jobs at the rate it destroys old jobs

Sure there is. In fact, there are three.

Rule 1 – marginal utility: better technology lowers the cost of production of X; you can output more X with fewer inputs (which might include, land, labor, or time). The leftover inputs — those factors that would have gone toward producing X before the new, better technology appeared — are now freed up to satisfy other wants and needs that were previously unsatisfied.

Rule 2 – Human wants are limitless: There will always be a demand for some output whose inputs include the land, labor, and time, now freed-up by the better technology for producing X.

Rule 3 – Businessmen seek profit: they look at what consumers want or need; they look at the leftover inputs previously tied up in producing X at its higher marginal cost but now made available; and they exploit the profit opportunity. This is where new jobs will come from. Competition amongst businessmen to exploit this profit opportunity before someone else does is what incentivizes them to respond as quickly as possible.

Unless you are denying the existence of Rules 1-3, or assuming that government is hampering the flow of information in the economy in ways that (i) prevent existing businesses from utilizing better technologies, or (ii) prevent consumers from expressing their demand for other wants and needs, or (iii) prevent businessmen from responding to the market signals of (i) and (ii), or prevent them, or disincentivize them, from exploiting the gap in value created by (i) and (ii), then it’s clear that there is no reason at all that the creation of new jobs should lag behind the destruction of old ones.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promise October 17, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Economic Freedom

Even the most simple thought experiments proves how wrong you are.

Society A lives on a desert island and has only one resource, a grove of coconut trees, owned by the King. There are 100 other people in the society. It takes the 100 people to crack the coconuts–they are very hard. One day a machine which can crack open the coconuts floats up on the beach. The King turns it on and fires 98 of the people. He has one person crack his daily coconut and maintain the machine. He has a second person arrange coconut shells in a pattern on the beach. Everyone else is idle because there is no other technology to apply or work for them to perform.

Economic Freedom October 18, 2011 at 6:01 am

Even the most simple thought experiments proves how wrong you are.

Ah! I see my mistake already! I was actually dealing with the real world, not the one you invented inside your head.

Society A lives on a desert island and has only one resource, a grove of coconut trees, owned by the King.

Q: if it’s a desert island, how can there also be a grove of coconut trees? Oh, well. Since you’re such a fantastic sport and sharp intellect, I’ll overlook the contradiction.

There are 100 other people in the society. It takes the 100 people to crack the coconuts–they are very hard. One day a machine which can crack open the coconuts floats up on the beach. The King turns it on and fires 98 of the people. He has one person crack his daily coconut and maintain the machine. He has a second person arrange coconut shells in a pattern on the beach. Everyone else is idle because there is no other technology to apply or work for them to perform.

Even the most simple observation of real people, in real life, on real planet Earth — three considerations you forgot to include in your “thought experiment” — proves how wrong you are:

There are 101 people — a king and 100 serfs — living on a tropical island with a coconut grove. Originally, the ignorant king wanted all 100 serfs to do nothing but crack coconuts. Like a mantra, he kept repeating “They are very hard. They are very hard. They are very hard.” And to be sure — though he was a very, very stupid king, he also happened to be a very, very wise one — the coconuts shells WERE “very hard.” But as one brave serf had the temerity to point out to him, “Your Grace. I point your Royal Attention to a salient fact about coconuts: not only are they very hard, they are also very high; before cracking their shells, someone must first climb the tree and shake them loose, lest we all starve while simply waiting for them to fall of their own accord as heretofore we have been doing. As I am an expert climber, I am confident that by climbing the trees and shaking loose some coconuts, we will have MORE coconuts on the ground ready for cracking than we did before. In fact, two things will greatly improve by my contributing in this way: (i) with more coconuts on the ground than we had before, we can build up a store, or reserve, of coconuts for lean times . . . or perhaps find other uses for them that we haven’t thought of yet … and (ii) by throwing some of these coconuts down on the ground, rather than tossing them gently to one of my comrade serfs, I’ve noticed that the shells already get a little cracked, thus actually making it much easier to crack the rest of the shell. This should make the arduous task of cracking coconuts go much faster (since gravity is already doing some of the work, you see).”

