Sorry, but Amazon Isn’t Actually Annihilating Retail Jobs
BEWARE THE LURKING variable. Even if you didn’t suffer through a semester of college statistics, you’re probably familiar with the adage “correlation doesn’t imply causation.” But if you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a fairly easy concept to grasp.
Take a classic example: When ice cream sales rise significantly, the number of shark attacks escalates as well. But ice cream probably doesn’t cause shark attacks. The two things are correlated because they tend to occur at the same time of year but the relationship is not causal: Summer, in this case, is what’s called a lurking variable. While for ice cream and shark attacks the common cause is relatively easy to spot, in more complex analyses myriad lurkers and their confounding cousins can cause all kinds of mischief.
Herein lies the problem with much of the current rhetoric claiming that the automation of industry is leading to the annihilation of jobs and/or the enslavement of humanity.
Consider a recent report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), an advocacy group for community-rooted enterprise, that has made quite a splash in the mediarecently. Cobbling together statistics, anecdotes, and assumptions, the report formulates logical fallacies about Amazon’s effect on the retail job market. The title itself, “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities,” conjures a dystopian fever dream. (Full disclosure: Our organization has received funding from Amazon as well as its competitors.)