On Thursday, I noted that the Democratic Party’s ‘Better Deal’ platform, while aiming for some good, didn’t actually address the major reason for unemployment. Specifically, by focusing on red herrings like outsourcing and immigration, our political “leadership” is overlooking the real culprit for economic instability: our outdated concept of work and the rise of automation.
Today, I want to focus on a specific example: the transportation sector.
The transportation sector accounts for around 7.4% of the total work force in the United States and is the 5th largest employment group in the country. This includes everything from truckers to laborers, freight, and stock handlers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Around 9 million people work in this sector of the industry, which is only slightly less than the total percentage of people who voted for Trump.
Of those 9 million, 77% are employed in general trucking, and on average, make about $21.00 an hour, with an annual wage of about $43,700. That’s a sizable percentage of the U.S. economy.
So why transportation?
Well, companies like Google, Apple, and others have been in the news lately for one particularly new invention: self-driving cars. As the name suggests, they truly put the auto in “automobile.” And the companies are very excited about the prospects of this technology; in fact, Cadillac is so bullish about this technology that, using lidar mapping, the company created its own proprietary map of the American road network.
This would enable Cadillac cars to self-drive without relying on technology owned by other companies. And this technology will be here a lot sooner than most people think — it’s already the case in places like Ann Arbor.
You can probably see where I’m going with this, and if not, this link might help: Lyft and Waymo Reach Deal to Collaborate on Self-Driving Cars.
It’s not impossible to imagine a situation where truck drivers simply are not needed anymore — the trucks are capable of driving themselves. Automated cars are definitely safer than cars driven by people, and in the instance of shipping, they’re cheaper, since they don’t require stops for food, bathroom breaks, and overnight stays at hotels.
And when that happens? That’s roughly 6,000,000 people out of a job — 6,000,000 people who made roughly $43,700 a year. And that’s in trucking alone. I’m not including taxi services or services like Uber and Lyft, which employ people as well.
It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen all at once, but I’d be shocked if shipping companies weren’t early adopters as the technology improves.
And the “Better Deal” does nothing to address this. Instead, like a dog to its tail, it chases after the red herring of “outsourcing” instead of addressing the real problem: a systemic sociological and structural issue regarding the very idea of work that’s going to take a lot more than one party to fix.