mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
The Robots are Coming
Public Sector Workers to Be Automated Away
Features Icon
show comments
  • WigWag

    The Government won’t save any money; instead all the money government saves on automation will be spent on welfare payments designed to support the newly unemployed workers. This is especially true in Europe which has a robust (and expensive) social safety net, but it is also true in the United States.

    With automation, driverless taxis and trucks, the destruction of American manufacturing and the hordes of immigrants willing to work for next to nothing, how exactly does Professor Mead expect all the laid off workers to support themselves? How many jobs for massage therapists, personal life coaches and butlers does the good Professor think there are?

    Besides, as expensive and foolish as employing redundant government workers may be, it represents only a small part of the problem. What about all of the so-called knowledge workers who are employed only because the federal government massively subsidizes their compensation. Professor Mead understands this perfectly well because he is one of the employees living off federal largess.

    He may not be directly employed by the Government, but the employers who pay his salary could not afford his services but for federal subsidies. Think about the sources of Professor Mead’s income, at least the ones that we know about. He’s employed by Bard College and by a think tank, the Hudson Institute.

    How is Bard subsidized by the Government? It pays no federal or state taxes; charitable contributions to Bard are deductible to the donor. If donors make their contributions to Bard in the form of appreciated stock (or other financial or tangible assets) not only is their gift tax deductible but they escape paying capital gains taxes on the appreciation. Bard receives federal grants from various government agencies and it receives an indirect cost payment from the federal government every time one of its professors compete successfully for a federal grant. Of course, we should not forget that the interest rate on student loans as well as various scholarships are underwritten and subsidized by the Federal Government. To put is simply; there would be no faculty at Bard but for the massive federal subsidies that the school receives. It is the same for every prominent college and university in the country.

    Federal workers have a reputation for being lazy and ineffective; there are times I’m sure that reputation is well deserved and times that its not. But whatever laziness characterizes federal employees is dwarfed by the laziness of college faculty. In light of the fact that college faculty only get paid because their employers are so massively subsidized by Government, the sad reality is that the slovenliness of college faculty is made possible by taxpayers, many of whom will never attend college themselves (or have a family member attend college).

    You would have to search far and wide to find a tenured faculty member who teaches more than two courses a semester (many teach one or even none). How much work does that translate into? The way the system is set up, a course is typically requires a faculty member to spend three hours a week in a classroom in front of students. The translation is clear; a faculty member who teaches two courses a semester spends six hours a week actually lecturing students. Of course, faculty object when they’re called lazy by pointing out that they have office hours where they are available to meet with students (usually at most, three hours per week) and that they need to spend considerable time preparing course material and lectures. Of course, for tenured faculty. most of whom have been teaching for years or decades, this is a lie. Little preparation is needed when you’ve taught the same course dozens of times. Faculty also object to being called lazy by pointing out all of the critical research that they do. But as Professor Mead himself has pointed out at Via Meadia many times, the vast majority of what faculty characterizes as research is mostly crap, especially outside of the sciences.

    Not to pick on him, but Professor Mead has hit the daily double. Not only is he employed by Bard, but he’s also a Hudson Institute scholar. How is it that the Hudson Institute can afford to compensate Professor Mead and all its other scholars? Well, just like Bard, Hudson pays no federal or state income taxes and the wealthy donors who make charitable contributions to Hudson to support its work, are able to deduct those contributions from their federal and state taxes. Bard at least makes a pretense of educating its students so there is a rationale, however weak, for the massive federal subsidies that it receives. The can’t be said for the Hudson Institute; most of what it does is serve as a landing pad for our of work politicos in between political stints at the State Department, Defense Department, or the Old Executive Office Building. What do scholars at Hudson and other think tanks actually do? Well, they spend a lot of time writing books and giving speeches. Hudson has some great scholars who write brilliant articles and books; Professor Mead is one and Michael Doran is another. But when Doran wrote his recent book about Eisenhower and the Middle East (it was brilliant by the way) or Professor Mead’s new book on Israel comes out in March (I can’t wait to read it), will they return whatever meager profits they make on the books to the Hudson Institute or to the taxpayers who underwrite its work? Of course they won’t. The proceeds from the book become another (if unsubstantial) source of income for the authors.

    It’s pretty good work if you can get it; having taxpayers underwrite a relatively opulent lifestyle where real work is rarely required and you’re paid handsomely to think big thoughts while occasionally committing those big thoughts to paper is a dream job isn’t it Professor Mead?
    At least its a dream job to those poor government employees about to experience penury as their work becomes redundant.

