Liberals and Conservatives Share an Outmoded Belief that Underpins False Hopes for Job Growth


With five cameras, a sonar sensor that detects motion 360 degrees around it, and enough intelligence to learn tasks within an hour, Baxter is designed to work safely alongside humans and do simple jobs such as picking items off a conveyor belt. It’s also cheap enough, at $22,000 a unit, so that the investment math works: If Baxter performs three years of eight-hour shifts, it’s the equivalent of labor at $4 an hour … To teach Baxter a job, a human simply grabs its arms, simulates the desired task, and presses a button to set the pattern.

Brad Stone,Smarter Robots, With No Wage Demands, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, September 18, 2012.


Anyone who endured Macroeconomics 101 was taught that recessions and depressions occur because of insufficient demand or from overproduction and a general glut of things that no one can buy. This explains the still popular Washington economic cure, which involves artificially generating more economic demand via federal outlays.

The opposite perspective emerges from Say’s Law (named after Jean-Baptiste Say): the proposition that supply creates its own demand when economies are unshackled.

Wayne Crews, Stimulating Demand Misses the Point, Forbes Magazine, September 26, 2011.


Now that we are so far away from the trauma of 2008, experts generally agree that policies haven’t worked as expected – but they continue to hope that GDP growth will produce massive job growth.  That hope is based on a shared belief that increases in GDP require equivalent increases in job growth.

The two sides offer competing formulas for stimulating GDP growth, but both rest on this belief.  Liberals call for increasing consumer demand (demand side economics), which in turn should generate more investment and more jobs.  Conservatives call for increasing investor funds (supply side economics), which in turn should increase hiring and then generate more consumer demand.  Both formulas end up in the same place: high GDP growth and a low unemployment rate.

The key connection for both formulas is the belief that the production of commodities that will be sold in markets is primarily dependent on human activity.  More production requires more human activity.

Well into the 20th century this belief had considerable validity.  It no longer does.  Machine activities have replaced large portions of human activity in the production of commodities for sale in markets, and more machines are being brought on line every day around the world.  Increasingly, machines are not only replacing physical production activities (like assembly line tasks), they are replacing information gathering and decision-making tasks.

In this context, the old formulas for job growth don’t work.  A large amount of investment in buildings and machines produces only a tiny amount of job growth.

In the 21st century, jobs must be created intentionally, not as a byproduct of investment growth or demand growth.  Competing companies can’t do that kind of intentional job creation without putting themselves out of business.

Only governments can intentionally create jobs.