June 22nd, 2008

A Curse on Machines!


photo credit: waxident

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on Barack Obama’s economic platform as follows (h/t Russ):

Sen. Obama cited new economic forces to explain what appears like a return to an older-style big-government Democratic platform skeptical of market forces. “Globalization and technology and automation all weaken the position of workers,” he said, and a strong government hand is needed to assure that wealth is distributed more equitably.

Reading this article reminded me of the old adage “He who does not learn from the mistakes of others is condemned to repeat them.” So it is today, with Barack Obama arguing something that has been argued since the industrial revolution and beyond: that technology hurts the position of workers, that it cheapens labor to the point of potential unemployment, and that it should be heavily regulated to provide and guarantee employment for all human workers.

Such flawed thinking was masterfully trounced by the French statesman Frédéric Bastiat, who fought against protectionism and government interference from Barack Obama’s philosophic predecessors. In one of his essays, he wrote:

“A curse on machines! Every year their increasing power condemns to pauperism millions of workers, taking their jobs away from them, and with their jobs their wages, and with their wages their bread! A curse on machines!

That is the cry rising from ignorant prejudice, and whose echo resounds in the newspapers.

But to curse machines is to curse the human mind!

Bastiat goes on to provide an example as to why machinery (technology) does not hinder the position of workers and the potential for employment, but instead facilitates and enhances it. Obama is foolhardy to subscribe to such an economic philosophy, for he fails to recognize that the vast majority of jobs in the market today exist only because of globalization, technology, and automation. Does he drive a car? Fly in a plane? Use a microphone in his speeches? Eat with metal cutlery? Use email? Wear clothes made in a foreign country? Surely such dripping hypocrisy is not entirely lost upon the masses!

Economic thugs like Barack Obama seem to feel that central planning is the key to economic integrity. With no faith in the market, they think that they have the mental acuity and moral authority to regulate the affairs of their (alleged) peers. Repudiating the current economic choices made by their fellow citizens, they conjure up some notion of a more ideal society—one that they aspire to implement.

Little noted in such economic theories is the principle upon which such policies are implemented: force. (Bastiat had something to say about that as well.) Obama and his team, like their predecessors, will find themselves (eagerly, no doubt) using the vehicle of government to carry out their visions. This must be so, for enterprising citizens would never voluntarily renounce the tools and techniques that allow them to provide a service for others, and food for their family.

Barack Obama would not be where he is today were it not for globalization, technology, and automation. Without these, we would all be isolationist agrarians living off of the land, literally working by the sweat of our brow. The sanctimonious hypocrisy of his economic policy is unfathomable.

11 Responses to “A Curse on Machines!”

  1. Curtis
    June 22, 2008 at 7:05 pm #

    Actually, “isolationist agrarians living off of the land, literally working by the sweat of our brow” doesn’t sound that bad. There’s something to be said for the simple lifestyle.

  2. Connor
    June 22, 2008 at 8:24 pm #

    I agree that there are many parts that don’t sound bad at all. On the other hand, however, technology affords many luxuries and opportunities that are quite important.

    For example, using it to advance the Lord’s work has been crucial. So said Howard W. Hunter:

    In recent years we have begun using information technology to hasten the sacred work of providing ordinances for the deceased. The role of technology in this work has been accelerated by the Lord himself, who has had a guiding hand in its development and will continue to do so. However, we stand only on the threshold of what we can do with these tools. I feel that our most enthusiastic projections can capture only a tiny glimpse of how these tools can help us—and of the eternal consequences of these efforts. (Howard W. Hunter, via Quoty)

  3. Sean
    June 22, 2008 at 8:59 pm #

    It is unfortunate that so many believe in such economic shortsightedness, and so many others fall victim through the rhetoric of those who espouse it. Such talk plays on the fears of workers.

    By the way, Curtis, I also think there are virtues in living off the land by the sweat of our brow. I’d like to learn to do more of that, myself. But government policy that encourages or subsidizes a move in that direction is foolhardy. A man who serves his fellows through his work and is also able to rely on his own labors for subsistence is a wise man indeed, worthy of emulation.

  4. Stephen Palmer
    June 23, 2008 at 3:35 am #

    This sentiment is much older than the industrial revolution.

