Sunday, February 20, 2011

Creating jobs. Or not.

The local library closed for construction just over a year ago.  The sign on the door said that it would be closed until summer.  Summer came and went and the sign said that the library would open at the start of winter.  Winter came and still the construction was not done and the sign claimed the reopening would take place in the spring.  Finally 2 weeks ago the library reopened with a new layout, new carpets, new everything.  The place seemed nice enough and some of the changes were excellent:  The children's section bookshelves are now short enough that children can actually reach all the books and the children's videos have a nice section for themselves instead of just being on a random cart.  The best change from the perspective of a child though is the change to checking out.  Instead of lining up to get checked out by a person we can just flash our card to a scanner and then place all our materials in a stack on a special pad.  The pad registers everything we want to take out and when the screen shows green we can take everything home.  I don't know how it works but it seems to work well and certainly eliminates the need for several people to stand at desks to do the utterly mindless job of checking out books for people.

The thing I found amusing was that when we were leaving I saw a sign talking about how this library change was creating jobs for Toronto.  Now last time I checked when you set up a machine to do the job a person used to do you aren't creating jobs!  Certainly there must have been people employed in the construction (given the ridiculous lateness I question whether anyone involved was competent) but long term the library has neatly slashed a number of jobs.  They have done so in a way that is good for the users of the library since they have several machines available which gets people through much quicker than the old system but talking about making jobs seems a bit deceptive.  As usual of course the jobs that get cut are the ones that a machine is best at:  simple, repetitive and without any creativity necessary.  Of course the people that get cut from these positions are those that end up in simple, repetitive, noncreative jobs, so they are also the people that have trouble finding work other places.

Not that I object to automating jobs!  Lots of people get up in arms about jobs being cut without really understanding how that affects society as a whole.  If cutting trivial jobs just pushed up unemployment we would have massive unemployment now and society would be crumbling around us.  The fact is that when we free up trivial tasks people find other things to do and other ways to spend their money.  More of us end up designing websites, cutting hair, making sales pitches and doing all the other things people do to provide services to one another.  This change from people doing repetitive physical tasks to more complex social tasks has been taking place for nearly all of human history and has been dramatic in the last few decades in particular.  Having more jobs around is all well and good but we should recognize that the natural progression of people working on different tasks will involve removing jobs just as we add new ones.  Also, how the heck does a 4 month construction project to renovate a building turn into a 10 month project?  Construction drives me absolutely nuts.


  1. Everything creates jobs! Cutting taxes obviously creates jobs since businesses can hire more people and raising taxes creates jobs since governments can now hire people. Everyone wins!

  2. Those scanning machines didn't design and build themselves. Clearly jobs were created there, too!

    As far as construction taking forever it comes down to too many jobs and not enough workers. So if a project screws them around at all the work just doesn't get done since the contractors will just do other stuff instead. Construction at my work has taken like a year longer than expected because they were late on a payment or something so the workers just left to do other jobs instead. Capitalism at its finest.