Guy Benson is willing to give Barack Obama at least some benefit of the doubt in one of the dumber things ever said by a President, but only a little. I’m not even going to go that far. Obama, pressed on rising unemployment and chronically bad job-creation numbers on an innovation that first popped into being more than 40 years ago:
“[T]he 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. So all these things have created changes in the economy, and what we have to do now — and that’s what this job council is all about — is identifying where the jobs for the future are going to be; how do we make sure that there’s a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist; how do we make sure that capital is flowing into those places with the greatest opportunity. We are on the right track. The key is figuring out how do we accelerate it.”
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.
One might think that a man who believes he can outsmart the private sector would understand that automation and innovation creates more jobs and more wealth than it displaces, for many reasons, but Obama’s never bothered to actually learn economic concepts. (If it didn’t, we’d have fewer jobs than we did before the Industrial Revolution.) But in the case of ATMs, this point makes no sense anyway, since the number of bank teller jobs has actually grown since the widespread adoption of ATMs thirty years ago. Philip Klein has the numbers:
But the even more obvious problem with Obama’s statement is that it isn’t even factually correct to say that ATM machines displaced bank tellers. The number of ATMs more than doubled between 1998 and 2008, from 187,000 to 401,500, according to the American Bankers Association. Yet data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that during the same period, the number of bank tellers rose from 560,000 to 600,500. BLS expects “favorable” job prospects for bank tellers over the next decade.
John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, explained that when ATMs started being used more widely, there was a lot of talk about them eliminating human bank branches, but it turned out that customers wanted both. The number of bank branches in the United States has grown from 81,444 in 1992 to 99,109 by late 2010, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. During that time, the total number of bank workers rose from 1.8 million to more than 2 million.
If you doubt that, think about the evolution of the bank over the last 30 years. When ATMs were first expanding in the 1980s, did banks have locations inside grocery stores and shopping malls? No; neighborhood, convenient banking exploded over the last 15 years or so as banks adapted to meet customer needs and demands — and expanded payrolls to do so.
Jake Tapper wrote yesterday that Obama was in danger of seeming out of touch with voters. He’s in bigger danger of being out of touch with reality.
Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.
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