Is Automation Taking Our Jobs?

Automation has become a huge concern in recent years. With computer algorithms getting more and more sophisticated, machines are becoming increasingly able to do jobs that are many people’s bread and butter.

Driverless cars have been on our roads for years. Although they aren’t commercially available yet, they eventually will be. Once that happens, they’ll easily replace cab drivers, as well as people currently contracted by rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. After all, if employers can remove the expense of paying drivers, they can provide their services for much cheaper while still retaining a greater net profit.

That’s not the only place automation might shift the job market. We’ve already seen integration of self-checkout registers in large grocery chains. Even fast food restaurants are getting behind the trend. McDonald’s currently has kiosks at various of its locations that allow customers to order and receive their food without any human interaction (a millennial’s dream). Carl’s Jr. and Hardees intend to test out kiosks to some of their locations as well.

These restaurants, along with a few much smaller chains, still require human cooks to prepare the food though.

However, back in 2012 a robotics startup company Momentum Machines developed a prototype of a fully autonomous machine that takes orders, cooks the burger, slices the toppings, assembles the burger, wraps it all up, and gives it to the customer. This machine was shown to be able to prepare 400 burgers in an hour, and the company has already purchased a building in the San Francisco Bay Area and intends to open a fully autonomous restaurant very soon. The restaurant will still require a few humans to ensure the machines run smoothly and to empty out the cash and perform other small tasks.

Obviously if this new robo burger joint proves itself profitable, we can expect large chains to get in on this.

The question on a lot of people’s minds has been, if machines can taxi people around and take orders and flip burgers, where does that leave the millions of individuals currently employed to fill these jobs?

Markets Change – It’s Been Happening Since the Beginning of Markets

Keep in mind that this isn’t really anything new. Printing presses eliminated the need for scribes, and more recently online media has reduced the need for printing presses. Vending machines took the job of venders a long time ago. And don’t forget that elevator operators use to be a thing.

But do you see folks complaining about there being no scribes or elevator operators nowadays? Of course not! We realize that those jobs went away because they were made obsolete. The same thing is happening now, just with different jobs. If anything, we should be praising business innovations such as these.

Businesses have always been innovating in ways to make their themselves more efficient, thus more profitable and more satisfying to the consumer. It’s just the way it is.

And the thing is, these innovations, and others like it, might take jobs from some unskilled positions – but they’ll also create jobs for more skilled laborers, such as the engineers who build these machines, the computer scientists who develop the algorithms for these machines, and the IT workers who will fix software and hardware issues when they happen. That’s a lot of high paying jobs we’re talking about.

Nevertheless, we do have to keep our unskilled laborers in mind. Surely not everyone has the privilege (or the time, given that plenty of families are forced to work multiple jobs to feed their families) to obtain a skill or education. And even if every fast food worker obtained a new skill, then other markets would just become flooded with overqualified job seekers.

There’s already plenty of college graduates doing jobs that high schoolers also do. There’s people with valuable skills who still end up places like fast food restaurants. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

And as I already mentioned, not everyone has the luxury of obtaining useful skills. Where will all these hard working Americans go?

Let’s Not Forget the Benefits Though

We have to consider all the facts here: business innovation may remove obsolete jobs, but with the added efficiency, goods and services are able to go down.

Take, for instance, autonomous cars. While it’s unfortunate that so many people will be out of taxi and rideshare jobs, the decline in prices of these services could positively affect other people.

For instance, if the price of transportation services drops well enough below the cost of owning and keeping up a vehicle, that could mean less expenses for many families. Think of all the lower class families who struggle to pay bills. Can you imagine what a relief it would be when they find they can still get to work without having to pay on a car note and keep up with costly insurance, gas, and general upkeep of a car?

Cars are expensive. But for right now, owning one is still necessary in most areas. Think of all the lower class Americans who have their car break down and then can’t afford to have it fixed. I’ve been there more than once and it’s no fun. If transportation services drop low enough due to not having to pay a driver, those families may not be in near as big of a pickle as they would be without the modestly priced services.

More families also may realize that it’s no longer economical to keep up with a vehicle and opt instead for cheaper automated taxi services. They then will find they have extra money to spend on other things, or more money to save.

