How someone accidentally disproved the Luddite fallacy


I love little moments that pack a lot of meaning.  They’re the best times to teach ideas.  I had a great moment happen the other day at work.

We had a vendor come in to advertise a new service they offer.  The service is a tool that can attach a flange to a pipe without the need to weld it.  They use modified flanges and mechanically expand the pipe into grooves cut into the flange bore.  While the technology itself may be expensive, it saves a lot of time, cuts down on labor, and is safer than welding.  In other words, it ends up saving money in the long run.  It is a very neat technology and it shows some promise.

At one point in the presentation, one of my coworkers jokingly asked, “What are you trying to do, put welders out of work?!”

This is of course another iteration of the Luddite fallacy.  The presenter got a little bit nervous (I’m sure it’s a question he gets asked seriously) and replied back, “Oh no, our goal is not to put any welders out of work.  In fact, we’ve trained hundreds of welders to use our equipment.  It actually frees them up to do other, more important work.”

Boom!  This doesn’t harm welders; it makes them more efficient and more valuable to their employers!

I’m sure that this gentleman did not have any idea that he was making an excellent economic point.  New technology and better processes should not be stifled because it might put people out of work.  It makes work and labor more efficient.  So for the same amount of resources, you can end up accomplishing a lot more.  In this case, the money saved from not needing to weld would not simply disappear, but it instead could be put towards a project, equipment, or labor that otherwise would not have been funded.

Do not fear what technology will do to the present job market.  Sure, it might phase out some of the current jobs that exist right now, but it also opens the door to newer and better things!  It makes all of us wealthier.  If it didn’t, then you need to explain to me why an abacus is better than a computer.