ng_nighthawk (ng_nighthawk) wrote,

Workforce Economics and Productivity

I'm confused about this. Or maybe woeful is the word.

Why is it that as we get more efficient, instead of getting better livelihoods so many people get left behind? Or is this a problem that's created by the media?

So here's my example of household automation: let's say I buy a dishwasher and it saves me a half hour every day. (Let's not quibble over whether this is right, it's a hypothetical example.) My response to this is not going to be, "Oh god, what am I going to do now? This machine has replaced me."

I'm happy to have the time back. Or maybe I'm disappointed that the machine doesn't do as good a job as I do. But if it works right then the machine has given me back time and work that I was spending every day. I can do more for my family now.

But in a restaurant if there are three people employed to wash dishes, and the owner buys a dishwasher that only requires one person to wash dishes, then two people are out of work. And so they're really screwed by this.

But look at society as a big family. Those people don't have to wash dishes anymore. One person can do the work of three. How can that be bad? Why are those people suddenly more miserable for not having to do menial, difficult work?

In theory, the restaurant could transfer them to another job, but that might take training the restaurant doesn't want to give. Cook? Waiter? Washing dishes does not necessarily prepare you for these roles. Maybe these folks don't even want those roles.

On the other hand, it's ridiculous for us to say, "OK, let's scrap the new dishwasher so they can all have jobs." In the big picture, that's horribly wasteful. It's like paying someone to build something and then break it over and over again.

So the problem seems to be that when we need fewer dishwashers, we don't have a good way to provide a transition for the dishwashers who are out of work.

This same scenario works with cheaper foreign labor. Other people are making our clock radios for us--that frees us up to do other things with the time we would spend making clock radios. How is that bad? (Assuming, again, that the clock radios are of a similar or better quality.)

I think the problem here is "free to do other things." What other things? How do those things provide a living?

It seems to me that this is a fundamental inefficiency in our labor markets. Or maybe the problem is overblown? How should this work?

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