There has been a lot of chatter about trade, or unfair trade, and an even greater amount of political talk about manufacturing jobs going from the United States to Mexico or China, or wherever. It’s an easy emotional trigger – “Unfair! Those people are taking advantage of us!” It’s such a successful emotional appeal that it helped win an election for our current president. But, the future labor apocalypse is automation.
Yes, not unfair trade or losing manufacturing jobs to Mexico. It’s the huge, society-altering advance of automation, in tandem with the great strides being made in artificial intelligence. This will be the economic wrecking ball for millions and millions of American workers in the next decade. It’s so much easier to jump up and down, and scream, “Look over here; here’s your problem”, when pointing to trade or offshore manufacturing, because that’s something most people (voters) can sort of understand. But, that is minuscule compared to what is going to happen due to automation. And the automation will be done by American companies, and the millions and millions of people that lose their jobs and their livelihoods will be poor Americans.
Thin about this for a minute. How many millions of people work at a McDonalds, or a Walmart, or a Target, or a Starbucks or at a 7-11, or something similar? It’s a big number, right?
McDonalds has a “test bed” large store prototype that has been though beta testing already, that, instead of needing almost a hundred full-time and part-time employees across each 24 hours of operation needs only 8. Amazon has opened bookstores and grocery stores with no cashiers – you just walk in, put whatever you want in a cart, and leave. On the way out, the contents of your cart or basket are scanned wirelessly and the payment is deducted from your account. If these companies can do this now, then every single company that competes against them, or, is in a related segment, will have this same technology available to them as well.
Do you know how many people are employed in retail and food service in this country? What happens if 95% of these people lose their jobs in the next decade? They’re not working those jobs because they love what they do – they’re working those jobs, for the most part, because it’s the only job they can get. They’re at subsistence wages now. And, if they lose that job to automation, then what will they do? And what will their families do? And what will the government do?
Retraining? For what other job?
Go back to school? A 25 year-old single mother with two kids that just barely graduated from high school to start with, and you’re going to tell her she needs to take out student loans, find daycare, and go back to school to get a degree in engineering or nursing? That’s probably not going to produce a good outcome.
The future labor apocalypse is automation. These other things are distractions. But, no one wants to talk about automation…