Emboldened by this, another serf very diplomatically says to the Great King: “That gives me an idea, Your Grace. I’m a very good runner. I can retrieve these pre-cracked coconuts that my esteemed colleague throws from the tops of trees, and bring them back quickly for the women-folk to scoop out of the shells — they no longer have to crack the shells but can concentrate on doing the one thing for which they seem to have the most ability. Since they won’t be tied up with the arduous task of cracking the shells, some talented woman amongst them might find yet some other thing she can do with coconuts — perhaps she can discover a way to cook them that hasn’t been tried yet. I can dedicate my talents to transportation, just as my colleague dedicates his to production. Together, we can all greatly increase the number of coconuts we crack. The thing that would help my running the most, however, is if we could find a way to clear a smooth trail from the grove to the cracking-area.”

Excited by these possibilities, a third serf — a young girl whom everyone used to think was a boy until it turned out that, well, she was a girl — said “A boon, Your Majesty! We are, according to some numbskull’s though experiment, Society A. Now, we all know that over on the next island, there is Society B. I understand that they have no coconuts at all, but have lots of fish. Now, if we can produce more coconuts, we might be able to trade some of them for their fish. Then we would have both coconuts and fish to eat — a happy thought!”

Much excitement as people started discussing and arguing over this possibility: if we desire to trade with Society B, we’ll need some sort of boat. We’d like a boat, yes! How do we build one? And what materials should we use: a hollowed out trunk from a coconut tree that was felled by lightning? Can we perhaps make a sort of raft out of left-over coconut shells, tied together with coconut tree branches? Hey, wait a minute!! If we’ll be taking long voyages to the island of Society B, we’ll need to take supplies for the voyage, in addition to the coconuts for trade: we’ll need to take fresh water, for example. But in what? We’ll need to make various containers for carrying water and dried coconut for the trip!”

Cool! Suddenly the 100 serfs realized that life had become very exciting and full of things to do. Suddenly, they all wanted things: more coconuts, more coconut tree trunks (which they had previously never thought of as a useful thing in itself); water containers; tools for clearing running paths in the grove; etc.

Then a depressing thought hit them: we don’t have enough serfs on this island to divide up all these tasks! We’ll never be able to do all of them!

As soon as they had thought it, a miracle occurred: One day a machine which can crack open the coconuts floats up on the beach. The King turns it on and fires 98 of the people.

The 98 fired serfs all genuflect in unison to the Great, Wise, Stupid King: “Thank you, Sire! Thank you, O Great Nothingness! Your wisdom in firing us upon receiving the Free Gift of the machine has now freed us to pursue all these other goals for which we previously didn’t have enough manpower! With coconut-cracking taken care of by the machine, we can now build boats (and just as important, we can experiment, using trial and error to see which kind of methods and materials work best for boat building); we can build containers for carrying fresh water and dried coconut on long trading voyages; so many new things to do . . . and each new thing to do suggests other possibilities for yet more things to do!” They began to wish that another machine would wash up on the shore so that everything having to do with coconut-cracking could be taken care of automatically, and all 100 serfs could concentrate on production projects that were possible because they rested on a base of cracked coconuts. If the base could simply “take care of itself”, all 100 serfs could work on so many other higher-level projects, that everyone in the economy would be better off.

One serf made a strange remark: “Thank God that something as basic as light and warmth during the daytime is provided — sort of like the coconut-cracking machine — ‘free of charge’ by the sun. Imagine if 100 of us not only had to do nothing but crack coconuts during the day, but also had to divide those labors up into finding ways to provide light and warmth! Thank God for the free mysterious sunlight! Thank God for the free mysterious machine. They both liberate us from certain kinds of grinding work and allow us to build other projects on top of them that also require our time and effort.”

