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Things I didn’t know: Global economic thoughts from Ford’s ‘Rise of the Robots’

Here are some things I learned from Martin Ford’s fascinating book, Rise of the Robots.

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Here are some things I learned from Martin Ford’s fascinating book, Rise of the Robots.

— Jobs that go overseas tend to come back, but in automated form. Thus the U.S. textile industry rebounded between 2009 and 2012, with exports rising 37 percent. “The turnaround by automation technology is so efficient that it is competitive with even the lowest-wage offshore workers.” The problem is when the jobs come back, they are filled by robots, so productivity increases, but not employment.

— China lost about 16 million manufacturing jobs between 1995 and 2002, mainly to automation. “There is strong evidence that this trend is posed to accelerate.”

— In 1973, the typical American worker made $767 a week, in 2013 dollars. Now the typical worker makes $664. That’s a 13 percent decline.

— A characteristic of information technology companies is that they don’t employ a lot of people. In 2012, Ford notes, Google made $14 billion while employing about 38,000 people. In 1979, General Motors made $11 billion (in inflation-adjusted numbers) and employed nearly 840,000. Likewise: When Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, the company employed 65 people. WhatsApp sold for $19 billion and had 55 employees.

— About one in five Walmart customers uses food stamps.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
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