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Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Today's Capitalism ad absurdam moment

Today I got a new "SmartMeter" installed on my house, one of 18 million American homes which have or will have received a new meter. In principle a good thing for two reasons - one, it is expected (or, I should say, hoped) this new system will reduce energy usage as people are better able to monitor its use, and two, it removes the need for a meter reader to periodically visit each house, eliminating the use of fossil fuel used to make those visits, and also freeing up human beings from unnecessary work.

Ah, but there's the capitalism ad absurdam rub! Under socialism, this change would be an unmitigated benefit - the needs of society being met with fewer labor hours, freeing people up to enjoy art, walk in the woods, read a book, or whatever they want to do. But under capitalism, what we have is one more unemployed person, ultimately unable even to afford that now remotely-monitored electricity because of the lack of income to pay the bill.

Now I searched to see if I could find how many jobs will be lost, and the answer is 11,400. But, and remember this is a study conducted by the "the GridWise Alliance trade group," the claim is that 48,300 new utility positions will be created, along with 117,700 jobs for direct suppliers to utilities of equipment like smart meters and services like demand response management, and another 79,300 jobs for companies supplying those direct suppliers. Really? My electricity company is paying millions of dollars to install new meters which is going to force them to increase their payroll? I think not. And yes, there are people making the new smart meters, clearly. But there were also people making the old "dumb" meters, too. Either those are the same people, working for a company which has shifted from making dumb to smart meters, or else those people are out of a job while other people are getting jobs making smart meters. Either way I'm, to put it mildly, skeptical about the creation of any new jobs, at least on a long-term basis. Yes, of course in the short-term, if you're making something obsolete, new jobs will be created. But once all the old meters are replaced, and the duration of the update plan is only months or a few years, then we'll be back to the "steady-state" mode, where presumably the number of people employed making smart meters for new houses will be more or less the same as the number of people currently making dumb meters, but now without the need for the people to read the meters.

All in all, it's capitalism ad absurdam once again. Less and less work producing what would be a better and better world to live in, were it not for the fact that no one will be employed to actually afford all those nice things. Socialism, anyone?

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