We understand this serf, though no one on the island of Society A did (they were too busy enjoying the new wealth that was starting to flow in from their higher productivity, division of labor, and trade), especially not the Wise, Stupid King, who kept robotically repeating “They are very hard. They are very hard.”

Conclusion:

Just because you can fantasize a scenario that has precisely zero to do with how humans actually act doesn’t mean you can call such fantasy a “thought experiment.” If you’re unsure of what a thought experiment actually IS and what it’s FOR, look it up. Don’t waste everyone’s time inventing an arbitrary fantasy that you confuse with an experiment and then demand that it be reconciled with real life by economics.

vikingvista October 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm

It is simply hilarious that you believe nobody wants anything except coconuts!

Lerxst von Syrinx October 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Sounds like the we have an economic environment that could produce 98 back-rubs, a more professional ceremonial dance troupe, and who knows what else – provided there are no barriers to entry like minimum wage laws, unemployment “benefits”, or other social programs that ensure even distribution of the coconuts.

Sam Grove October 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Bravo! EF

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promise October 18, 2011 at 7:25 am

Economic Freedom

I just read through your rant, and it is nothing more, in reply to the very simple illustration that I gave you in reply. It is the kind of rant that comes from the keyboard of one who is wrong and in denial, exposing that their entire world view is incorrect.

Your entire rant rests on assumptions—that there will be technology available (boats, fish hooks, tools, etc., the inventory).

The point of my observation and what the illustration proves is that there is no guaranty that such technology will be available.

This is particularly true once machines have the ability to replicate (repair and replace themselves), not just replace workers. At that point technology becomes self sustaining no longer in need of workers.

Your rant is actually a secular religion–you believe it because you need to believe.

It has nothing to do with economics.

Methinks1776 October 18, 2011 at 7:54 am

Nothing you write has anything to do with economics.

So, we cannot assume that boats, fish hooks, etc. will be available, but we must assume machines are taking over the world in a mysterious way that impoverishes humans.

Somebody’s been watching too many movies.

BTW, I’m pretty sure Luzha and Observer are one and the same. Not only is the river of concocted nonsense similar, but Luzha did warn us that Observer is a prophet.

Economic Freedom October 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Your entire rant rests on assumptions—that there will be technology available (boats, fish hooks, tools, etc., the inventory).

Nope. All I did was assume what your fantasy made available for Society A: coconuts. Obviously, if there are coconuts, there are coconut trees; if there are coconut trees, there are coconut tree-branches. One can make a boat out of a hollowed-out tree trunk felled by lightning; one can make a boat by making a floating raft of emptied coconut shells held together by woven branches. One can use an emptied coconut shell as a container for water and dried coconut for a sea voyage; one can sharpen the end of a coconut shell and use it as a cutting tool for clearing a path for the fast runner; etc. More of these improvements will happen, and happen faster, when the labor that was previously tied up in backbreaking work of menial survival by breaking coconuts is freed by means of the mysterious machine that washes up on shore. Society B had fish, which they caught with nets made from the tree branches on their island — no fish hooks necessary. Tools can be made of coconut shells, a rock, a broken seashell — human teeth from a corpse (I assume people die on this island). I assumed nothing but the usual differences in human ability, and the usual human penchant for unlimited wants and needs in the face of scarce available resources.

Your fantasy was not a “thought experiment” at all, but an arbitrary scenario that had nothing to do with the way real people act under real conditions of scarcity. In fact, my narrative corrected your unrealistic fantasy — about a a desert island that isn’t really a desert, inhabited by people who don’t act under conditions of scarcity like people — and made it into a true thought experiment by adding back in a few realistic assumptions.

Sam Grove October 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm

You seem pretty stupid for someone who can write complete sentences.

Sam Grove October 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm

To Nikoli

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 9:38 am

Think of all those undertakers who were put out of business because of antibiotics.

