In 1900 there were 100,000 horses in New York City. That many horses required a huge number of employees of a wide variety of industries to maintain, feed and clean up after them, in addition to any of the jobs created by the horse-power itself. With the rise of the automobile, the horses have all but left and with them probably tens of thousands of jobs. Do we mourn that?
No, that’s progress.
Walter Williams opines that all such job destruction makes us richer.
In 1790, farmers were 90 percent, out of a population of nearly 3 million, of the U.S. labor force. By 1900, only about 41 percent of our labor force was employed in agriculture. By 2008, fewer than 3 percent of Americans were employed in agriculture. Through labor-saving technological advances and machinery, our farmers are the world’s most productive. As a result, Americans are better off.
In 1970, the telecommunications industry employed 421,000 workers as switchboard operators, annually handling 9.8 billion long-distance calls. Today the telecommunications industry employs only 78,000 operators. That’s a tremendous 80 percent job loss. What happened? The answer: There have been spectacular labor-saving advances in telecommunications. Today more than 100 billion long-distance calls a year require only 78,000 switchboard operators. What’s more is the cost of making a long-distance call is a tiny fraction of what it was in 1970. Can we say these technological innovations made the nation worse off?
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