Fears of human workers being supplanted by automated machines were stoked again recently in former president Obama’s farewell address. “The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas,” he stated. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”
Certain sources ostensibly suggest that robots could replace half of all jobs during the 2030s. Others claim that 62 percent of jobs that pay under $20 an hour could be performed by robots right now.
But the idea that technology is supplanting human workers is ludicrous.
Technology doesn’t harm the market, but fuels it.
It’s about what you don’t see …
An automobile factory invests in automated welding machines and lays off one hundred human workers. Advocates against automation immediately frame this as the tragic consequences of technological progress.
Not so fast.
This idea is wrong, yet is repeated so often that it is known as the “Luddite Fallacy,” named so after the British textile makers who went about demolishing mechanized looms for fear that they were replacing their work and rendering their skills obsolete.
The fallacy of the anti-technologists is in rushing to a conclusion simply by the plain, surface-level observation — one hundred men losing their jobs. But there is so much else going on that the anti-technologists do not see.
True, one hundred people are temporarily displaced from work. But the factory purchased the machine with the expectation that it will eventually “pay for itself.” The machine will decrease the cost of production and lower prices of its product on the market.
Lower prices leads to two consequences: the factory owner will generate more profit from increased demand. The company will either spend the extra revenue on more equipment or staff for the factory to increase production, or the owner will personally spend the surplus revenue on luxuries, and by doing flowing cash into profit for other industries.
Lower prices also leave consumers (including the displaced workers) with more money in their pockets, which they will spend on products in other industries and continue to stimulate the market.
The good that technology brings to the market — increased production, lower prices, and a better standard of living — significantly outweighs the minor misfortune of temporarily displaced workers.
So let’s illegalize technology!
In the context of online marketing, the situation is even more extreme. Not only does technology aid the market, but eCommerce should be glittering, golden proof that, without the technology that is blamed for supplanting the human workforce, eCommerce could not even exist.
Think about it: if it’s true that technological progress is hurting the economy by automating tasks formerly fulfilled by a human worker, then by logical extension, buying and selling virtually anything at all on the Internet is taking away someone else’s job opportunity. Just think of the old fashioned brick-and-mortar retailing that’s being completely overrun by the Internet market. Online retailing should be outlawed, right?
Dissolve every search engine and bring back Encyclopedias. Do away with the whole Internet, while you’re at it.
Outlaw email systems and bring back the Pony Express. Toss your computer out the window, and go back to writing letters with pen and paper. Or a quill and parchment, if we wish to fair.
Burn your desk and chair, and hire someone to be your personal foot stool. Ban big rig trucks and trains, and instead hire people to carry goods on foot. We’re creating new jobs, aren’t we?
I’m sure you get the picture.
The plot to downgrade the human race
While few have actually thought through their own arguments enough to actually disband eBay, Google, or the entire Internet, there are many groups with a political agenda. It involves using the technology that makes your business and civilized life itself possible as a scapegoat for their own plans.
For example, there is a growing movement in legislation to implement an automation tax on companies that utilize robot workers. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, ironically enough, has advocated for this tax. A tax that would not only hinder the profits of online sellers, but give government yet another way to regulate and confiscate from your earnings.
Robots replace human jobs? OK. Let’s figure out if it holds up by examining evidence from the real world.
Specifically, at the most iconic example of the online market: Amazon.
Amazon wrecks the myth of automation
According to GeekWire, while the robotic workforce is exploding in the Amazon company, it’s not overtaking the human workforce — both groups are growing together. The company said in a 2016 press release that “there are now 45,000 robotic units working alongside Amazon associates in more than 20 fullfillment centers.” That’s 50 percent more than the 30,000 units it reported in 2015, and 15,000 robots by the end of 2014.
“We’ve not seen a slowdown in our hiring at all because of increased automation,” said Paul Misener, vice president of global innovation at Amazon, in an interview with CNet. “It’s been our pattern. We continue to deploy automation and we continue to hire people. They go hand in hand for us.”
Amazon is particularly blamed for wreaking havoc on traditional, low-tech bookstores. There were once fears that the entire book-selling industry could become exclusively online.
Then Amazon opened its own brick-and-mortar shop in Seattle, putting a plot-twist into the narrative. Looks like the techno-giant that was blamed for the death of bookstores, might just be the one to save them.
The key is to increase production
Downgrading current technology to employ more people, or destroying goods for the sake of producing them all over again, are sinfully stupid methods of economic stimulation.
The strength of the economy is not measured by the number of jobs. It is measured by production. More jobs in the online market don’t mean anything unless those jobs are increasing your production.
And how do you produce? Keep creating. Keep innovating. And keep selling. Find easier, faster, freer ways to do it.
Producing is the only way to keep the cash flowing.
If assembly line bots, drones, and screw drivers help you do that, then why would you let someone take that from you?
Or tax it, for that matter?