Damn all this progress!

Death Rate October 17, 2011 at 10:23 am

Why would undertakers be put out of business by anti-biotics?
Anti-biotics don’t save lives.

Slappy McFee October 17, 2011 at 11:31 am

Antibotics allow people to labor longer, increasing their productive life span and make them wealthier. Wealthier people have fewer children. Slower population growth plus longer life spans decreases the need for additional undertakers.

Antibiotics put undertakers out of work.

Donald Trump October 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

“… allow people to labor longer,”

You want women who give birth to labor longer?

You really are a sicko.

You’d be fired in a New York minute if you worked for me, talking rubbish.

The Donald

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Except the lives of all those in the past who died from simple infections.

But of course you were joking.

Death Rate October 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Not joking at all. The number of lives saved is expected
to be zero. As far as we can tell, every single person
will eventually need the services of an undertaker
and anti-biotics, along with every other form of health
care, doesn’t change this at all.

Slappy did bring up a point though that anti-biotics
may cause people to have fewer children. My guess
though is that the wealth effect would be more than
offset by the increase in fecundity.

Economic Freedom October 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Not joking at all.

Ah! Then you’re simply a fool.

I knew there was a good explanation.

Methinks1776 October 17, 2011 at 8:27 pm

No, no, EF. He’s saying that regardless of how many life-saving drugs we invent, no one ever permanently escapes the undertaker.

Drugs only help determine when we meet death.

vikingvista October 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm

That’s a bit amusing. You might even say that antibiotics increase the number of deaths because more people live longer to reproduce.

Political Observer October 17, 2011 at 10:26 am

Do you also avoid using computerized (“automatic”) elevators, riding only in those few that still use manual elevator operators?

Yes Don she actually does. She is a member of Congress and the elevators in the Capitol Bldg. are manned with operators even though they are electorncially controlled.

Shidoshi October 17, 2011 at 11:35 am

Don,

Good post. Although, I think the topic should be expanded on, and using the analogies you’ve chosen doesn’t adequately address/define the problem at hand: jobs. I wholeheartedly believe in the free market and allocation of resources, but I think some of the counter-postings are valid arguments here (although maybe not entirely coherent).

I have a hard time making a black and white judgement based on spear/tire analogies. I totally see your point, but I also see this as a grey area with no easy answer. Surely some of the inventions that have been created in the last 10,000 years (such as the spear, vaccines, farming equipment) have had huge impacts on the quality of life and life expectancy of human beings. But, at some point, I feel that the net benefit to society will begin to taper off. I’m referring to the ability of people to have a sense of purpose through employment.

Though adding the automatic check out lines enables those human resources and capital to be applied to other areas of the economy, I think we need to ask what can we possibly expect to arrive from this shift? Will we expect to live an additional 70 years on average? Will something be invented enabling us to never get sick until we die (i.e. eliminating cancer)? I don’t know; I guess anything is possible. It’s hard to imagine another huge leap that can deliver a higher quality of life that can eliminate the need for a sense of an individual’s purpose…

By no means, am I advocating redistribution of wealth, or making inventions that “destroy jobs” illegal. Again, I lean towards your side of the argument, but I don’t think it’s as black and white as you make it out to be.

B.Stone October 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm

“But, at some point, I feel that the net benefit to society will begin to taper off. I’m referring to the ability of people to have a sense of purpose through employment.”

I’ll favor people having so much abundance being so easily provided by so few that they have to struggle with questions of purpose leaving them time to ponder philosophy, art, economics, and other pursuits, over the alternative of labor simply for the sake of occupying one’s mind and killing time.

Another way I look at this is first we had the spear, which saved us a bit of hunting time and increased efficiency, which led to the innovation of bows and arrows, which relinquished a bit more time, and so on. But then came the real starting point of civilization – agriculture. It’s only then we had time to come up with writing, music, and have more kids (because we could feed more). History shows me that the less people, time, and energy we have to invest in “providing”, the better off we become.

