By Jason Newell:
America is facing a stark reality in the near future: automation is going to contribute to a mass displacement of the world’s manufacturing workforce. And it’s just mind boggling that this impending reality wasn’t thoroughly discussed by major candidates during the previous election cycle. If I recall correctly, there was one instance where one of the early Republican Primary candidates brought up automation: Marco Rubio mentioned the changing economic paradigm during a debate
Marco’s decision to invoke this topic echoed millennial sentiments as many of those within this demographic understand the changing nature of the world’s economy. Economic manufacturing of old is giving way to rapid technological advancement of new. I assume that it’s a tough pill to swallow for the baby boomer generation. Domestic manufacturing is becoming peripheral in terms of importance when compared with modern globalization. More specifically, comparative advantage is a more appealing business objective because it affords companies the ability to cut cost drastically.
Furthermore, Union power is being eroded. The argument against Union power is their advocacy in favor of dues and economic protectionism. However, Unions are one of the least important reasons for companies moving overseas. In reality, overseas incentives include, but aren’t limited to, low wages, enormous tax cuts, and an overall decrease in oversight. Many of these business perks are created through pro-corporate trade deals, such as NAFTA and the TPP. For the most part, these trade deals are cloaked under the guise of “creating new jobs,” but this is somewhat a deceitful expectation because these deals often cause the opposite effect in developed nations like the United States. Trade deals have a strong impact on domestic job losses – this is true, but the other side of the equation brings us back to automation.
It’s estimated, that by 2021, the US will lose 6% of its entire workforce to automation. Moreover, a 2013 Oxford study anticipates that around half of the US workforce will be at risk of replacement due to automation. The main premise for the future job losses is the cognitive development of robotics. Basically, starting in 2021, robotic technology will advance to a point whereby telemarketing, manufacturing, and other well-known processes give way to rapid robotic inclusion.
Nonetheless, while this scenario appears damaging to current and future American employees, there is a way to mitigate the robotic wave. One such solution is to subsidize technical and scientific-centric education in order to retain some employees displaced by rapid automation. Automation will require individuals to oversee maintenance and functionality of robotic systems, not much different than how computer systems are managed. This strategy proved to be successful during the 1930s, through WW2 and beyond. Massive manufacturing initiatives were instituted with the growing threat of both German and Japanese aggression leading up to the Great War. In order to fulfill these more advanced positions, the federal government subsidized education revolving around manufacturing demands and necessities. This investment assisted in the development of America’s middle class workforce – along with strong unions and good pay of course.
In the end, it’s crucial for leaders on both sides of the aisle to discuss automation. A refusal to accept this potentially stark reality may lead to massive social change, or even worse, social unrest. It’s more of a “wait and see” game at this point, but hopefully a well-known visionary will come forward and inform America that it needs to put her snow tires on before she hits the mountain pass.
Please check out the following documentary on Automation: