Quotes of the day

“House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a mocking press release Wednesday chastising the president over remarks Obama made claiming that ATMs and airport ticket kiosks were partly to blame for persistently high unemployment.

“The release, cheekily written from the point of view of an everyday ATM, poked fun at Obama for claiming that greater efficiency from automated machines like ATMs was to blame for high unemployment.

“‘This is a guest blog post from the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in your favorite convenience store near the Slurpee Machine,’ Boehner’s press release said.

“‘I didn’t do it.'”

“Mike Lee, CEO of the ATM Industry Association, emailed me the following response:

“President Obama should never use ATMs as an example of how technology replaces human labor because ATMs today play a critical role in providing extensive employment in the ATM and cash-in-transit industries. In addition, ATMs provide an indispensible range of services to customers, including all-hours access to their own banked cash. With over 400,000 in America alone, ATMs have become the main distribution channel for the distribution of cash in all modern economies and cash remains by far the most popular form of payment by US consumers. The whole purpose of the invention of the ATM back in 1967 was to make cash available outside of bank hours, liberating citizens to access their banked money 24 x 7, a huge increase in convenience. Given these major roles of the ATM, it would be quite irrational to turn the clock back to the 1960s to a time before ATMs.”

“White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki told ABC News that ‘the President was making the point that many in the private sector have already made, the workplace and the skills needed to succeed have changed and we need to do everything possible to prepare the next generation with the skills and training they need to compete globally in the job market. That is why he announced a partnership between the manufacturing industry along with government and community colleges just last week to help graduate 500,000 people with the credentials they need for good manufacturing jobs and why he embraced an announcement made by his Jobs Council earlier this week to train 10,000 engineers.’

“That same New York Times story quoted various economists discussing automated machines displacing workers. William C. Dunkelberg, chief economist at the National Federation of Independent Business, for instance, said ‘We don’t have 11 million unemployed farmers today because over time farmers and their children transitioned into different sectors. We don’t usually have this kind of shock, though, that displaces a lot of workers at once.'”

“I don’t think his idea is without merit. The technological revolutions of the last few decades and the challenges of globalization have changed the nature of our economy in significant ways. But I’m not sure how you can possibly blame ATMs. Aside from the myriad ways in which ATMs boost efficiency, liquidity, consumer spending (and don’t forget all of the jobs created for technicians and manufacturers of ATM machines), I’m not sure you can even blame a drop in bank teller jobs on bank machines. This is just a quick take, but just think about it for two seconds. The number of bank branches has soared in recent years. Those branches need human tellers (and bank machines). That’s why the BLS predicted that teller jobs would grow about 6% from 2008 to 2018 (it predicted other banking jobs would grow as well). That estimate may be lower now because of the recession, but that’s the recession’s fault — i.e. in Obama’s political wheelhouse — and not because of the ‘structural’ issues Obama’s trying to pass the blame off to.

“For instance, consider this:

“‘At the dawn of the self-service banking age in 1985, for example, the United States had 60,000 automated teller machines and 485,000 bank tellers. In 2002, the United States had 352,000 ATMs – and 527,000 bank tellers.’

“Guess who was president in 2002.”

“For starters, this Obama comment really is odd when he wants the government to subsidize the production of electric cars, which would destroy whole sectors of the economy centered around gas fueled cars. If he believes ATM’s destroy jobs, why does he want to subsidize government innovation in green jobs, which would destroy other jobs? Of course, the answer to that is that he wants to destroy the other sectors.

“There, in fact, is the most important and revelatory bit of this whole statement. Barack Obama premises his world view that innovation kills jobs. But, Barack Obama wants to innovate and advance technology in certain areas of the economy, e.g. government and green jobs. Therefore, we can conclude based on his own presuppositions about innovation that Barack Obama is intending to kill off sectors of the economy by forcing government to fund innovation in other areas of the economy.”