John Dewey October 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm

“But, at some point, I feel that the net benefit to society will begin to taper off. I’m referring to the ability of people to have a sense of purpose through employment. ”

Why do you think this is true? Because you can no more envision the nature of work in the 25th century than could Renaissance Man envision our world today?

There is no evidence at all to support the assertion that technological advancement will reduce labor to the point that humans would have no sense of purpose through employment. 10,000 years of technological advancement has not rendered moot the concept of economic scarcity, and 10,000 more years will not do so either.

Jon October 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Excellent John. I was just about to make the same reply.

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 12:58 am

While I understand that technology and globalization make our lives better, make us more efficient, increase the standard of living etc., over the past few years I have had a difficult time reconciling modernity with being “better-off” in two ways:

1. Its nearly impossible to have a unique human experience. Forget a sense of purpose through employment, what about a sense of purpose in life? Doesn’t technology, in many ways, trivialize traditional human interaction? Perhaps its also, at least among those who do not seek knowledge, creating a dumber society?

2. Tons of intriguing indigenous cultures, ethnic groups, etc. have been completely destroyed. Add this to animals and natural wonders that are kaput, and I cannot help but feel deep sadness.

Again, I am not really disagreeing with anything that’s being said. And I certainly agree that Ms. Lee is an imbecile. Maybe someone will have book suggestions or better logic to help me get closer to accepting the biggest problems I see with the growth of technology. Because it already has, gotten to the point where, at times, Humanity’s Cost of Technological Advancement > Societal Benefits.

John Dewey October 18, 2011 at 5:42 am

“Doesn’t technology, in many ways, trivialize traditional human interaction?”

Not sure I understand what you mean. I know that I am able to regularly communicate with Don Boudreaux and with Russ Roberts today because of the growth of technology. The quality of my human interactions has definitely improved. Thirty years I could find few people who inspired me to learn the way they have.

Technology changes have not decreased my communication with my wife. Rather, such changes have enhanced that experience. In between her surgery cases, she sends me amusing texts. That’s something that only started recently. We had neither email, nor texting, nor even cell phones when we were newlyweds 34 years ago.

I could quickly list dozens of other ways that technology has improved my human interactions.

Stedebonnet, help me understand what are humanity’s costs of technological achievement. The benefits are pretty clear to me.

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

John,

Absolutely, we can communicate with people all over the world. That’s pretty cool and certainly has led to tons of benefits. In spite of these improvements, I still feel that technology (at times) undermines the authenticity of human interaction. While emotions can be expressed over the internet and in texts, can we truly empathize with people 1000′s of miles away? I’m not really saying that technology has decreased human interaction–far from it. Just that its decreased, in many respects, the quality of human interaction.

Do you seriously not recognize any of the costs? I’m not a luddite, though my earlier statement might have appeared that way. Some costs (stream of conscious)–decreasing privacy (from individuals or government), ecological damages, diminishing intellectual property rights, profoundly altering our brain (see UCLA study), and the ending of many traditional cultures and people.

Again, Im not saying that all technology is bad. But to look at only the gains isn’t telling the whole story.

Ken October 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

stedebonnet,

1. Its nearly impossible to have a unique human experience.

I think that a persons experience today is far more unique than at any time in history. A couple hundred hundred years ago, Chris Rock would have been the funniest farmer around, but he would still be a farmer none the less. The material wealth modernity brings allows people to pursue any unique goal that anyone could have pursued in the past and in addition to this people can pursue goals today that were simply impossible 50 years ago.

I think the anxiety many feel today isn’t that they don’t feel unique, but rather feel overwhelmed by the choices and the feeling that the grass is always greener somewhere else or that the other shoe will fall. The very uniqueness of experience and ease with which that experience is attained eats away at any shared purpose/goals or feelings of togetherness humans crave.

