by Tyler Cowen
on December 31, 2011 at 9:54 am
1. What was the least important event of the year?
2. There is no great stagnation.
3. Will cashiers survive?
4. Flexible nominal wages create some new jobs. Monetary accommodation is better, but why is this a supposed disaster?
5. The investment drought.
6. I am pleased to have won an Albie award.
“Monetary accommodation is better, but why is this a supposed disaster?”
The same reason TFA says “a new generation of blue-collar workers, even those protected by unions” instead of “a new generation of blue-collar workers, even those joining labor cartels.”
It is not an inability to understand the economics, or even a rational disagreement with the economics. Rather, it is a rejection of the economics as aesthetically abhorrent.
I don’t like thinking about hard working Joe’s having to get less money for their hard labor. Therefore, I reject reality, and will rail against the “unfairness” of it all.
“Cartels?” Words have connotations beyond their meaning. A cartel is something that allows its owners to live in palaces and buy a new BMW every day of the week.
Cashiers still create value on loose items that don’t have bar codes. That’s not a problem in a Walgreens, but put me in a grocery store with a basket of fruits and vegetables, a cashier is much more efficient.
The grocery stores in my area all have codes put on the fruits via stickers. For those without stickers, you can still navigate the self-checkout screen via pictures.
That said, a cashier is still faster than the self-checkout. Self-checkout is only faster when the alternative is to wait in line for a cashier.
Also, sometimes the auto check lines are down. And some items (e.g., cigarettes and liquor) have to be bought from behind the counter. And some people (to be blunt) are too stupid to use auto check lines. I’ve notived at the CVS near where I work, with auto check, there’s always an attended cash register available plus they have to have someone monitoring the auto check for problems and against theft. I doubt they are saving on labor costs as the place almost never had more than one check lane open anyway (in fact it only had two lanes before they put in auto check).
And sometimes have to wait till they find an employee aged above 21 to do the honors.
Not all states require employees above 21. In many states alcohol can be sold by anyone over 18. And cigarettes can everwyhere.
I don’t see why they don’t allow alcohol self-checkout when using a credit card. EU seems to have cigarette vending machines that verify age using Credit Card Info or an ID scan.
The self-checkout lanes are a monument to the stupidity of mankind. The best way to describe the people who use these lanes is “confused.” It’s an experiment that I hope is quickly abandoned. I avoid these lanes like the plague, and would gladly pay a few dollars more for a checker.
If the goods had some RFID chips that didn’t have to be scanned but rather passed through a scanning zone, it would be better. But customers are still very slow and inefficient baggers of their own groceries.
Self-serve gasoline and ATMs are examples of rather successful implementations.
There must be a generational divide here. I’m 30 and I can blow through the self-checkout area about 50% faster than waiting in line — unless, of course, there’s someone older than me ahead of me in line.
I typically don’t get personable or personal service at any given store (Lowes, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods are the three exceptions I can think of. Hmm, maybe that’s why I frequent those stores.). At Walgreens in particular I’m turned off by cashiers that may as well be machines.
RFID chips allowing for instantaneous payment, if accurate and timely, would be a fantastic idea.
You’re obviously smarter than the average shopper.
To be perfectly honest, I have a hard time finding the bar code and packing my bags quickly. I also get perturbed when light items (like a pack of gum) don’t register as being “placed in the bag.”
But I’m talking about the people who are confused by the complexity of the machines. No one should be allowed to operate machines that are smarter than they are.
I haven’t patented the RFID idea, so have at it. If you’re feeling generous, you can give me 0.01% of stock in your multi-billion dollar company.
In another post, I mentioned a change between version 1 and version 1.5/2 self-scanners (allowing you to continue scanning items while you wait for a store employee to show up to verify another item), and the “light items” are another example of this. I remember the first machines that I used, where any relatively light item would return an error and insist that you place it in the bag, even if you had already placed it in the bag. Then you have to wait for an employee to come over and issue an override. On the newer machines that I’ve used, they either don’t seem to care, or they give you an option to select “I do not wish to bag this item” on the touch-screen.
Other annoyances still exist, though. On the machines that I’ve used in Michigan (where there’s 10-cent deposit on carbonated beverages) you can’t just scan the barcode on your bottle slip after you return your cans/bottles. You have to wait for an employee to come over, and then the employee punches in their code and *they* simply scan the bottle slip. There are better (and fairly obvious) ways to do this, they just haven’t been implemented yet.
I think that within 10 years time, a lot of bugs will be worked out and most shoppers will be comfortable with the machines. With that said, certain items will probably still need an employee to sign off on a sale. Alcohol and tobacco products are the most obvious examples (porn also, on the slim chance that hard-copy porn still exists 10 years from now). I think that the corporations making these machines also need to figure out a better way to deal with produce. And of course, traditional cash registers are still going to be the norm in barber shops, liquor stores, corner hardware stores, and such.
