Obama on 9.1 Percent Unemployment: ATMs Kill Jobs, or Something

Posted: Jun 15, 2011 2:34 PM

A remarkably maladroit attempt at a meaningful illustration, to be sure, but are headlines like "Obama Blames ATMs for High Unemployment" slightly unfair?  Watch the clip, digest his point, and carry on:

Honestly, I was more put off by Ann Curry's softball question casting high unemployment as largely an issue of cash-rich, greedy corporate fatcats stubbornly refusing to hire new workers than I was by the president's much-lampooned reply.  For a rebuttal to Curry's fairy tale premise, I'll -- again -- refer you to former Reagan adviser and Harvard economist Martin Feldstein's must-read take on our soft economy, and how Obama's policies have accelerated and exacerbated the mess. (Also note Feldstein's careful critique of the "stimulus," which may surprise some conservatives).

Back to President Obama.  What was he thinking?  I have no quarrel with his manifestly correct statement that the introduction of new technologies can fundamentally shift economic dynamics and eliminate jobs.  That phenomenon has existed since the beginning of time.  But why on earth would he select ATMs to illustrate this point? And what connection do cash machines have to today's economic woes?   Americans have used ATMs in some form since Richard Nixon was president, and our economy has experienced booms and busts ever since.  In other words, we long ago survived the ATM jobs "crisis."  President Obama may simply have been trying to use an easy-to-grasp example to help explain a larger economic trend -- to which he ascribes partial blame for widespread job losses.  He ended up appearing severely out of touch and, frankly, ridiculous.  Imagine if Bush had said it.

UPDATE - Surprise: The ATM industry isn't too pleased with the president's comments.

Aimee Leeper, a spokeswoman for ATM manufacturer Triton Systems, which makes its machines in America and employees 200 people here, told me over the phone, "We're not in the business of taking American jobs. What I wish President Obama had thought of is that people want convenient access to their money. How crazy is that?"

UPDATE II - Couple this bizarre ATM remark with the president's recent chucklefest over the dearth of "shovel-ready" projects upon which the $830 Billion "stimulus" was partially sold, and it's been a pretty awful week for White House messaging on jobs.