Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It’s technologies fault that we have so much unemployment

A couple of years ago, I was making a presentation to a group of about 250 CPA’s, Certified Public Accountants. Before the talk I was back stage with one of the other presenters. This guy was from one of the big CPA firms and had just returned from working in Europe for one of his tax clients.

During my conversation I asked him about technology in Europe. In his words, “Europe has not embraced technology because it doesn’t do them any good.” It seems that In Europe you can’t lay anybody off so there is no incentive to use computers when they still need to have the people there. I was thinking about that conversation recently as I watched six or seven workers outside my office window tearing up a street and laying new cement. There weren’t many workers walking around with shovels, they were utilizing big machines and technology to build the new road. Anything that needed to be moved was done with a backhoe or a frontend loader. I don’t think I ever saw over ten workers and that was when they were pouring cement. So even “shovel ready” jobs are not going to create a lot of jobs unless they mandate that everything be done by hand.

Actually President Obama was right when he said that ATM’s were part of the employment problem. You don’t need tellers if people are using ATM’s.

Recently I read in Reuters that since 1999 business investment in equipment and software has surged 33% while the total number of people employed by private firms (not the government) has changed very little. The gap between man and machine widened even further in 2008 and 2009 during the recession. You can see why the United States is struggling to bring down employment which is stuck at 9%. I know my clients that went through the 2008 and 2009 recession have not significantly increased their number of employees because they are able to get by with the people they have.

Here is a personal example: I know that in our small accounting office we have 20 to 25 people employed depending on the time of year. I estimate that if we did not have computers and software and two or three monitors on everybody’s desk and internet access, etc. we would need fifty to seventy-five people to do the same amount of work we are doing right now. We used to have one person who worked part-time, just updating our paper tax library. Right now our tax library is out on the cloud and we don’t need that person working part-time. The same is true with our mail room and our filing. Everything is electronically filed.

I guess this is progress and we have to wait for the workforce to get caught up to the progress. I think we can see that it’s more than just the economy that is causing the problem with unemployment.