Adam Ruins Manufacturing

A lot of the recent discussion on the manufacturing industry has framed the loss of employment as a reduction in manufacturing capacity. The US manufactures more physical goods than ever, but it’s using labor as the primary input. In this segment of Adam Ruins Everything, we meet Hank who has recently been laid off from his job at the factory. In an earlier segment, Hank and Adam discuss major economic measures like GDP and Unemployment. In this segment, they discuss some of the misperceptions about manufacturing.

Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour informational comedy where host, Adam Conover, debunks popular myths. Each episode is divided into 3 segments with some common themes. In the Spring of 2018, James Tierney and I sat down to go through all three seasons of Adam Ruins Everything to pick out examples in each episode that could be used in an economics course.

In the Summer of 2020, the paper was officially published in The Journal of Economics and Finance Education, which you can read online.

Superstore — Handheld Automation

Corporate has created new devices for customers to use that will allow them to look up where items are located in the store, scan the items, and pay for their total. The employees quickly point out that the device essentially replaces the workers and they are left wondering what that means for them. Dina tries to point out the relationship between ATMs and bank tellers, although she doesn’t have it exactly right.

At the end of the clip, Amy points out that corporate has also asked the stores to cut back employee hours, which implies that the new machines are replacing some of the labor in the store.

Business Insider — Robotic Kitchen

This Boston restaurant (Spyce) uses robots to cook food for customers and can cook your meal in 3 minutes or less.  Customers order from electronic kiosks at their table and a screen displays which robot station is preparing the diner’s dish. The woks are designed in a way to ensure consistency. The only labor used in the kitchen is the “garden manager” who is responsible for adding toppings and ensuring presentation. The bowls are priced at under $8.

Thanks to Peach for the clip suggestion!

World Economic Forum — Alibaba’s Automation

A look inside the robotic warehouse of Alibaba in Huiyang, China. The robots pick up the physical items and deliver them to the workers who are in charge of sorting the orders before shipment. The robots can carry about 1100 pounds of good around the warehouse floor all while not bumping into other robots because of a laser guidance system.

Business Insider — Self-Driving Garbage Truck

Volvo has recently unveiled self-driving garbage trucks in Sweden that are designed to be operated by only on single garbage collector. The trucks match the pace of the garbage collector to allow for differences in worker characteristics. This is just one of the many ways in which automation improves the efficiency of tasks.

South Park — Alexa is Stealing Our Jobs (NSFW)

 

In the episode, everybody in South Park is buying that Amazon Alexa as a voice assistant to make their lives easier, however there is a negative externality to buying the Alexa. The local low-skilled workers in their town believe that these new machines are stealing their jobs, a classic South Park catchphrase, and they start to protest. Randy Marsh, a tv show personality comes up with a solution to fix this by having the locals replace the personal assistants, but not all of the locals are happy about this.

Thanks to John Miller for the clip suggestion!

Rick & Morty — What’s the Point of Automation?

 

 

Rick’s quote in this episode is as followed, “The point of automation is to reduce cost and labor!” He says this because his robot’s dialogue disappointed him. This directly relates to economics, labor economics in particular, as when a firm’s supply of labor becomes too inelastic they will substitute capital for labor in order to reduce costs and increase profits. The firm, or Rick, is substituting capital for labor as we saw when examining firms’ reactions to labor markets.

Thanks to Justin Cooper for the clip and description!

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