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On the economics of automation

2011-05-13

This blog post discusses the importance of automation in programming, but makes some pretty deep statements about economics in general.

The whole point of automation is not to take away jobs, or solely to optimize at a new capital-to-labor ratio on the isocost curve. The point of automation is to make everyone’s lives better. A washing machine is not merely a machine that washes clothes. It’s a machine that gives you time with your child, or makes it possible to study for a new academic degree, or allows you to take a vacation every year. Every moment saved by machines is a moment spent doing something more desirable.

That’s why I’ve never understood the repeated lamentation that all the good manufacturing jobs are drying up. Good manufacturing jobs? If the job can be replaced by a machine, it’s not a good job, almost by definition, because that’s time you can use to do something more fulfilling.  And if you don’t have the motivation to do something more engaging than work at a machine in an assembly plant, then you better find it. Human advancement isn’t going to lag behind just for you.

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