The character Flik in the movie A Bug’s Life was always on the lookout for an invention that would improve the lot of his ant colony. In the story, the ants were the hard-working productive creatures who simply labored as they were intended to. Given their plight they had little time to do anything else. Flik was always on the lookout for a way to break the endless cycle of grueling labor they performed every summer. He was passionate, inventive, and resolute despite the trouble these characteristics caused him in the ant colony.
I can empathize with Flik’s spirit of innovation. Inventions often make life easier, a win for both me and for the person who has made my life better. While labor is certainly a wholesome way to produce, labor-intensive tasks that can be made less painful are welcomed by just about everybody. Labor-Saving Devices, be it a faster lawn mower, a snow blower, or self-checkout at the grocer, are a net gain for all of us.
I’d rather spend two hours figuring out an easier way to perform a 20-minute task because I’d rather not get my hands dirty or lift a heavy object. I’d rather spend half an hour automating my Mac to perform tasks that would take me minutes to do manually. Some might view this as pursuant to laziness, but I view it as a potential investment in efficiency. If there’s a chance this new task will become a new habit, then I’m determined to make the task simpler and capitalize on my time. This, my friends, is the opposite of laziness!
Over 100 years of technological history ought to be evidence enough that technological improvements make our lives better. Yet somehow the myth survives that LSDs “take our jobs away.” Recently a friend told me he has chosen to avoid the self-checkout lanes at the grocer because the traditional lane contributed to a real person’s job. (I’m not sure who created the self-checkout technology, but I’m guessing it was a real person). The logic behind such decisions puzzles me. I choose the traditional lane because it’s usually faster where I buy groceries, and I often use it as an opportunity to encourage the real person doing the job of a machine! But I’m not under the illusion that I’m “saving” this person’s job. Surely my friend would object to a proposal that movie-goers leave candy wrappers and empty popcorn buckets on the floor as they exit the theater under the auspices of “job security” for somebody else!
Labor, like any natural resource, is scarce. Even multitasking humans can only perform so much at once. What is unique about labor is that behind it is a mind that can adjust and be put to use in myriad ways. The displaced worker at the checkout counter can now use his intellect somewhere other than mindlessly sliding goods from a conveyor belt down an angled bin into a bag. The displaced potato chip quality control overseer can now stop watching chips on a slower conveyor belt and use her intellect somewhere else in the production line (HT2 EconTalk for this simply awesome podcast). Laborers are free to contribute to more beneficial tasks for the betterment of themselves and society. Lest we believe we should always be doing exactly the same thing years from now, embracing LSDs will always yield a more prosperous society.
(It ought to be clear what the meaning of “LSD” is here. Neither I nor LCC condone, encourage, or excuse the use of LSD, this case notwithstanding.)
Art Carden proofread this essay and provided suggestions for improvement.