Tuesday, January 03, 2017

No, the jobs never returned

First, an aside.  The above is a parody of “No, he never returned.  He’ll ride forever beneath the streets of Boston.”  I often wonder why Charlie’s wife gave him a sandwich but never another nickel to pay his fare.

Trump’s claim about getting manufacturing jobs back made me think of an old Walter Reuther/Henry Ford anecdote about robots not buying cars.  For more on this story, see “How Will You Get Robots to Pay Union Dues?” “How Will You Get Robots to Buy Cars?"

Think of all the jobs that have been lost during my life time: elevator operators, typists, secretaries, gas jockeys, telephone operators (both telco and company in-house), ice men, shoe repair, and dry cleaners.

Think of all the jobs that have been made more efficient, reducing the number of people needed to do them.

Trash collectors: the trucks are bigger and semi-automated.  The driver often doesn’t have to get out of the cab to dump the cans in the truck.

Mail carriers: the carrier doesn’t have to keep walking to a storage box to get another sack of mail.  He or she fills the SUV with probably a whole day’s worth of mail.

Cashiers: When I was a grocery cashier years ago, I had to look for the price on every can or package to enter it in the cash register.  Also, we had to get approval from the head cashier for a check.  Now, the cashier takes a check without question. .  Many stores also expect customers to bag their own groceries.

Billing department clerks:  Many people pay online with the whole transaction untouched by human hands.  The statement is posted in email, the customer submits a credit card number, and Voila!  All done in a few minutes without having put a check in the mail or without having a clerk open the envelope and enter the check in a ledger.

Bank tellers:  Much of our income is deposited directly to our accounts, even while the remaining tellers are asleep.  If we need cash, we go to an ATM.  Many of us may never set foot inside a bank.  About the only reasons to go into a bank are to open an account, get a loan, and access a safe deposit box.

Stock brokers: forty years ago we had to call in our buy or sell orders and wait for the broker to get back to us with the price of the transaction.  On top of that, we had to pay several dollars varying according to dollar amount of the transaction.  Now we get on our computers, type in a transaction, and often have it completed within seconds, and pay a flat, known fee for each transaction, whether for a few hundred dollars or for thousand dollars.

Carpenters: when I was in high school, many craft unions had clauses restricting the use of power tools.  Now many carpenters have so many personal power tools that no way do they want to use hand tools when a power tool is faster and easier.

Truck drivers:  I remember when auto carriers had space for four vehicles.  Now many have space for six or more vehicles.  I don’t remember the length of trailers in the 50s, but I do remember how trucking companies successfully lobbied for 53-foot trailers and “double bottoms” (two trailers pulled by one tractor).

Farming: equipment has gotten bigger and more efficient allowing farmers to have much larger fields.  Automatic milkers.  In Iceland we saw an automatic milk machine.  The cows lined up to take their turn, being enticed by some food.  The machine would wash the teats. put the milkers on them, and when the cow was dry, release her for the next one.  Also, the floor had an automatic sweeper for all the droppings.  The cows just stepped over it as it came by.

Dry Cleaners: how many of us wear suits that have be dry cleaned?  Once upon a time, men always wore suits to the office, church, or restaurants.  Now many wear blue jeans as a matter of course.  Wearing slacks to many is being formal.