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Commentary

Is Steve Jobs Killing Jobs?


     
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Jesse Jackson, Jr. recently claimed that the iPad is “eliminating thousands of American jobs.” The Chicago Congressman and the son of a civil rights icon argued that people no longer need to go to Borders or Barnes and Noble because after all, they can simply download books and read them on mobile devices. He asks about the fates of the bookstores, the publishers, and all the other “jobs associated with paper.” Mr. Jackson’s claim exemplifies a fundamental problem with politics, namely, that someone can make such ludicrous statements with a straight face.

In this clip, Mr. Jackson discusses how the iPad is killing jobs in the publishing industry and in pretty much anything related to paper. He manages to roll Luddism, class warfare, make-work bias, and xenophobia into a very tight and passionate two minutes.

It’s true that as people buy iPads, Kindles, iPhones, and other mobile devices, some doors might close in the paper and publishing industries. The iPad, however, exemplifies the process of what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” Innovation might close one door, but it opens several others.

There is also an important lesson that derives from both Frederic Bastiat’s classic essay “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen” and Henry Hazlitt’s classic Economics in One Lesson, which builds on and elaborates on Bastiat’s point. Mr. Jackson is focusing on the very visible costs of reduced employment in sectors that might compete with electronic publishing, but he ignores the less-obvious benefits.

And there are many. iPads open whole new ways of communicating with people that we are only beginning to understand. They are not merely substitutes for books, magazines, and newspapers. The number of things I can do with my iPad and my iPhone truly boggles the mind. When I got a Kindle, I was surprised to see just how smooth the transition is from paper books to e-readers. When I travel, I can carry hundreds of books with me effortlessly. I can conduct business from anywhere with an iPad. I’m able to turn previously-wasted time into productive time because I have powerful mobile devices.

The benefits don’t stop with me. Our pediatrician uses an iPad, and we are (again) only beginning to see the ways that this technology will make health care cheaper and more productive. Our ability to use e-readers and mobile devices not merely for reading but also for gathering information, managing appointments and reservations at doctors’ offices, restaurants, and other service establishments will lead to even greater productivity across the board. Our church just released an app for the iPhone and the iPad. With apps and programs like the Khan Academy—which provides short modules on mathematics and other subjects at all levels—and other initiatives, even college professors might someday become obsolete.

Yes, there will be some people who lose jobs in the publishing industry and elsewhere, but perhaps you have heard it said that God does not close a door without opening a window. When left alone, the market process opens two, three, five, or ten windows and doors for every door it closes. We don’t know exactly what these doors will be, but this is part of the wonder of the market process: when people are free to cooperate voluntarily, they are able to use their creative minds to come up with new and better ways to do things that we cannot possibly comprehend today—or that limited minds such as mine cannot begin to understand.

I humbly suggest that the Congressman read Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson before raising this issue again. He can download it from iBooks for $9.99, or he can download a PDF of an older version for $0. Or he can just watch Robert Murphy explain the relevant chapter in this short video. Perhaps then he will see the absurdity of his claims.


Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University.
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