    I don’t know whether Donald Trump will win or lose next week, but I suppose he will probably lose. But what should be dawning on American elites right now (and Mead, being firmly entrenched in the American clerisy qualifies as somewhere between an “A” level and “B” level elite) is that their gig is up. What millions of Republicans and tens of millions of Americans are beginning to realize is that the game is rigged. Our elites are scared to death that their Nirvana is about to collapse. The “heads I win, tails you lose” economy that they have crafted for themselves has been exposed. Millions of Americans are fed-up with it. My guess is that whether Trump wins or loses, the cat is out of the bag.

    You’re great, Professor Mead but here’s your problem. It’s not those redundant government workers who are the cause of our current mess; it’s all the people who do what you do for a living.

    • johngbarker

      Thanks for standing up for us ordinary folks. What events besides the rise of Trump will signal the coming change in the culture?

      • WigWag

        John, one of the things I really appreciate about Trump is that he’s punched the Republican establishment in the face. It’s that Republican establishment that for decades has played bait and switch with GOP voters. They crammed even more money into their already overstuffed pockets by distracting voters with the lie that government workers were greedy, useless bureaucrats, selfishly sucking on the public teet.

        Their dissembling was as self-serving as it was heinous. If he’s done nothing else, Donald Trump has attacked and severely injured the establishment faction in the GOP which is so irredeemably evil.

        Trump doesn’t hate public school teachers, cops, firemen or the workers who wade knee deep in you know what to clean our sewers. The GOP establishment has made a career of disparaging those workers.

        None of this is to say that much of what government workers do isn’t sometimes useless or even destructive. Their needs to be a lot more efficiency imposed on the system which is difficult when everyone, including government workers (and their unions) are looking out for themselves rather than the public good.

        But Trump has exposed the lie perpetrated by the GOP establishment that government workers are lazy good-for-nothing’s while the GOP establishment only has the best interests of the country at heart. It was a dastardly lie and Trump deserves a special place in heaven for exposing the GOP establishment for what it is.

        Of course, if anything, Democrat elites are worse. There was a time that the Democratic Party looked out for the interests of the working man (and woman). Those days are long gone. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats now take pleasure in kicking the working man in the nuts. That’s what Mrs. Clinton means when she brags about throwing coal miners out of work or when she laments the continued existence of the “deplorables”. What the Democrats really care about is genuflecting to Wall Street and assuaging their guilt by cowtowing to gay and transgendered Americans and every racial and ethnic identity group they can find.

        Unlike GOP and Democratic elites, Trump has never cultivated a visceral hatred of working people whether they work in the public or private sector.

        If he’s done nothing else, Trump has unmasked our bipartisan elites. Thanks to him, millions of people, including many who will vote for Hillary realize that all of the aspiring emperors in both political parties are stark raving mad and stark naked.

    • Dan

      Don’t be silly, we will all earn money by giving each other Uber rides.

  • Jim__L

    Wait a minute, weren’t care-jobs supposed to be immune to this kind of thing?

    • Observe&Report

      In this case, “care-jobs” refers to jobs in elderly care homes. Things like serving meals to care home residents can be automated, and there are already robots designed for restaurants going through test trials now that can do just that.

  • Kevin

    I remain a o be convinced that public sector employment will decline. They are employed for political rationales, not economic or efficiency ones.

    • Misanthrope

      Which is why they’re so dm difficult to get rid of – economic considerations don’t matter.

  • stefanstackhouse

    You’ve really got only three possibilities, though: 1) provide some sort of income support (AKA “the dole”) for the long-term unemployed and unemployable (AKA “moochers” or “takers”; 2) let them beg on the streets, homeless and starving; or 3) make government the employer of last resort. Cutting back on public employment would seem to be inconsistent with the third option, so which of the other two would you pick?

    • FriendlyGoat

      Neither. And this is something which is worth considering by blue-haters. We are far better off paying marginal people to work in marginal jobs than we are trying to cope with and PAYING FOR the fallout of massive unemployment inside a land of plenty. Has anybody noticed what lesser lights or other so-called unemployables do when they do not have a sense of purpose? Ever heard of meth and heroin? Ever heard of obesity from TV and potato chips? Ever heard of playing militia in the woods? Ever heard of babies having babies?

      • LarryD

        You assume that marginal people in government jobs only cost their pay and benefits, but they write regulations and cause ever more convoluted hoops the rest of us have to jump through, building up what economists call “friction”. Eventually the whole system will collapse under their weight.

