home        comments   archive        Back


The Law of Magnification of Jobs Due to Labor Saving Devices

By: John Pepin

Dear Friends,

It seems to me, there should be a law of economics called, The Law of Magnification of jobs due to Labor Saving Devices. In my conception of it, when new technology is added to an economy, jobs are not lost, but gained. Locally and initially jobs might be lost but in the course of one economic cycle those jobs are not only more than replaced but made easier, better and with higher wages. This effect is not only global but local as well. It is important to keep this in mind when people say that such and such is taking away jobs, because the opposite is actually true.

Your job, my job and most other people's jobs weren’t even invented a hundred and fifty years ago. That is an eye blink in written human history. Think of it, most of the jobs that keep tens of millions of people busy all day, were only invented so recently. Work with computers? They only came on the scene as workable things in the nineteen sixties. But when computers came out they were supposed to wipe out secretaries, instead they erased several levels of management from large cap firms. This freed up smart people with capital to invest and start businesses. Some of those ideas became large cap firms a decade or two down the road, and some in only a few years. Imagine the magnification of jobs this added to the others created by computers.

Cheaper, better, and faster ways of doing things frees up human capital that can be better spent on the things humans do best. It also makes the goods of society available to more people. One revolutionary technology that is about to burst is 3D printing. It will do to the creation of goods and products the same thing that word processing did to writing. 3D printing will bring the act of creation to the masses.

Every minute of every day, the Eggbert Slokums of the World are imagining new products, new goods, new ways of doing things. 3D printing will give them all the ability, to not just imagine and jot some notes on a napkin, but in a reasonable amount of time have a computer print the fully functional product, good of even mechanism. The abilities of this technology are startling. Unfortunately industries will disappear, people will loose their job, and there will be bankruptcies, these bad things will be the cost of the introduction of this technology.

How can anyone fully account for the benefit though? The future intangible benefits cannot be even imagined at. The reason is that no one can tell what innovations 3D printing will lead to. (If they could they would be billionaires). Imagine if we veered off from computers because Middle Managers were afraid of loosing their jobs. There would be no I Pods, no smart phones, no thumb drives, nor mouses. Typing would still be on a Selectric and special effects would be of the Star Wars variety. All the jobs that are now done by computer, for computers, and with computers, would cease to exist. Imagine how materially damaged our society would be if that had happened?

The last example I will use is the mechanical loom. Marx said, the mechanical loom would put so many people out of work, the people would starve, ushering in the revolution. “As the forest of arms grows ever thicker while the arms themselves grow ever thinner...” Some people did loose their jobs when the mechanical loom was introduced. Those that still worked on the looms, were no longer subject to the tendonitis from throwing the shuttle, their legs and backs didn't ache from constantly peddling the loom and their wages went up. What is never mentioned however, is the mechanical loom has to be maintained and it takes a trained person to do that, parts for it must be imported, the demand for wool to feed a mechanical loom is much higher than a craft loom, the list of added jobs goes on and on.

The take away here, is that labor saving devices don't destroy jobs they make more and better jobs. The people against the introduction of labor saving devices into the workplace are engaging in sophistry, making false arguments that appear logical for selfish ends. Classic liberal tactic... but like everything liberal, it makes perfect sense, as long as you don't think about it to long.


John Pepin