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How can economy grow by shrinking?

I was riding in a van near York, Pa. last week when one of the passengers pointed with pride to a giant new facility owned by a major grocery chain and announced, "That's going to be their regional distribution center. It will be fully-automated, requiring only about 10 people to keep it running day and night. It will replace a distribution center that requires more than 100 workers."

Wow, I mused, so this is how businesses create jobs. Hire 10 techies so they can fire 100 laborers. "What will businesses do if they keep making more products with fewer workers when they run out of people who have a salary so they can buy those products?" I asked. "That's not a business problem," was the reply. "That's a political problem."

"So your only concern is for a company's bottom line — and a short-term bottom line at that?" I said. "That's what they pay me for," he replied.

The only thing he said that day that I agreed with was that yes, it is a political problem because businesses seem to refuse to take any long-term responsibility for the general welfare unless it has an immediate and positive bottom-line implication. And it's a political problem that I'm not sure President Barack Obama knows how to fix. I am, however, confident the president at least recognizes the problem and wants to fix it. I don't think Mitt Romney — or any other politician who wants government "run more like a business" — even understands that producing more with fewer workers inevitably leads to fewer buyers.

David F. Warren, Havre de Grace

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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