I wrote a few weeks back about how the rise of the hotel buffet breakfast has eliminated jobs while at the same time wasting food and causing many people to overeat.

Craig Lambert sounds similar themes in NYT:

The conventional wisdom is that America has become a “service economy,” but actually, in many sectors, “service” is disappearing. There was a time when a gas station attendant would routinely fill your tank and even check your oil and clean your windshield and rear window without charge, then settle your bill. Today, all those jobs have been transferred to the customer: we pump our own gas, squeegee our own windshield, and pay our own bill by swiping a credit card. Where customers once received service from the service station, they now provide “self-service” — a synonym for “no service.” Technology enables this sleight of hand, which lets gas stations cut their payrolls, having co-opted their patrons into doing these jobs without pay.

Most economists would say this can only be good. We are more efficient and services are cheaper. But Lambert worries about the exhaustion caused by all this self-service, and shares my concern about how many people who used to have service jobs are now securely unemployed.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.