[Marxism] The Long-Term Jobs Killer Is Not China. It’s Automation.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 22 10:09:19 MST 2016

NY Times, Dec. 22 2016
The Long-Term Jobs Killer Is Not China. It’s Automation.
Claire Cain Miller

The first job that Sherry Johnson, 56, lost to automation was at the 
local newspaper in Marietta, Ga., where she fed paper into the printing 
machines and laid out pages. Later, she watched machines learn to do her 
jobs on a factory floor making breathing machines, and in inventory and 

“It actually kind of ticked me off because it’s like, How are we 
supposed to make a living?” she said. She took a computer class at 
Goodwill, but it was too little too late. “The 20- and 30-year-olds are 
more up to date on that stuff than we are because we didn’t have that 
when we were growing up,” said Ms. Johnson, who is now on disability and 
lives in a housing project in Jefferson City, Tenn.

Donald J. Trump told workers like Ms. Johnson that he would bring back 
their jobs by clamping down on trade, offshoring and immigration. But 
economists say the bigger threat to their jobs has been something else: 

“Over the long haul, clearly automation’s been much more important — 
it’s not even close,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at 
Harvard who studies labor and technological change.

No candidate talked much about automation on the campaign trail. 
Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is 
no clear way to stop it, and many of the technology companies are in the 
United States and benefit the country in many ways.

Mr. Trump told a group of tech company leaders last Wednesday: “We want 
you to keep going with the incredible innovation. Anything we can do to 
help this go along, we’re going to be there for you.”

Andrew F. Puzder, Mr. Trump’s pick for labor secretary and chief 
executive of CKE Restaurants, extolled the virtues of robot employees 
over the human kind in an interview with Business Insider in March. 
“They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, 
they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex 
or race discrimination case,” he said.

Globalization is clearly responsible for some of the job losses, 
particularly trade with China during the 2000s, which led to the rapid 
loss of 2 million to 2.4 million net jobs, according to research by 
economists including Daron Acemoglu and David Autor of M.I.T.

People who work in parts of the country most affected by imports 
generally have greater unemployment and reduced income for the rest of 
their lives, Mr. Autor found in a paper published in January. Still, 
over time, automation has had a far bigger effect than globalization, 
and would have eventually eliminated those jobs anyway, he said in an 
interview. “Some of it is globalization, but a lot of it is we require 
many fewer workers to do the same amount of work,” he said. “Workers are 
basically supervisors of machines.”

When Greg Hayes, the chief executive of United Technologies, agreed to 
invest $16 million in one of its Carrier factories as part of a Trump 
deal to keep some jobs in Indiana instead of moving them to Mexico, he 
said the money would go toward automation.

“What that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs,” he said on CNBC.

Take the steel industry. It lost 400,000 people, 75 percent of its work 
force, between 1962 and 2005. But its shipments did not decline, 
according to a study published in the American Economic Review last 
year. The reason was a new technology called the minimill. Its effect 
remained strong even after controlling for management practices; job 
losses in the Midwest; international trade; and unionization rates, 
found the authors of the study, Allan Collard-Wexler of Duke and Jan De 
Loecker of Princeton.

Another analysis, from Ball State University, attributed roughly 13 
percent of manufacturing job losses to trade and the rest to enhanced 
productivity because of automation. Apparel making was hit hardest by 
trade, it said, and computer and electronics manufacturing was hit 
hardest by technological advances.


A vacant factory parking lot in Luzerne County, Pa., which flipped from 
blue to red. Donald J. Trump railed against trade and offshoring, but 
automation has killed more jobs. Credit Mark Makela for The New York Times
Over time, automation has generally had a happy ending: As it has 
displaced jobs, it has created new ones. But some experts are beginning 
to worry that this time could be different. Even as the economy has 
improved, jobs and wages for a large segment of workers — particularly 
men without college degrees doing manual labor — have not recovered.

Even in the best case, automation leaves the first generation of workers 
it displaces in a lurch because they usually don’t have the skills to do 
new and more complex tasks, Mr. Acemoglu found in a paper published in May.

Robert Stilwell, 35, of Evansville, Ind., is one of them. He did not 
graduate from high school and worked in factories building parts for 
tools and cars, wrapping them up and loading them onto trucks. After he 
was laid off, he got a job as a convenience store cashier, which pays a 
lot less.

“I used to have a really good job, and I liked the people I worked with 
— until it got overtaken by a machine, and then I was let go,” he said.

Dennis Kriebel’s last job was as a supervisor at an aluminum extrusion 
factory, where he had spent a decade punching out parts for cars and 
tractors. Then, about five years ago, he lost it to a robot.

“Everything we did, you could program a robot to do it,” said Mr. 
Kriebel, who is 55 and lives in Youngstown, Ohio, the town about which 
Bruce Springsteen sang, “Seven hundred tons of metal a day/Now sir you 
tell me the world’s changed.”

Since then, Mr. Kriebel has barely been scraping by doing odd jobs. Many 
of the new jobs at factories require technical skills, but he doesn’t 
own a computer and doesn’t want to.

Labor economists say there are ways to ease the transition for workers 
whose jobs have been displaced by robots. They include retraining 
programs, stronger unions, more public-sector jobs, a higher minimum 
wage, a bigger earned-income tax credit and, for the next generation of 
workers, more college degrees. The White House on Tuesday released a 
report on automation and the economy that called for better education 
from early childhood through adult job transitions and for updating the 
social safety net with tools like wage insurance. Few are policies that 
Mr. Trump has said he will pursue.

“Just allowing the private market to automate without any support is a 
recipe for blaming immigrants and trade and other things, even when it’s 
the long impact of technology,” said Mr. Katz, who was the Labor 
Department’s chief economist under President Clinton.

The changes are not just affecting manual labor: Computers are rapidly 
learning to do some white-collar and service-sector work, too. Existing 
technology could automate 45 percent of activities people are paid to 
do, according to a July report by McKinsey. Work that requires 
creativity, management of people or caregiving is least at risk.

Ms. Johnson in Tennessee said both her favorite and highest-paying job, 
at $8.65 an hour, was at an animal shelter, caring for puppies.

It was also the least likely to be done by a machine, she said: “I would 
hope a computer couldn’t do that, unless they like changing dirty papers 
and giving them love and attention.”

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