RFID chips are still too expensive to put in, say, a $3 bag of chips. The other problem is RFID has larger range. How would you ensure it’s your bag of chips and not the lady walking past with one.
I’m young and was a cashier for three years in high school, so I blow through the self-checkout lines. But it does absolutely make my skin crawl to see other people using the machines. I just don’t get what’s so difficult about using them.
As someone who has been predicting the eventual disappearance of cashiers for years now, I’m happy to see some others consider it, but no one has wrestled with how big a deal this is. Add in the loss of “driver” jobs and you’ve eliminated a huge chunk of all the unskilled jobs in this country, creating serious questions about whether we’ll really be able to expect low skilled people to support themselves in future years. I’m also shocked that people like Tyler can know of these trends, talk of ZMP workers and still support an immigration policy that allows millions of unskilled workers with low genetic capital — and the low genetic capital shows up, indisputably, in test after test, on generation after generation, not just my hateful imagination — into the country.
I thought Tyler (and Alex) was pushing for more skilled immigration.
You thought wrong. Unless farm workers are definition of skilled.
You think farm work is unskilled?
Much of Farm Work is skilled, but immigrant labor is almost entirely dedicated to the ‘picking process’ which is largely unskilled.
There are some things that an unskilled person can do at an economically unviable slow pace, which require skill and experience to do efficiently and well. Consider the difference between, say, Habitat for Humanity volunteers building a house vs. experienced builders. It only works because they work for free.
Farm workers can’t really be replaced by unskilled labor, as Georgia and Alabama have found to their chagrin.
Good ol’ TCCC (the man who never heard of the mobility of a recipe apparently), has his own mood affiliation issues to work through.
What was the least important event of the year? Compared to the ink, paper, and electrons spent on it –politics.
1. Al Gore’s 24hrs of global warming evangelism.
The least important event was the release of Obama’s “full form” birth certificate.
I don’t know. It seems to have shut those people up and they were very, very annoying….
I, for one, never doubted that Obama was a natural born citizen. But I disagree with you on his birth certificate.
We have exactly FOUR qualifications for a person to become president:
1. Natural born citizen
2. At least 35 years old
3. At least 14 years a resident of the US
4. Still alive
We don’t have ANY minimum qualifications for education, experience, military service, criminal record, security clearance, intelligence, etc.
I would argue in favor of higher qualifications. Some people would disagree. But the Constitution is crystal clear about qualifications.
Sir, I strenuously insist that our president meet the four qualifications we do have. And that requires the proper presentment, to everyone’s reasonable satisfaction, of a valid birth certificate.
Frankly, I’m astonished that there is no federal authority that certifies each candidate’s eligibility. And as a matter of the Freedom of Information Act (or just freedom of information in a free society), a copy of a presidential candidate’s proof of eligibility should be made available to anyone who asks for it.
Citizens of a free society needn’t have to explain to you or anyone else WHY they want to know whether a candidate is eligible to be their president. They don’t have to have a good reason. Their reasons can be downright lunacy. But they deserve a proper answer without derision.
Not when they’re assholes, they don’t.
OK, then be derisive but show them proof.
Yes, and in a timely fashion. Not 3 years after the fact.
“I, for one, never doubted that Obama was a natural born citizen. But I disagree with you on his birth certificate.
We have exactly FOUR qualifications for a person to become president: 1. Natural born citizen 2. At least 35 years old 3. At least 14 years a resident of the US 4. Still alive”
Similar to the answer given about the US credit downgrade, a massively overhyped and utterly trivial event was the brinksmanship over the US debt limit. As we knew it would, an agreement was reached despite the Congressional Democrats’ utter intransigence and unwillingness to seek any sort of long term budget deal, where “long term” includes the one year term of a standard federal budget.
Nice to hear from an alternate universe! In this brane the blame was mainly on the GOP for even making an issue of this in the first place, and for refusing to accept any compromise for weeks.
Supermarket cashiers aren’t going away anytime soon because self-checkouts in supermarkets simply don’t work.
Well, they do work, but they must be heavily monitored.
If you’ve ever stood in line in one, you know it doesn’t work. People are slow and stupid.
Depends where you are at. I’ve almost never had a problem at CVS or at Home Depot. (To be sure at Home Depot people take the big stuff to a regular check lane). There’s a grocery store too where most customers are young and well educated and the auto-checks never back up. However I have been in Walmarts where, yes, people ahve trouble with these lanes, either because they are old and not used to them or just none too bright period.
“Supermarket cashiers aren’t going away anytime soon because self-checkouts in supermarkets simply don’t work.”
