Click here to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM & FM, Friday, June 17, 2011.
It’s probably true for all of us that we reveal the most of ourselves when we are off-the-cuff. Certainly that has been true of President Obama. He is one of the best ever at delivering a prepared speech. The words are carefully chosen, his delivery is flawless and he is able to assume the air of Learned Professor-in-Chief, a man of soaring intellect and limitless vision.
But it has been the president’s ad lib remarks that have revealed a man trapped in the cloister of the faculty lounge, detached from the real world just outside. Such was the case this week when he appeared on NBC’s Today Show.
Struggling to defend the fact that nearly a trillion dollars in “stimulus” has done nothing but deepen the nation’s debt without mitigating its grinding unemployment, the president revealed – again – a near total lack of understanding of free markets.
The president said there are, “…structural issues with the economy. You see it when you go to a bank you use the ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller.”
So there you have it. Since Obama became president, banks began installing ATMs and laying off untold thousands of tellers.
But doesn’t it seem that ATMs were pretty much everywhere during those long-ago days when unemployment stood at about five percent?
It must seem that way to a company called Diebold. Founded in 1859, Diebold made safes and other security products for the banking industry.
In the 1970s, the company began dabbling in the first ATMs. Today, the manufacturing and servicing of ATMs accounts for 70 percent of Diebold’s $2.8 billion in revenues and occupies most of its 7,000 employees.
The ATM was revolutionary. It changed the way we bank and we like it. Deposit your paycheck, get cash for the baby sitter and do it whenever it suits your convenience pretty much wherever you happen to be. What’s not to like?
We often complain about the fees we pay our banks. But we’d complain a lot more if every bank transaction still required a one-on-one human interface as it did before ATMs.
As for ATMs killing jobs, there are nearly half a million ATMs in the country today employing thousands of workers to stock them with cash, process their transactions, maintain the data networks that support them and keep them repaired. None of these jobs existed in 1970.
Meanwhile, it’s not even factually true that the tellers are gone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of tellers employed by banks grew by seven percent in the past decade as banks dramatically increased branch locations.
In fairness to the president, a portion of what he was trying to say is true. After massive layoffs in 2008 and 2009, employers are not eager to hire because we have all found ways to do what we’re doing with fewer people.
The operative phrase, however, is, “what we’re doing.” It’s what we’re not doing that is the problem. We’re not pushing new initiatives and new ideas on the order of what the ATM was in the 1970s. Small businesses aren’t opening new territories or rolling out new products and services. Not if doing so requires the certain depletion of cash weighed against an all too uncertain increase in business.
We’re just trying to hang on.
This is America. You can believe that thousands of job-creating ATM-scale innovations and millions of ideas to grow businesses big and small are gestating in corporate R&D departments and in the minds of entrepreneurs right now – needing only the confidence to risk the capital to act on them.
But when we look at professor-cum-President Obama, and listen to what he says and realize that his understanding of how business works is academic, theoretical, almost entirely wrong and demonstrably capable of spawning ruinously bad policy, that confidence is hard to muster.