A modest proposal to ban automation

Over at the anti-outsourcing IT Professionals Association of America, someone has discovered an insidious plan to destroy jobs in this country: Have you seen self check out counters lately in your area stores such as Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart, Home Depot, Grocery stores etc. We have many in Dallas area. Guess what? The employers are ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Over at the anti-outsourcing IT Professionals Association of America, someone has discovered an insidious plan to destroy jobs in this country:

Have you seen self check out counters lately in your area stores such as Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart, Home Depot, Grocery stores etc. We have many in Dallas area. Guess what? The employers are cutting hours of cashiers, give them less than 28 hours, cut/stop their benefits and health insurance, use customers to do their job for free, and pocket higher profits. Watch out for those so called "Self check outs" or "Speedy check out Counters". Basically, customers who use self check out terminals are eliminating jobs of fellow Americans. Bottom Line: DO NOT USE SELF SERVICE CHECK OUT AT ANY STORES. (emphasis added)

Now I don't want to go off on a rant here, but if you ask me, this proposal doesn't go far enough. It's not just the automated cashiers who put people out of jobs. What about the ATMs that dispense money instead of bank clerks? What about those automated kiosks in airports that dispense boarding passes instead of gate agents? What about those computer thingmabobs -- you know, the devices without which no one could conceive of being a member of the ITPAA -- that have replaced many secretarial positions? Dear God, what about the Internet? WHAT ABOUT THE INTERNET??!!! Clearly the ITPAA has fallen for the lump of labor fallacy. But I do admire their intellectual consistency. Most opponents of trade and offshoring clam up when it's suggested that a logical extension of their position is to oppose technological innovation and automation as well -- since technology, like trade, is about how to produce more efficiently (for more on this point, see this essay by Brink Lindsey). So bravo to the ITPAA for not being afraid to be out-and-out Luddites. UPDATE: Several commenters suggest that the site I linked to is some kind of satire or parody. I can assure you it is quite real. I should also add that although I vehemently disagree with Scott Kirwin (ITPAA's founder) on the offshore outsourcing stuff, we've had nothing but polite interactions over the Internet on this issue. ANOTHER UPDATE: Several commenters point out their dislike of automated checkout lines. They should check out the Economist's thoughts on the topic. Closing paragraph:

Over at the anti-outsourcing IT Professionals Association of America, someone has discovered an insidious plan to destroy jobs in this country:

Have you seen self check out counters lately in your area stores such as Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart, Home Depot, Grocery stores etc. We have many in Dallas area. Guess what? The employers are cutting hours of cashiers, give them less than 28 hours, cut/stop their benefits and health insurance, use customers to do their job for free, and pocket higher profits. Watch out for those so called “Self check outs” or “Speedy check out Counters”. Basically, customers who use self check out terminals are eliminating jobs of fellow Americans. Bottom Line: DO NOT USE SELF SERVICE CHECK OUT AT ANY STORES. (emphasis added)

Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but if you ask me, this proposal doesn’t go far enough. It’s not just the automated cashiers who put people out of jobs. What about the ATMs that dispense money instead of bank clerks? What about those automated kiosks in airports that dispense boarding passes instead of gate agents? What about those computer thingmabobs — you know, the devices without which no one could conceive of being a member of the ITPAA — that have replaced many secretarial positions? Dear God, what about the Internet? WHAT ABOUT THE INTERNET??!!! Clearly the ITPAA has fallen for the lump of labor fallacy. But I do admire their intellectual consistency. Most opponents of trade and offshoring clam up when it’s suggested that a logical extension of their position is to oppose technological innovation and automation as well — since technology, like trade, is about how to produce more efficiently (for more on this point, see this essay by Brink Lindsey). So bravo to the ITPAA for not being afraid to be out-and-out Luddites. UPDATE: Several commenters suggest that the site I linked to is some kind of satire or parody. I can assure you it is quite real. I should also add that although I vehemently disagree with Scott Kirwin (ITPAA’s founder) on the offshore outsourcing stuff, we’ve had nothing but polite interactions over the Internet on this issue. ANOTHER UPDATE: Several commenters point out their dislike of automated checkout lines. They should check out the Economist‘s thoughts on the topic. Closing paragraph:

[T]here are limits to how far self-service can be taken. Companies that go too far down the self-service route or do it ineptly are likely to find themselves being punished. Instead, a balance between self-service and conventional forms of service is required. Companies ought to offer customers a choice, and should encourage the use of self-service, for those customers that want it, through service quality, not coercion. Self-service works best when customers decide to use a well designed system of their own volition; it infuriates most when they are forced to use a bad system. Above all, self-service is no substitute for good service.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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