"In 1790, farmers were 90 percent, out of a population of nearly 3 million, of the U.S. labor force. By 1900, only about 41 percent of our labor force was employed in agriculture. By 2008, fewer than 3 percent of Americans were employed in agriculture (MP: see chart above, farm jobs as a share of the labor force is now below 2%). Through labor-saving technological advances and machinery, our farmers are the world's most productive. As a result, Americans are better off.
If 90 percent of Americans still had been farmers in 1900, where in the world would we have gotten workers to produce all those goods that were not even heard of in 1790, such as telephones, steamships and oil wells? We need not go back that far. If there hadn't been the kind of labor-saving technical innovation we've had since the 1950s -- in the auto, construction, telephone industries and many others -- where in the world would we have gotten workers to produce things that weren't heard of in the '50s, such as desktop computers, cellphones, HDTVs, digital cameras, MRI machines, pharmaceuticals and myriad other goods and services?
What technological innovation does is reduce the value of some jobs, raise the value of others and create many more jobs. Some workers are made better off through greater employment opportunities. Others are made worse off by having to accept less attractive employment opportunities, an adjustment process that can be painful. Since technological progress makes goods and services cheaper, and of higher quality, to stand in its way, in the name of saving jobs, will make us a poorer nation. What we're witnessing in our economy is what economic historian Joseph Schumpeter termed "creative destruction," the process in which something new replaces something older."