Bastiat's One-Hand Solution to Job Losses

by: Mark J. Perry

According to David Brooks writing in today's NY Times, it's a "problem" that "Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises."

Don Boudreaux speculates that David Brooks probably "uses computers, word-processing software, ink-jet printers, e-mail, and other modern techniques that increase his productivity (and, thus, that cause the amount of time that he and others spend producing punditicities to crater even as their output rises)." In that case, Don wonders why Brooks "bemoan[s] increasing worker productivity in the manufacturing sector?"

Q: Would Brooks also consider it to be a "problem" that "agriculture employment has been catering for 200 years even as farm output rises to record high levels" as a direct result of significant increases in farm worker productivity?
David Brooks is sounding a lot like President Obama, who recently linked productivity and efficiency gains to job losses, as Russ Roberts pointed out recently in his WSJ op-ed "Obama vs. ATMs: Why Technology Doesn't Destroy Jobs."
If Obama and Brooks really want to "maximize jobs" in manufacturing, banking, farming, or any other industry, they should consider an effective job-creation program from more than 150 years ago in France by economist Frederic Bastiat. In 1845, as a solution to counteract job losses in some French domestic industries like textiles due to free trade, Bastiat proposed to the King of France that he "forbid all loyal subjects to use their right hands."

Bastiat predicted that "as soon as all right hands are either cut off or tied down, things will change. Twenty times, thirty times as many embroiderers, pressers and ironers, seamstresses, dressmakers and shirtmakers, will not suffice to meet the national demand."

"Yes, we may picture a touching scene of prosperity in the dressmaking business. Such bustling about! Such activity! Such animation! Each dress will busy a hundred fingers instead of ten. No young woman will any longer be idle. Not only will more young women be employed, but each of them will earn more, for all of them together will be unable to satisfy the demand."

Bottom Line: If manufacturing job losses are a "problem" due to technology and productivity gains, an effective "solution" would be to forbid all American workers from using their right hands. By adopting Bastiat's proposal, we could immediately stop the "cratering" of manufacturing employment that David Brooks laments, and dramatically increase the number of new, one-handed manufacturing workers by millions.