I’d bet that very similar statements were made about self service gasoline. And indeed, many stations still offered both full service and self service in parallel for decades. However, full service is a rarity these days (outside of the few states that make it mandatory). Unless I see some pretty convincing evidence otherwise, I expect to see the same pattern occur with supermarket check out stations. Anyone want to bet on the date that supermarkets start charging more for full service lines? I’ll bet that by 2022 we see > 50% of large supermarkets with full service with a surcharge.
re: Flexible nominal wages create some new jobs. Monetary accommodation is better, but why is this a supposed disaster?
without higher nominal wages, the balance sheet recession is prolonged, & there will be no housing recovery, with the attendant implications for the banks…
When I use a self check-out cash register at BJs
there is constant problems where an employee has to step
up and assist the customer.
It look like with self check out it takes one employee
to monitor and assist customers at about 4 or 5
self check out registers.
so the productivity gain is 4 to 5 times,
but it does not eliminate the need for
If it’s like places where I shop of those four to five registers only one or two would have manned anyway, except at the busiest times. The auto-checks have mainly been about reducing lines, not about reducing staff (shorter lines = more merchandise sold as people are more willing to run in and grab just one item knowing they will not be stuck in line for ten minutes)
Fair assessment. I think that it’s important to keep in mind that this is still essentially first or second generation technology and it’s slow and can’t handle every situation, but it’s certainly going to improve.
I can breeze through a self-checkout now, as long as I scan the booze first, and then continue to scan my other items while I wait to be carded. The first few years that I used the machines, they wouldn’t let me scan my other items until the cashier ok’d my age. I’d have to wait (and it seemed to take forever) for an employee to come sign off on my purchase. Once the new machines came out that allowed me to keep scanning, I stopped using the human-manned aisles because the cashiers were slower than I was. I expect to see a lot more incremental improvements over the next 10 years or so.
There’s huge demand for automated checkouts, given that billions of dollars are paid to cashiers every year — the technology just needs time to mature. People saying “cashiers aren’t going anywhere because the machines don’t work” are being silly.
The least important thing of the year was all the pundit promises after Rep. Giffords was shot to have polite civil discourse. Those promises lasted about a month.
Mandell should take his net investment data
a step further and calculate a net capital stock
This would show that the growth of net capital stock
per employee has been slowing in recent years.
This weakness in the growth of net capital stock per
employee could be an important element in his
argument that productivity growth is overstated
and your great stagnation thesis.
A lot of the decline in the net capital stock
argument stems from the change in the
nature of capital spending. Info Tech
has grown from a negligible share of
capital spending before 1980 until it now
accounts for about 45% of real capital
spending. But IT equipment has a much
shorter life span than much of traditional
capital equipment. If you have to replace
a computer ever two years as compared to a
40 or 50 year life span for an office building
or a blast furnace you have to run ever faster and
faster just to stay even.
Um. If I thought there was any chance of a) renegotiating my mortgage, b) seeing my cell-phone bills reduced, c) seeing my health insurance costs go down, d) see fuel costs (home and transportation) go down, e) see my percentage of national-debt obligation go down, f) see the cost of educating and clothing my children go down, g) see the cost of food go down, h) see the cost of entertainment go down, i) see the cost of transportation go down then…
I’d happily accept lower compensation.
Monetary accommodation would make U.S. exports more attractive while uniformly rather than clump-ily reducing all of the above. I’d be poorer as a nation but not poorer relative to all my debts and obligations. But absent monetary accommodation to the extent the the holders of my outstanding debts and obligations and my employers did not similarly accept lower compensation then I would simply be accepting impoverishment for their benefit without pretty much no benefit to me.
In what possible universe does that count as enlightened self-interest?
Anyway, yeah, if I have lots of employees, or I own stocks, or if I’m employed by a status-signalling university, then wages declining relative to the price of everything else is great! Unless, of course, they’re my wages that are declining… in order, again, to benefit everyone else but me.
If perpetually lowering wages relative to all other forms of wealth was the path to national prosperity then Honduras, Guatemala, and similar countries should rocketing towards G-20 membership. Oh wait!
Based on recent service on a college search committee, there are far too many economics PhDs being graduated, yet the salaries do not seem to be going down.
Problem, the most effective cartel in the US is the tenured faculty cartel.
And of course there is the curiosity of so many libertarians collecting government pay checks.
Um, not that many libertarians in economics… sure more than in most other academic jobs, but not that many.
If you want to see a lot of libertarians, try the software industry.
1. The climate conference in Durban.
A close second was all the attention paid to the possibility of Congress not raising the debt ceiling.
A close third was the final withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, something that Bush had already planned for this year.
1. All you need to know
“It was a dark, windy and rainy night…”
The least important event of the year was this post.
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