        The businessman, not being a Progressive, was not pursuing maximal profit. Being the owner, he can do that without lawyers lecturing him on his fiduciary responsibility. And his employees, even though marginal, were still productive. This is economically sustainable. Welfare systems encourage dependency. Government bureaucracies burden the entire economy. Both are prone to growing with out limit, until the economy collapses.

        • FriendlyGoat

          I’d prefer them in private sector jobs to government jobs.

          As the accountant, I came to realize that one of the reasons my boss was then so generous (aside from the fact that he had a sensitive spiritual side) was that the federal corporate income tax rate then was 48% plus about 4% for the state and there were then no S-Corps. Wages in general were lower back then, but the principle was this. The company was profitable and paying taxes every year.
          If he made a decision to keep an “extra” person on the payroll at $10,000, the cost to the after-tax bottom line was only about $5,000.
          And, as you point out, such people did add “some” value.

          Today, some people think that tax on any business income should not be over 15%—–not 50%+, like then. For the sake of the people who worked there, I saw the higher rates work much better for THEM. This is one of the reasons I am left-side.

          • Jim__L

            On the other hand, to *add* a person to payroll, the business has to increase revenue by ~$20k per year.

            Growth is slow enough as it is.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Much more to the point, with the massive growth in regulation and mandates (not to mention the expanded ‘worker protection’ laws that make dismissing an employee far more difficult and risky than in the past), it is not only far more expensive to hire an employee who is only marginally productive (if that), it is far more difficult to get rid of one if the business environment changes or the employee turns out to be not only unproductive but a net drag on resources. A wonderful example of this are the various EU countries whose growth rates are lower (and unemployment rates higher) than in the US.

          • Chris Prestridge

            As an accountant also, I disagree. High taxation on companies is bad social policy. The company doesn’t pay taxes, they simply write the check. The end consumer pays all of the taxes. Every single dollar in tax is one dollar less available to offer an employee. Drop the rates to no more than 15% and institute a consumption tax.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Most accountants are familiar with the concept that companies and shareholders do not somehow pay income taxes first and deduct them from what is available to spend on employees. They actually pay personnel expenses and other necessary expenditures first and deduct those from gross revenue to arrive at taxable income. If you have become such a political spinner that you are now demeaning your profession by the deliberate misrepresentation of basic bookkeeping practice, you’re not honest enough to be entrusted with accounting.

          • JR

            Yes, but every dollar they produce is worth only 60 cents under 40% tax climate and 85 cents under 15%. Since you expect your workers to produce marginal dollars you would much rather hire them in a lower cost location. If you don’t know that, well, I pity those for whom you do accounting. Higher taxes impede job growth (as we have seen in Europe, for example, or UK in the 1970’s).
            Seriously, economics is not your strong suite. You should stay more on your own turf of sloganeering, presenting false choices and worshiping at the Church of Statism. You make a lot more sense when you talk about things like that.

          • JR

            And there it is!!!! The plug for higher marginal taxation as mandatory punishment for those who don’t want socialism. It’s not about raising revenue (federal take was never above 20% since WW2 under vastly different marginal tax regimes) but about implementing your preferred social policies. Thank you for your honesty. I appreciate you never hiding your statist side.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Higher marginal taxation can punish George Soros, Barbara Streisand, Warren Buffett and that whole crew from Hollywood and Silicon Valley who seem to understand that Democratic leftism in the USA never kills anything.

            Let’s not forget, okay, that government spending largely finds its way to somebody being hired. Just a few days ago in my state, a privately-held fence company was show-cased on a Chamber of Commerce type show celebrating nearly 50 years in business and bragging on their long term employees. You know what they kept showing as pictures of completed projects? Government work. Fences on bridges. Fences for highways. Fences for parks. Fences for public lands. Fences for military installations. Fences for schools. Yes, they had private-sector work too, but in their case, the notion that government never created a job would have to be a joke.

            Net, net, when you dramatically cut taxes and cut the spending commensurately so as not to increase the deficit, a lot of people are going to be laid off. That’s my “economics” and I’m stickin’ to it.

