Stop hitting the political panic buttons — Neuse News

RALEIGH – Remember when rapid automation was going to put much of the workforce out of work? Concerned politicians and other professionals have warned that robots will displace production workers, self-driving vehicles and drones will displace truckers and delivery staff, and algorithms and kiosks will displace service and management workers.

Radical responses such as universal basic income would be needed, they argued, to quell the chaos engendered by long-lasting unemployment.

Politicians backed him just two years ago. Now in 2022 we are in the midst of massive work shortage. Companies desperately need employees and will hire them at high cost, including for many of the same jobs, such as drivers and fast-food servers, that were previously set to disappear.

Yes, I realize that in theory there could be a short term labor shortage followed by a longer term labor surplus. In the real world, however, technological innovations (and free trade, for that matter) do not produce net job destruction. They produce net jobs creation. As consumers save money or time by purchasing goods and services produced at lower cost, it frees them up in money and time to patronize new businesses that hire their own employees.

I also recognize that some specific labor market concerns are warranted. One of the factors explaining the current labor shortage is widespread drug addiction, for example. And in the long run, some jobs will be eliminated, leaving their current or potential occupants with the need to retrain, move or rethink their future.

What I disagree with is the hysterical way politicians often talk about these issues. They may believe that such emotive performances are what the audience wants, that using such language will indicate how much they care for those who suffer. Or politicians may believe that if they push their fingers into enough panic buttons, solutions will materialize. In this, they follow Teddy Roosevelt’s leadership advice: “At any point in the decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is to do nothing. »

Another possibility is that at least some of these politicians are, in fact, hysterics. Roosevelt certainly was.

A later Republican president, Calvin Coolidge, was his temperamental opposite – and offered far more sound advice: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure nine will hit the ditch before they get to you. .

Policy makers can and should take practical steps to help today’s workers prepare for tomorrow’s economy. They can improve and expand retraining programs. They can restructure the unemployment insurance system to encourage rapid re-entry into the labor market (including the option of a one-time cash payment to cover moving costs where new jobs are created). They can reform fiscal and regulatory barriers that prevent entrepreneurs from starting or growing new businesses.

What they cannot do, what no one can or should attempt to do, is prevent change from happening. If machines can make things faster and cheaper than human hands, so much the better! In the past, such innovations freed the vast majority of us from having to scrape our lives off the ground, as most human beings have done for most of human history. Labor-saving methods and devices allow us to redirect our efforts to more productive activities.

One of the great products of modern engineering is, in fact, the panic button itself. A Boston inventor named Augustus Pope patented a battery-powered version in 1853. A businessman named Edwin Holmes purchased Pope’s patent and began selling electric alarm systems to homes and businesses. Later, innovators developed a variety of military, industrial, and medical uses for panic buttons.

In some cases, these apps have displaced the need for humans to monitor critical areas or perform emergency tasks. The net result, however, has been to improve the situation for workers and consumers.

Not all problems are emergencies. To claim otherwise is in itself dangerous. On this point, and much more, Coolidge was wiser than Roosevelt.

John Hood is a board member of the John Locke Foundation. His latest books Mountain folklore and forest peoplecombine epic fantasy and ancient American history (

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