ATMs And Automation

by Jonah Goldberg

Barack Obama says that the bad economy isn’t his fault because of things like ATM machines:

“There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.”


Now I don’t think his idea is without merit. The technological revolutions of the last few decades and the challenges of globalization have changed the nature of our economy in significant ways. But I’m not sure how you can possibly blame ATMs. Aside from the myriad ways in which ATMs boost efficiency, liquidity, consumer spending (and don’t forget all of the jobs created for technicians and manufacturers of ATM machines), I’m not sure you can even blame a drop in bank teller jobs on bank machines. This is just a quick take, but just think about it for two seconds. The number of bank branches has soared in recent years. Those branches need human tellers (and bank machines). That’s why the BLS predicted that teller jobs would grow about 6% from 2008 to 2018 (it predicted other banking jobs would grow as well). That estimate may be lower now because of the recession, but that’s the recession’s fault — i.e. in Obama’s political wheelhouse — and not because of the “structural” issues Obama’s trying to pass the blame off to.

For instance, consider this:

At the dawn of the self-service banking age in 1985, for example, the United States had 60,000 automated teller machines and 485,000 bank tellers. In 2002, the United States had 352,000 ATMs – and 527,000 bank tellers.

Guess who was president in 2002.

Meanwhile, Obama does want to make some structural changes to the economy that will destroy very good paying jobs in the energy sector. If his clean energy-win-the-future-regulate-carbon proposals were implemented, it would throw vast numbers of people out of work in the coal, oil and gas industries. And there’s zero reason to believe that the “green jobs” he would replace them with would be better paying. And, we’d all pay more for more expensive energy, either as consumers or as taxpayers footing the bills for subsidies.

If you want to talk about job-killing structural issues, that’s a good place to start.

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