“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.”
I have a hard time believing the President really thinks ATMs and airport kiosks are hurting the economy. Innovation is tricky for politicians because its payoff date is generally further out than the politician’s term of office. Innovation is destructive, in part: it kills portions of the economy that, while still productive, are no longer efficient. Politicians love reaping the fruits of the upswing in the innovation cycle, but hate suffering through the painful readjustment periods.
The time-horizons problem particularly haunts liberals (see generally FLG), but politics is politics. One of the questions asked of the GOP presidential candidates the other night was what you’d do to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. If you’re really for innovation and undeterred by long time horizons, the answer is simple: “Build More Robots.” But of course no one answered “Build More Robots.” We have a surplus of uneducated labor waiting for unskilled or moderately skilled jobs, not for building and tending to ever more sophisticated machines.
It would have been taking the question too literally, anyway. The question wasn’t asking for an economic answer but a political one. Reading between the lines, the question is really “how do we get through this painful readjustment period?” You’ll be hard pressed to find an economist and a politician who will answer that question the same way.