In addition, whenever automated kiosks and even automated food prepping robots become a commonality, we’ll see a decline in food prices. This could be especially good for low income earners who struggle to keep food on the table. The cheaper food becomes for these families, the better, right? It doesn’t all have to be unhealthy even. There’s another automated restaurant in California that spits out quinoa bowls with fresh vegies at a competitive price (being as there’s no cashiers to pay). And the more common automation in restaurants becomes, the more healthier options will be able to compete.

So while technological innovation may eliminate some people’s jobs, other folks may see many benefits. I may be too optimistic here, but perhaps if the prices of enough goods and services go down, maybe part time wages will become sufficient enough for enough people to live comfortably on that more jobs will open up as a result. Who really knows?

Jobs Are a Means – Not an End in Themselves

This is a factor that we’ve long lost realization of. The end result that we all strive for is to have all our basic needs met and to be able to enjoy some comforts that make life enjoyable. Work is just the means to get us there.

I feel like it becomes a problem when we view jobs as an end. This type of mindset is what has stifled all manner of businesses since forever.

Businesses strive to run as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Whether it’s using cheaper material, finding ways to use less material, or inventing ways to lessen the amount of work required to perform a function.

In other words, businesses seek to lessen burdens and increase yield.

Conversely, the government has always been in the business of finding ways to increase burdens and diminish yield. To some extent, diminishing yield makes sense on the grounds of supply and demand. Surely if every business were permitted to run as efficiently as possible, then everything would be cheap and then those businesses and those whom they employ won’t be able to make as much. Except that the producers are also consumers in their own right, so if the goods and services the producers enjoy as consumers are lower, then it all works out in their favor after all.

Nevertheless, the government has made sure to enforce laws dictating (or merely incentivizing) where businesses may obtain their materials, who they may do business with, how they should compensate their employees, et cetera.

They do this in a number of ways: introducing tariffs, placing hefty taxes on necessary items, and just in general regulating the heck out of everything they do.

For that matter, I would not be surprised if the government decided to levy an automation tax to employers who opt to utilize any level of automation. At the very least I’m sure using automated machines for commercial purposes will require a special license by some point.

And this is why we can’t have nice things. Because jobs are treated as an ends. All people must have full time jobs to just make it because they make so little yet everything is kept so expensive.

Maybe… just maybe… if businesses were permitted to run as efficiently as their owners and innovative employees could dream possible, a greater abundance of goods and services could be brought about, thus lessening the means necessary to meet our worldly ends.

One thing is for sure. Automation will inevitably remove various jobs, but it will also drive prices for goods and services down, which may compensate for the loss in income in enough families to be considered a net gain for society.

That is, if allowed to operate unstifled.

More than likely though, government will do everything they can to stifle the autonomous industry so they can look like they’re “bringing jobs back” or something.

And then, yet again, the inability for industry to thrive will be blamed on capitalism. It’ll be just another failure of socialism blamed on capital. Meanwhile, the leftists will be able to claim they stopped those greedy capitalists from taking people’s jobs and we’ll be left to keep working the same redundant toil for as little net gain as the state deems fit. Essentially rolling the same boulder up the same hill, just like Sisyphus before us.

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Note: This article previously appeared on The Mises Institute under the title “Will Automation Make Us Poor“. However, it was heavily edited, to include the entire last third of the essay being removed due to space concerns. I fully understand the decision. I did sort of trail off there at the end anyway. However, since most of the comments on that submission were concerned with the exact concerns I raised in the final third section of the essay, I decided I may as well post it here in its entirety.

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Trans Military Ban – Denied!

I never did get around to writing about Trump’s transgender military ban. I enjoy writing about academic topics rather than topical topics, but this news is exciting to me so here it goes!

Let me start by sharing my story. I joined the Navy in September of 2011. “Don’t ask; don’t tell” was actually repealed while I was in Boot Camp. Then I separated from the service in September of 2016, shortly after then Secretary of Defense Ash Carter lifted the ban on transgender personnel.

I was honored to be a part of such progressive history. (On a side note, women were first allowed on board ships while my father was serving, so we both got to be a part of some neat history).

