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Jobs, Markets and Technology

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    We've talked about the impact on jobs on changing market conditions (e.g. consumer tastes) and technology (e.g. robots) on jobs, but these topics are often less prominent than cheap labor overseas (e.g. China, Mexico). For politicians like Trump and Bernie Sanders, foreign countries "stealing your jobs" has more emotional appeal on voters than "that robot is stealing your job" or "why people stopped buying our products" (e.g. competition, or better mouse trap).

    The latest potential job killer is weed killing robots that are threatening the giant chemical companies profits and jobs at those companies. These machines built by EcoRobotix "roll through fields, using computer vision to target and spray individual weeds as they go. EcoRobotix claims its robo-brigade will decrease total herbicide use by a factor of 20. You might even be able to get a smaller version for your home garden once the technology is refined.

    Reducing herbicide use by a factor of 20 will have an emotional appeal for environmentalists, but the impact on jobs at these chemical companies could be devastating -- ditto for those crop dusting pilots and planes. Much like the coal miners opposing environmentalists we could find the chemical company workers attacking environmentalists as well. But in this case, it is the market that drives the technology and not the environmentalist, although no doubt they will be cheering.

    We already have robots that are used in crop harvesting, so it makes sense that a robots could be used for spot killing of weeds rather than having those crop dusting airplanes spraying indiscriminate amounts of Roundup herbicides all over the place, wind or no wind.


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    When the income gap widens that means the people that spend money have less money to spend. On the other end the people that already had more money that they could spend get more money. They tend to put that exra money in foundations and trusts and low risk investments. They don't invest as much in jobs producing ventures. That is why jobs were lost. I don't think I have ever heard Bernie say "stealing jobs" and his actions are toward spending new money to create jobs. A transactional tax like Bernie proposed would encourage investment money to become more productive. That would create new jobs. New self funding jobs would raise labor income. That would put more money in the hands of more people who would spend it. That is prosperity and that is the direction Bernie is heading. His plans would be funded by the people benefiting from them.
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    Thanks for sharing that Cary Grant crop duster scene from North by Northwest. I remember it. It's appropriate. I had to chuckle in watching it now, but not the first time.
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    Glad you liked it, I am very into old flicks, Hitchcock made some dandy's.

    I can see robots weeding, why not. People these days are into organic, no pesticides, and when we buy produce, how do we know what kind and how much are we ingesting? we simply don't know. Not that organics might be any better, without properly growing stuff in the fields, there's other things as we've seen of late, e coli, and other food borne illnesses.

    Many different disease-causing germs( can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections. CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

    When I worked for the Lawrence County Highway Department in southern Illinois, we used paraquat to spray around bridges and some waterways to kill vegetation where it couldn't be mowed or chopped down, one worker developed a sore throat that lasted for days, plus she had nausea. She ended up going to a ER for treatment. Back then we weren't using masks, gloves or any protective equipment. The county just didn't provide us with any as I recall. Paraquat like roundup is very nasty stuff. My mom & dad used Sevin dust in their vegetable garden, you had to wash your veggies thoroughly before eating.

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    Chet -- As I understand it, the US does not have a shortage of capital for investment. However, following the Great Recession the venture capitalists, banks and other financial institutions are more cautious about lending money for risky ventures. Even major corporations that were given a huge tax windfall to hopefully stimulate investment and job growth decided instead to buy back their own stock rather than invest in ventures with risky low rates of returns.

    Furthermore, there are plenty of good paying jobs available in the private sector, but many of the unemployed or underemployed lack the skills to fill those jobs. Job retraining opportunities are not working out as planned because in many cases the potential employees are not mobile for relocation even with job retraining.

    Those unemployed Americans who are trying to reenter the workforce after being unemployed for a long period of time have also had difficulty -- they are less desirable for whatever reasons. That's not fair, but that's reality. Unless you are continually employed, your job skills erode over time.

    Certainly consumer demand would increase by raising wages including the minimum wage of existing emplyees, but increasing the total workforce employment is a bigger hurdle for the reasons cited.

    Without the private sector investing, that leaves the government. Even if local, state and federal governments wanted to engage in a massive infrastructure program (assuming money was not an issue), the lack of critical skills on the projects would limit how fast these projects could get off the ground and effectively stimulate the economy. When Obama tried it in 2009, we found out that we didn't have that many "shovel ready" projects ready to go. The situation is probably worse now for any high tech project unless we import skilled labor.