Does President Obama Want to Live in a World Without ATMs?


Here’s kind of a silly thing that President Obama said in his interview with Ann Curry yesterday, in a discussion about the slow pace of the employment recovery:

[T]he other thing that happened, though, and this goes to the point you were just making, is there are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM; you don’t go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport, and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.”

ATMs were probably a bad example, since they were ubiquitous for a long, long time before the current unemployment quagmire was set in motion. But there’s no doubt that human employees are increasingly being replaced by machines, which don’t need health insurance or pensions and never send passive-aggressive e-mails. It’s been the story of industrialization for more than a century, and the incentives for using technology over sentient beings have only grown since the recession. As the Times reported last week:

One business owner the Times quotes sounds like he practically hates the human race at this point:

So the ATM example notwithstanding, Obama’s larger point is a sound one. Unfortunately, the ATM thing has caused something of a mini-hubbub, particularly with the notoriously prickly ATM lobby. Mike Lee, the CEO of the ATM Industry Association, vented to the Washington Examiner today:

Quite irrational. Obama didn’t say anything like that, but if he had, it would have been quite irrational indeed!

O on ATMs [Political Punch/ABC News]