2. Tons of intriguing indigenous cultures, ethnic groups, etc. have been completely destroyed.

I understand what you are saying here, but without modernity and our technology we can at least know about them. Mankind has been around for some 100,000 years, yet we really only know a lot about the last 1000 years, a little about the last 10,000 years, and almost nothing before that. How much culture was lost then? Modernity doesn’t cause the loss of culture anywhere nearly as well as disease and living an incredibly hard short life.

Add this to animals and natural wonders that are kaput, and I cannot help but feel deep sadness.

It’s very unclear whether the modern human made world has increased or even changed the rate of species extinction to any great extent. There have been four or five major extinction events since life began, none of which occurred in the last few million years and all of which were devastating. The most devastating, occurring 251 million years ago, killing off upwards of 96% of all species. Seems that nature itself is far more brutal than man ever was or will be.

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove October 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Before, our only purpose was to survive. Now we can think of new purposes.

Mark T October 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

There have been some similar posts like this in the past and, even though I understand the analytical perspective behind them, I believe they lose sight of a greater point. That is:

As long as it is just her preference and her actions that she is controlling, it seems to be that we should respect her choice from a libertarian perspective. Indeed, we should want supermarkets to offer both so that people with different preferences can hanve them fulfilled. We should not examine our fellow citizens’ motives or scorn them, as long as they reciprocate.

John Dewey October 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Any time an elected leader makes a nonsensical economic argument, anyone who understand economics – and certainly an economics professor – is completely justified in pointing out the error in thinking by the elected leader.

Barbara Lee is not just any citizen. She is one of 535 elected leaders entrusted with making decisions which affect all 300 million of us. Her decision-making ability is dependent on her understanding of economic principles. When it is clear she is not understanding such principles, she needs to be corrected – and quickly before her ignorance cause great pain for those millions she represents.

Jeff Neal October 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

If you want to open a grocery store that “respects her choice” then go right ahead. But when that makes your store less profitable than the one across the street, don’t ask for “help” from the government, please. It is not the responsibility of the supermarket to “fulfill” anyone’s preferences except to the extent that doing so maximizes the supermarkets profit.

rmv October 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm

If someone on the street were to tell you that banging your head on a brick wall feels great, you’d pay no mind.

If someone with the power to force you to bang your head on a brick wall tells you how great it is, you’d be fearful of what they may try to do “for you.”

rmv October 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Lame.

This was meant as a reply to Mark T

Jeff Neal October 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I was going to write a comment, but I had to go find some people who know how to make an IBM Selectric talk to the internet. I gave up and borrowed a friend’s PC to offer my apology for not giving you the benefit of my sharp, intellectual wit.

Jon October 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Nicely done, Jeff. Love it.

sdfsdf October 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I am in Barbara Lee’s district. She is consistently one of the biggest dunderheads in congress. It never ends with her.

B.Stone October 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I’m not in, but near Sheila Jackson Lee’s district. She makes me laugh.

Darren October 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm

It’s good to know some politicians at least have entertainment value.

Jim October 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Today, Barbara Lee wishes we were all Amish.

I fancy the idea of her tilling the soil with her hands, finding nothing but pride and well being for the fruits of her labor. She has no doubt missed her calling.

Progressive? Oh, the irony. Every attempt to manage an economy into a new and brighter future results in statism and lethargy.

jorod October 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Personally, I don’t like forcing people to pay with credit cards. But more and more institutions, especially government ones, are forcing people to use credit cards or making them pay penalties. How about consumer rights and legal tender?

Jon October 17, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I have a friend that refuses to use the computerized checkout lanes, too. I gave her a response very similar to Don’s. I also tried to explain how more efficient grocery stores will make the groceries less expensive, therefore, giving me the option to buy a 12 pack instead of just a 6 pack of beer, if I wanted to. Or, if I spend less on groceries I could then hire gardener instead of doing it myself, giving me the ability to invest my spare time into something that will return something greater than the cost of the gardener.

