It sounded as if he was saying that if businesses were a lot less innovative and would just stop trying to produce more goods and services at a lower labor cost, we would employ a lot more people.
In an interview on the "Today" show, host Ann Curry noted that in a persistently high-unemployment economy, "businesses have spent just 2 percent more on hiring people while at the same time spending 26 percent more on equipment. So why ... have you been unable to convince businesses to hire more people?"
Here's what Obama said:
"Well, I don't think it's a matter of me being unable to convince them to hire more people. They're making decisions based on what they think will be good for their companies," adding that the economy was growing again, but not fast enough to bring the unemployment rate down to normal levels.
"The other thing that happened, though, and this goes to the point you were just making, is there are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM; you don't go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport, and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate."
This caught the attention of Donald J. Boudreaux, a professor of economics at George Mason University, who wondered if Obama was saying that if businesses were a lot less efficient, and much more labor-intensive, a lot more people would have jobs.
"With respect, sir, you're complaining about the source of our prosperity: innovation and the increases it causes in worker productivity," Boudreaux said in an open letter to the president that appeared on the free-market economics website cafehayek.com.
"With no less justification -- but with no more validity -- any of your predecessors might have issued complaints similar to yours," going all the way back to the days of President Grant in the 1870s.
"Do you, President Obama, really wish to suggest that the innovations you blame for thwarting your fiscal policies are 'structural issues' that ought to be corrected?" he asked.
What Obama appeared to be complaining about is the ability of American industry and businesses to produce more, sell more and, yes, export more, while cutting their labor costs.
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