Progress and its discontents

To complement this week’s post about The Luddite fallacy I have a couple of extra bits:

The first is a letter from Don Boudreaux of Café Hayek to the U.S. Representative for California’s 9th congressional district, the Democrat, Barbara Lee:

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.

The second is an anecdote from Russell Roberts in an article about technology and jobs:

 The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: “Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?”

 

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