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Statement on Labor and Automation


Warren Jones, Lana Rubalsky (2010) "Statement on Labor and Automation", wJones Research, May 14, 2010
Poll Results: Smart Machines OK

On Feb 15, 1962, US President John F. Kennedy declared automation “as the major domestic challenge of the Sixties -- to maintain full employment at a time when automation, of course, is replacing men.1

Nearly fifty years later, a typical American worker made no product of labor. He shopped in malls and markets where except for groceries, medicines, financial services and easily copyable media, the goods he or she consumed were made in another country and often bought with money borrowed from the savings of citizens in another country.

Requirements for Wealth

In 1776, Adam Smith explained in a treatise on the Wealth of Nations, that if Britain manufactured products its people were best skilled at making, and traded with France which made the products its people were best able to make, then wealth would expand.

Two hundred years later, many Americans believed that wealth would expand without balance of trade. They believed wealth could be generated by owning a trademark for a product manufactured completely elsewhere. They anticipated economic benefit from a multiplier effect that no longer applied when goods sold entailed no domestic factory, no people employed by the factory, no people employed by its suppliers, no domestic transportation systems to move raw goods to the factory, and no raw materials processing for suppliers to the factory ... within national boarders.

Tens of trillions of dollars of treasury and housing debt highlight a grim reality, that a country that makes no products, can generate no wealth. For a country to honor its obligations from decades of borrowing, it must achieve a balance of trade in which it produces more than it consumes.

The reason for America’s shift from manufacturer to consumer, from lender to debtor may have strong root in attitudes expressed in Kennedy’s press conference. To the question of automation’s role concerning labor, i.e. “How can men and women lead lives of purposeful employment when smart machines will be employed?” America seemed to concede manual labor to machines. Government2, education and business3 assumed and prepared for a future where the machine would eventually perform all manual tasks, and focused children and workers of age on non-manual, “white collar” pursuits. Schools stopped teaching basic wood, metal and machine work skills. Companies engaged in labor intensive businesses looked for new opportunities.

A Loss of Leadership

Contrary to fears, America did not transfer its labor to machines, particularly labor required for manufacturing. Instead, it lost its leading position as a manufacturer. There were several reasons for this outcome including:

  1. Once the workforce was directed away from manufacturing, America never built the robots and other machines needed to drive automation. Schools stopped teaching basic metal and machine skills, venture capital stopped flowing into new factories, and eventually there was no business infrastructure to build advanced machines. Eventually, multi-national companies would substitute low paid overseas workers for the anticipated automation.
  2. Automation was never going to “replace,” only “augment” labor. Machines can only expand the output of human intention. By its very nature, a machine cannot entirely replace people in any “human” endeavor.
  3. Manufacturing is an essential part of a local economy. Even if machines could make products without people, “domestic” manufacturing would still be required. Fundamental components of ecological efficiency break down when the vast majority of goods are transported over long distance, consumed and dumped as waste.
  4. Economic growth is based upon a multiplier effect that anticipates locally manufactured goods. When manufacturing is lost, related industries such as parts supply, product service, consulting, training, raw materials, communications, legal, medical, food service, packaging, distribution, employment services, retail, security, insurance and banking are also lost.
  5. Manual labor is essential to sustaining an ecosystem of innovation. A base of skilled labor is the resource pool for aspiring skilled craftsmen and designers. To craft a perfect power drill, design a beautiful motorcycle, form a baseball bat with a perfect grip or carve an aluminum case for an laptop4, industry needs a “farm team” employed in the art of making things. Experimentation, product design, construction process design, package design and testing all require skills enhanced by manual labor.
  6. Part of the nature of community is the exchange between local consumers and suppliers. Communities strengthen when people sell products made with pride and ownership to people they know.

Tools for Competitive Industry

The stored purpose computer design anticipates that machines will augment, not replace human labor. It offers a path toward making tools that support balanced trade, enabling localities with higher labor costs and a greater commitment to technology to compete and exchange with regions of lower labor costs.

The agent templates that comprise Stored Purpose machine types, are being designed to understand and serve the needs and expectations of people with great precision and subtlety. They are being designed to store analogs of human goals and experience with strict controls on Purpose, Goal Pursuit and Learning. In short, stored purpose systems were designed to become good companions to workers.


Cherry Pie
Doctor’s Office
Home Based Textiles


1 p 184, Automation and technological change By American Assembly, John Thomas Dunlop
2 p 35, Automation and the workplace : selected labor, education, and training issues : a technical memorandum. DIANE Publishing. Technology and manufacturing: changes in instructional requirements - Discussion of the impacts of automation on education and training for the American worker are hardly new. The National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress (hereafter “Automation Commission”), in its 1966 report, noted shifts in skill requirements occurring during that decade… The Commission observed: The encouragement of an adaptable labor force fostered through education and training .. facilitation of adjustment to technical and other change … See Fig 8.
3 p 19, Handbook of design, manufacturing, and automation By Richard C. Dorf, Andrew Kusiak. “Impact on Labor - The future automated factory will have a reduced number of workers and little or no direct labor participation in production. Automation means substitution of machines for human workers. The implications for direct labor in factory operations are clear: unskilled workers will not be needed to tend production machines and to perform manual labor tasks.”
4 16 minutes, Objectified, Jonathan Ive. .. a product that goes through multiple operations to end up with this part … what you see is a dramatic transformation to get from this … to this. But what we end up with this one part, and this one part really does enable this product. So much of the effort behind a product like the MacBook Air was experimenting with different processes. The way that you hold, to get from this part to this part … there are incredibly complex fixtures and we end upon spending lots of time figuring out fixtures ... it was figuring out process.

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