Now that the elections are over, there's little political gain for demagoguery about jobs, but let's prepare ourselves for the next time. Losing a job means a financial crunch and readjustment regardless of the source of job loss. If it's not from an economic downturn, the loss might be a result of outsourcing, but much more likely, it's a result of technological innovation. Job destruction and job creation through natural market forces are enriching. Calling for Congress to save or create jobs is to court disaster.
Let's look at a bit of job-loss history. Anthony B. Bradley, a research fellow at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Acton Institute, has written an article on the subject, "Productivity and the Ice Man: Understanding Outsourcing." Citing the work of Forrester Research Inc., a technology research firm, Bradley says, "Of the 2.7 million jobs lost over the past three years, only 300,000 have resulted from outsourcing." Job losses and job gains have always been a part of our history.
Let's look at some of the history of job loss described in Bradley's article. We might also ponder whether measures should have been taken to save these jobs. In 1858, Lyman Blake patented a shoemaking machine that ultimately destroyed jobs hand making shoes. In 1919, General Motors started selling Frigidaire. As Bradley says, "This 'electric ice box' wiped out a whole set of occupations, including ice-box manufacturers, ice gatherers, and the manufacturers of the tools and equipment needed to handle large blocks of ice."
Auto manufacturers use thousands of robots for tasks that people used to do such as spot welding, painting, machine loading, parts transfer and assembly. Robots have replaced thousands of workers in electronic assembly and mounting microchips on circuit boards, reports Bradley.
We could probably think of hundreds of jobs that either don't exist or exist in far fewer numbers than in the past -- jobs such as elevator operator, TV repairman and coal deliveryman. "Creative destruction" is a discovery process where we find ways to produce goods and services more cheaply. That in turn makes us all richer.
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