myRobot—Our Easter Bunny
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To get a rabbit, my family first got a robot.

My older son had long wanted a bunny. But my younger boy is allergic to furry animals, which give him asthma attacks.

My wife determined that he would be all right with a rabbit in the house if we vacuumed the carpets constantly. However, the chances that our family would persist with the needed devotion to cleanliness seemed nil.

And, as a pixel-stained wretch of a writer, I could hardly afford a cleaning ladylegal or illegal.

Fortunately, my wife had been tracking the evolution of Roomba, the robot vacuum cleaner from iRobot. She deemed the new model worthy of a try as her $200 birthday present.

Soon, a box arrived on our doorstep containing a disk about 13" in diameter and 3" thick. My wife put it in the middle of the floor and pushed its button.

A whooshing noise emerged, but it was significantly quieter than a manually operated vacuum. Roomba started to roll in a tight spiral, slowly circling outward, brushing and sucking up dirt as it went. When it softly bumped into a wall, it changed directions, seemingly at random. Its trial-and-error approach meant it was obviously going to take Roomba an hour or two to finish the entire living room.

But to complain about Roomba's random walk style of vacuuming seemed churlish—literally like the ungrateful man in Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon who looks out at his front lawn, where his panting dog has been pushing a lawn mower in effortful but erratic patterns, and scolds, "Call that mowin' the lawn? ... Bad dog... No biscuit! Bad dog!"

After all, the dirt was definitely disappearing into the little robot as well as a normal vacuum cleaner could manage.

And we were just sitting on the couch watching Roomba roll.

Indeed, at first the robot consumed more of our time than doing the vacuuming ourselves would have done. He was hypnotic to watch.

Because his behavior was purposeful yet unpredictable, Roomba seemed to have a personality. It was easy to think of him as a dutiful family retainer, rather like a sheep who keeps the lawn cropped on a Scottish estate, although his low center of gravity made him seem more like a groundhog or horseshoe crab. (As you may have noticed, we soon started referring to Roomba as "him" rather than as "it.")

After a week of increasing delight in our robot, especially with how he cleans under beds where we can't reach with a normal vacuum, we felt confident enough to acquire Frank the Rabbit. Although less productive than Roomba the Robot, Frank is more fun to pet.

After my wife told a lady on her bowling team, she bought a Roomba too. She now says "Roomba is my new best friend." doesn't exist to review appliances, so if you are interested in buying one, please read the reviews carefully on and other sources. There are situations Roomba can't handle well, and durability may still be a problem.

Nonetheless, it's safe to say that Roomba is a revolutionary product.

On a moral level, I take some pride in that I'm paying the whole cost of Roomba, unlike so many Americans with more money than me who nevertheless offload much of the expense of their illegal immigrant cleaning ladies on the rest of the country.

Recall that a 1997 National Academy of Sciences study found that an immigrant with less than a high school education will on average cost the taxpayers $100,000 more in government spending over her lifetime than she will pay in taxes.

One lesson of history since the start of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago is that countries don't advance economically by importing unskilled workers to "do the jobs that natives won't do," but by substituting machines for human labor.

For example, because the Roman Empire exploited countless slaves conquered in foreign wars, it lacked incentives to increase labor efficiency through mechanization. Productivity never took off, and eventually the civilization collapsed into poverty.

In contrast, Britain, which, until the second half of the 20th Century, had far more emigrants than immigrants, had the right incentives for an Industrial Revolution.

As I pointed out here a year ago [Japanese Substitute Inventiveness for Immigration], the Japanese have become obsessed with the promise of robots.

As Anthony Faiola recently reported in the Washington Post:

"Though perhaps years away in the United States, this long-awaited, as-seen-on-TV world—think "The Jetsons" or "Blade Runner"—is already unfolding in Japan, with robots now used as receptionists, night watchmen, hospital workers, guides, pets and more… Officials compiled a report in January predicting that every household in Japan will own at least one robot by 2015, perhaps sooner." [Robot swarms invade Japan!, March 12, 2005]

In part, this is because the Japanese think their mountainous islands are quite crowded enough, thank you, without admitting millions of immigrants.

In contrast, the U.S., although once famous for its commitment to higher productivity, has shown less interest in labor saving in recent years. It has focused instead on sending manufacturing jobs to China and white collar jobs to India, while importing millions of uneducated workers to perform rudimentary service jobs here.

For example, although previous generations of Americans had vastly increased the productivity of workers on Midwestern grain farms, efforts to mechanize California fruit and vegetable farms were largely abandoned, as VDARE.COM reported five (!) years ago, because immigrants were cheaper … to the corporate farmer, although not to the country.

Admittedly, robotics has proven slower to develop than science fiction writers had imagined. In Robert A. Heinlein's 1957 novel The Door into Summer, the narrator invents a robot vacuum cleaner he calls Hired Girl that's quite similar to Roomba … but he builds it in 1970, not 2005.

Of course, despite all his prescience, Heinlein didn't anticipate the 1965 Immigration Act, which would make unskilled labor often cheaper than automation. (In Heinlein's defense, I must point out that in his Future History stories written from 1939 through 1942, he correctly prophesied that the 1960s would be "The Crazy Years.")

Back in 1957, Heinlein had simply assumed that cheap servants were a thing of the past due to immigration restrictions, which Congress had legislated in 1924. The inventor in The Door into Summer explained the economic logic and marketing psychology behind his Hired Girl robot:

"Housewives were still complaining about the Servant Problem long after servants had gone the way of the mastodon. I had rarely met a housewife who did not have a touch of slaveholder in her; they seemed to think there really ought to be strapping peasant girls grateful for a chance to scrub floors for fourteen hours per day and eat table scraps at wages a plumber's helper would scorn. That's why we called the monster Hired Girl—it brought back thoughts of the semi-slave immigrant girl whom Grandma used to bully."

Heinlein, who embodied the can-do spirit of mid-century America, loved dreaming up "gadgets to replace the extinct domestic servant."

I don't believe he would have been pleased to see his country instead resurrect the "semi-slave immigrant girl."

Particularly when Roomba the Robot is available.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

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