          • JR

            I’m glad you put “economics” in quotes, because that’s what it is, “economics”. Increasing taxes doesn’t increase tax receipts, it merely creates more incentive to not pay taxes. Human beings act in their own self interest, when it becomes in their self interest to cheat on their taxes. All your bleating won’t stop it. To pretend it won’t happen is just silly.
            Finally, your first paragraph is as good an example as any of why i find you so terrifying. You seem to relish the chance to have men with guns, which is what the state ultimately is, punish people you don’t like. Believe it or not, I don’t want that. Even if it applies to a creature as loathsome as Soros.I want my government to dispense services and collect revenue for those services as efficiently as possible. Enough handouts, institute a basic universal income if you like, but employing people for the sake of employing them is stupid. Like rubber rooms in GM. Didn’t stop the place from going under.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, JR, I am aware of what you believe and what you “want”. But it mostly does not square with reality. The public sector in America is huge and likely to stay huge. The more it stays huge, the more America can be either “great” or “great again”.

          • JR

            But your policies lead to less taxes being collected which leads to that huge state being unaffordable, leading to cuts in services to the communities you pretend to care about. I’m sure the example of Detroit means nothing to you. Your economic model doesn’t work in reality. You can’t point out a single time it worked. Yet you insist it is the only right way. I honestly don’t understand why….

          • FriendlyGoat

            The single time it worked is the entire century of income taxes just completed in the United States and the unprecedented prosperity of this country in the history of the world during that period.

        • Makaden

          I’ll say this as someone working in local government. I find it hilarious that conservatives rail about red tape when so much of it is brought into being by the very same conservatives railing against someone who was corrupt–caught, and prosecuted. These conservatives point to such corruption, at least at the local scale, as a reason to hate government, which puts pressure on even the most conservative of the local politicians to “do something” to fix the problem. That “do something” almost always involves the creation of red tape.

          • Chris Prestridge

            What I find amusing is lefties whom infer it is people railing against the system whom are actually writing the legislation.

            The regulatory burden is born of both parties, enabling the pols to line their pockets and give their cronies high paying jobs. No less than a third of all g’ment jobs should be eliminated. None of these people provide revenue for society, they take. Some are needed like teachers and the military. A significant number are not. G’ment employees should also be stripped of collective bargaining. The are public employees and should have zero right to bargain for anything.

    • Jim__L

      Why do you assume Government the only source of charity? Why are you assuming that household structure must remain with the modern (a.k.a., within the last couple of decades) two-and-a-half breadwinner model?

      You’re presenting us with a false choice.

      • f1b0nacc1

        That is what the Left does…provide false choices…

    • Chris Prestridge

      Your choices are a false narrative. The reality is, not a single g’ment employee is a tax revenue provider, they are all takers. Now, there are many jobs that are needed such as the military, police, fire, sanitation, etc and most of us understand the need to fund these positions. However, fully a third, if not more, of g’ment jobs are waste.

      Your argument is false b/c you fail to apply the same standard to g’ment employees as the private sector. These g’ment employees will finally have to do the same as the rest of us. They will have to educate themselves in areas where jobs are prevelant. We, the private sector, owe them nothing. They get no special treatment. They either adapt or don’t. Currently, they are nothing more than a drain on society and cause ever increasing taxes.

  • J K Brown

    The very definition of bureaucrat is someone controlled by regulation and policy and lacking the freedom for independent decision making under a general mandate to make a profit as is someone in the market economy. Such jobs are already halfway automated.

  • JR

    Why do we need to do anything when the obvious solution is staring us right in the face? What we need to do is raise taxes to confiscatory levels above a certain random number determined by Comrade FG. With that, there will be money for every single progressive unicorn under the sun. Let’s get to it!!!

  • Fifty Ville

    For some reason, I can hardly see the need for a robot to stand around leaning on a shovel and looking at a smartphone.

  • catorenasci

    We could eliminate 3/4 of federal, state and local government bureaucrats combining automation with a rational reduction in regulation.

  • uburoi

    I’m listening to the conversation of people trying to sort out problems with a municipal billing system that was two years and several million over budget, and it still doesn’t work right six months after implementation.

    The bureaucracy isn’t smart enough to automate itself.

  • Gospace

    I’m wondering why there are toll takers at any bridge, tunnel, or toll highway booth. EZ-Pass or equivalent should be set for all of them.

  • Seanzorelli

    The bureacracy must grow to meet the demands of an ever-growing bureacracy. Same as it ever was.

  • Misanthrope

    Install the robots and just let them sit there. Don’t even turn them on. They’ll do just as much work as the drones they replace.

  • Robert What?

    Great news for taxpayers, though

    Would that it were true. Government rarely lowers taxes, even in the rarer case that they spend less.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service