Of course, much of this was lost on her because it completely conflicted with some protectionist blog post she read. Within 30 seconds she pulled up the blog on her iPhone to prove I was wrong. She could not understand why I was laughing so hard. I said, “Because you just destroyed a few switch board operator and newspaper jobs.”

Greg Webb October 17, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Nicely done, Jon!

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 2:32 am

I refuse to use the computerized checkout lines, but that has nothing to do with the ill-informed thought of keeping someone employed.

I have used the machines 100′s of times and can legitimately think of under 5 when it operated properly. I also take issue with the sound of the automated voice.

Though not exactly automated checkouts, my least favorite technological advancement is having to deal with an automation for trouble shooting electronics or when with my bank. I hate having to enter keys and answering questions before talking to a real human.

John Dewey October 18, 2011 at 5:48 am

“I have used the machines 100′s of times and can legitimately think of under 5 when it operated properly. “

Really? Where do you shop? My only problems with the self-service checkouts at WalMart occurred when the currency reader didn’t accept my worn and torn bills.

stedebonnet October 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I have had a number of issues at Kroger, Home Depot, and definitely Walmart (though I try to avoid going there as much as possible).

Dan J October 19, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I like the machines. Not all of them. Same goes for the cashiers. Some cashiers are rude, slow, and pack my plastic bags poorly. Some machines have poorly designed card readers, Lowes, and some don’t scan quickly enough, Basha’s grocery in AZ. But, I prefer Walmarts, Fry’s/Kroger, and Home Depot when I only have a few items.
Bring on more mechanization if it means lower prices, so I have more purchasing power.

PrometheeFeu October 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm

This sounds plausible but outrageous enough that I would like another source to verify the quote. I think the veracity of the quote is dubious enough that you should have refrained Don.

russell October 19, 2011 at 9:09 am

Don’s awesome comment on Lee’s stupid comment made the WSJ’s Notable and Quotable today. Nice to see Don’s brilliance (and Lee’s stupidity) getting even more exposure.

Bob Wolfe October 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Don,

One issue that I have not seen mentioned yet is the fact that Congresswoman Lee’s District, the 9th Congressional District of California is located on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. That is a reasonable commute to the heart of the Silicon Valley. Is it just me, or does anyone else find it ironic that it is highly probable that a significant number of Ms.Lee’s constituency is employed in the computer hardware or software industry? At the very least, many of them are employed by a company which derives a significant percentage of its revenue from the information technology industry.

Her district, I believe, is also home to the University of California at Berkley, which is the Alma Mater of Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple Computer. I wonder how he feels about her opinion that computer technology kills jobs? Perhaps the tens of thousands of Apple Computer employees would be happier being a grocery store cashier!

I recall back in the early 1980′s when many people were proclaiming doom and gloom in the accounting industry, because they contended that the proliferation of personal computers would put accountants and CPA’s out of work. I think that there are still a few employed accountants and CPA’s around.

Technology is a net creator of jobs and not a net destroyer of jobs. This is indisputable and is easily confirmed. Anyone who has taken a basic course in economics and did not sleep at the back of the room during lectures understands that.

I shudder to think that we have people in Congress who are establishing economic policy, but do not even have a rudimentary understanding of the subject.

Colleen Fournier October 21, 2011 at 2:46 am

Reminds me of the lawsuit by Ceasar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union vs University of California @ Davis in the 1970s. The suit sought to end funding of research and use of taxpayers $ to invent new farm mechanization equipment because it would put farmworkers out of jobs and that was disciminatory against the illegal migrant pickers of fruits and field crops. UCD won, UFW lost but with the current UC politically correct cancer bias and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals liberal bent, I am not sure it would be decided the same way today. I wonder why there are more streets named after Chavez than there are people who actually get a pension check every month from the UFW?

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