    When Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450 there were actually many people who resisted his invention. In his book The Reformation, historian Will Durant writes, “…not all welcomed [the printing press]. Copyists protested that printing would destroy their means of livelihood; aristocrats opposed it as a mechanical vulgarization, and feared that it would lower the value of their manuscript libraries; statesmen and clergy distrusted it as a possible vehicle of subversive ideas.”

    Even the PRINTING PRESS, if you can imagine, was resisted on the same grounds, that people would lose jobs! Yet can we even quantify the amount of jobs that it actually created in the long-run? It spawned entire industries that had never existed before.

    It’s so self-evident that it’s even tiresome to keep pointing it out. But I suppose someone has to do it.

  5. Mom
    June 23, 2008 at 12:28 pm #

    Since when has big government ever been the answer to anything? It is THE most inefficient method of managing/producing/developing anything. But this goes to the absolute basis of the liberal belief system. Years ago when I was a teen, I asked my dad, “What’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats?” His answer (from a not-very-politically-involved mind) was this: “Republicans believe that people are very capable on their own and should have equal opportunity. They believe government should be strictly curtailed to only perform those functions absolutely necessary such as defense. Democrats believe that people are basically incapable of caring for themselves and that they should have absolute equality. They believe government should be expanded to care for the people and that wealth should be equalized–i.e., taken from the wealthy and successful–to pay for it.”
    I discussed this at great length with my liberal sister and was astounded as she confirmed. “Yes, I believe people basically can’t take care of themselves and we need to help them. Government needs to help them.”
    Heaven help us from this kind of help. It will bankrupt us all, cripple our nation, and destroy the will to succeed.

  6. Connor
    June 23, 2008 at 12:31 pm #

    Heaven help us from this kind of help. It will bankrupt us all, cripple our nation, and destroy the will to succeed.

    Reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s quip: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are :’I’m from the government and I’m here to help'”.

  7. Jesse Harris
    June 23, 2008 at 1:49 pm #

    Luddites always bemoan technology that will steal their jobs. Buggy manufacturers dreaded the car. Telegraph companies were scared to death of the telephone. Almost every office drone was terrified that the PC would steal their job. Instead of taking away jobs, technology has always made new jobs, improved efficiency and reduced the cost of good and services. Anyone with $50 can grab a copy of Quicken instead of paying an accountant an obscene amount to keep track of their finances.

    Perhaps the most amusing part of Obama’s statements is that he draws so much support from the netroots. It’s almost like biting the hand that feeds him, you know?

  8. Reach Upward
    June 25, 2008 at 10:58 am #

    Even before Gutenberg, technological advances were considered with great suspicion, sometimes to the extent that they were considered tools of the devil. Variations of this theme seem to be deeply rooted in the human psyche. The funny thing is that we all tend to take advantage of technology as soon as it hits the consumer level.

    I doubt Obama really believes his tripe. He just knows it resonates with sometimes gullible voters. If his contentions were correct, sub-Saharan Africa would be the most wealthy region of the earth, and the most remote tribes in the world that have little technology and don’t trade with anyone else would enjoy the highest standard of living in the world.

  9. June 26, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    On the other hand, Senator Obama has called for the need to use technology to enhance our quality of life. For example, he has called for all medical records to be put into an electronic system, to cut down on medical expenses associated with bad record-keeping and to ease the transfer of records. See http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf.

    So I’m not sure which way this cuts for Obama. It’s probably just hyperbole that most politicians are famous for.

  10. June 30, 2008 at 1:22 am #

    im not sure of your correlation between ‘strong hand’ and ‘heavily regulated’. it seems to me that the current administrations veritabl weakness on strengthening the ‘american workplace’ for all workers has set us so far back that even a ‘strong hand’ will only get us back to the water mark.

    I don’t think Bastiat could ever have imagined this world from his pov in the 1800s but his writing about “a regulation of labor imposed by force” as a violation of liberty is poignant if we take a moment to consider financial pressures as that ‘force’. is it possible to see other countries economies as that force that violates our liberty to live well? even the current insane oil speculation could be seen in that light without too stretching too far the analogy.

    all issues seem to stem from the illusion of separation of state and people, as if they are ‘them’ and we are ‘us’ and until people take back that responsibility and ownership and operate through government rather than be acted up by it then we’ll always have the carousel of madness. personally i am enjoying the effect of barack obama to at least provoke a stirring, true he is using a broken system but it could serve to waken some in the future to a more integrated personal government of life.

    interesting post, thanks for sharing!

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