I was never out while I was in. In fact, I didn’t even know I was trans at the time, though I did embrace my gender fluidity from the comfort of my own home. My contract was already ending by the time transgender people were allowed in, but I thought it was pretty swell anyway. Only for the ban to be reinstated shortly after I left active duty.

And this was pretty upsetting to me. I mean I served honorably for five years and now I’ve been told by our new Commander in Chief that I’m not worthy of service?

Now I’m not going to get too deep into the reasonings for why I believe trans people should be permitted to serve, since I’m sure most people interested enough in the issue have already heard it. But since the typical arguments against trans people serving argue from a medical stance, and I served as a Hospital Corpsman, I may as well debunk a thing or two while I’m here.

Medication Dependency Myth

A common argument I’ve heard is that service-members shouldn’t be dependent on medications. While it is true that some medical dependencies can result in a discharge, I can’t tell you how many active service-members I’ve personally given ongoing medications to.

I personally was taking Prozac (for depression) and Propranolol (for anxiety and to ease my essential tremors) for the last few years that I was in. And yes, for anyone who is wondering, quitting Prozac for any length of time does result in withdrawal symptoms.

Active service-members I’ve been involved in the care of have taken blood pressure medications. Some even took hormones. Yes, even cisgendered people sometimes go through Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Some men don’t produce adequate testosterone and take supplements.

True, if a cisgendered service-member relies on testosterone treatment and must be deployed to a setting where hormones may not be readily available to him, he may have a bad time. But he won’t be alone. I mean how many service-members become dependent on alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, et cetera only to deploy and experience a bit of an awkward period? It happens. We’re trained to deal with it like adults.

Interestingly enough, I found out after getting out that I have (had?) a serious testosterone deficiency. If I had known this while I was still in, I could have easily received testosterone supplementation through Tricare. So please tell me, what exactly would have been the difference if I had started MtF HRT while I was serving?

Rise in Military Healthcare Costs

According to a RAND analysis employed by the DoD, allowing transgender individuals to serve would only result in a 0.04 to 0.13 percent spending increase. This is assuming a $2.4 million to $8.4 million cost associated with transition related expenditures,

For context, the military currently spends $84 million per year on Viagra. During my time in, I’ve seen active service-members and their dependents receive procedures that were technically cosmetic. They just had to come up with a reasonably compelling argument for why the procedure might produce some kind of therapeutic benefit.

But It’s a Mental Illness!

No, it’s not. See my recent post on the topic: Is Transsexuality a Mental Disorder? As a quick recap, we can’t even seem to firmly define exactly what the fuck sex or gender are. There’s a great many biological components to consider as well.

Seriously, it’s a natural phenomena. Society is the one with the mental illness. Here, I’ll prove it: can society, as a concept, join the military? No. See my point?

Aside from that, even if one could prove that transgender is a mental disorder, the military already spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on mental health treatment. And, as I mentioned earlier, I was a part of these statistics pre-transition.

Lack of Facilities

Another argument I’ve heard is that permitting trans people to join would create a unique burden on military facilities such as barracks and bathrooms. But I don’t see any reason why trans service-members can’t just utilize the facilities that match their gender identity.

Sure, some service-members would be bound to take issue with this. For that matter, some service-members take issue with having to bunk with gays. Some don’t like having to bunk with people of different ethnicities or religions. Know how they reconcile these issues? They get the fuck over it.

Besides, if we’re really so concerned about the added costs of separate facilities, we could always take a page out of Battlestar Galactica’s book and just make everything co-ed. co-ed is the future anyway.

Now Back to the Ban of the Ban

Now that my long overdue rant is over, I’m pleased to announce that just yesterday  Judge Marvin Garbis of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the U.S. government must continue funding transgender procedures for service members.

In his order, Judge Garbis opined that the transgender service members

“demonstrated that they are already suffering harmful consequences such as the cancellation and postponements of surgeries, the stigma of being set apart as inherently unfit, facing the prospect of discharge and inability to commission as an officer, the inability to move forward with long-term medical plans, and the threat to their prospects of obtaining long-term assignments.”

Of course, other judges have also stepped up to challenge Trump’s trans ban by calling for the ban to pend formal investigation, but this was the first official ruling to finally stop the ban dead in its tracks.

And I do hope this ruling sticks. I really hope this is the last time I have to talk about this.