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Robots Are Good for Us: Really, They Are!

Robots Are Good for Us: Really, They Are!

April 19, 2013

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The Smart Manufacturing Coalition recently conducted a survey of Americans to get their views of whether modernizing factories with advanced technology and automation was a good or bad thing for the economy.

Amazingly, nearly two-thirds of respondents said it either made no difference or actually hurt the economy. Half of those making $35K to $50K actually said it has hurt the economy.

Wow, have these people not taken economics? Do they want to go back to farms with mules and factories with hand files? Have they not read the newspapers about how our manufacturing sector has been decimated by overseas competition?

Well wait, they probably have not read those newspaper articles, not because most people no longer see that they have a civic responsibility to read the news, but because by and large, the media doesn't write these stories. Rather, they almost always write that when it comes to explaining the decimation of U.S. manufacturing jobs, the cause is automation. In fact, as ITIF and others have shown, the loss of U.S. global competitiveness has accounted for over half of manufacturing job loss over the last decade.

I suppose it’s not the media’s fault for telling the wrong story over and over again; after all they are not economic researchers and they read about economists like the rest of us wonks. As in so much of what’s wrong with economic policy, it’s the fault of economists (neoclassical economists that is) who have spun a story, in part based on faulty U.S. government data, that all the manufacturing job loss is from technology.

Why do they engage in this fictional account, besides being lazy and not digging more deeply into the faulty government data? It’s because the absolute last thing neoclassical economists and their supporters want to say is that, globalization might have harmed the U.S. economy. Because once you start to admit that, Smoot Hawley is next. So they would have us repeat after them, “robots killed the jobs, robots killed the jobs, trade is good, trade is good.” As a result, it’s not surprising that the public blames robots, not Chinese currency manipulation, Brazil forced technology transfer, Indian “forced localization laws," and the raft of other mercantilist practices that have devastated U.S. manufacturing.

The only ray of hope in this depressing survey is that a majority of Americans think Congress should approve the Administration’s proposal to create a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation because they believe, it appears (and rightly so) that the NNMI will make U.S. manufacturing more competitive (not that neoclassical economists care, since they don’t even believe in competitiveness).


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