Where Did All Our Jobs Go?

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Originally published on Gas2.

The election of 2016 was about anger, if you believe everything you read. More than anything else, we are told the American people are angry because globalization took all the manufacturing jobs that were once so abundant in the US and exported them to places like Mexico, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. An unbiased observer might ask all those pissed off people, “If you are so upset about all those foreign workers stealing your jobs, why do you continue to shop at Walmart and Sam’s Club?” That’s more than a little hypocritical, don’t you think?

The elephant in the room is not some brown-skinned people working 14 hours a day for pennies an hour, it is the rise of machines that do the work people once did. Here’s a video of what automobile manufacturing used to be like.

What do you see? That’s right. People. Lots and lots of people, many of whom were the grandfathers of all those angry people out there in the American heartland. Now let’s take a look at a modern car factory. See any people rushing about at the Tesla factory of today?

Bruce Springsteen had it right. Those jobs are gone, boys, and they ain’t coming back no matter how many pussies get grabbed in the Oval Office. America’s toxic stew of anger and hostility is perfectly understandable but it is directed at the wrong target. The enemy isn’t some undefined group of foreigners, it is the machines right here at home.

Steve Schmidt, a former McCain campaign strategist, told MSNBC on election night, “The number one job for not college educated white men in America is driving something somewhere. So when we talk about an era now of driverless trucks, driverless cars, where do those jobs go? He added, “We have these arguments about minimum wage — $12, $15. We’re 18 months away in this country from a robot in the window at the McDonalds handing you your cheeseburger.” Schmidt said we are not thinking about the “profound displacements that are going to come to what’s left of the high paying blue collar jobs in this country.”

Oddly enough, Schmidt and Elon Musk have something in common. A few days prior to the election, Musk told CNBC “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”

Musk recently has had a lot to say about focusing on a revolution in manufacturing. He is convinced that factories of the future can be up to 100 times more efficient than they are today. “We can make dramatic improvements to the machine that makes the machine. A lot of people will not believe us about this, but I am absolutely convinced this can be accomplished.” Does anyone think he means that hiring more workers is the key? If so, take a seat. You’re fired.

Science fiction has a way of predicting the future. Jules Verne “invented” nuclear power and space travel a century before either became reality. The US Navy acknowledged its debt to Verne’s foresight when it named its first nuclear submarine the Nautilus, the same name Verne gave to his nuclear powered submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

Recent science fiction has focused on the rise of machines, from Minority Report to I, Robot. Clearly, weeping into your Leinenkugel isn’t going to make jobs magically appear in Michigan or Ohio or any of the other Rust Belt states that swallowed Trump’s trumped up hyberbole about making America great again.

What is needed now is a focus on the future, not a dirge for a dimly remembered past when father knew best, black people knew their place, and the family all assembled around the dinner table for a delicious home cooked meal promptly at 6 o’clock each evening. Our focus should be on how we will feed our families in the future.

Instead of reopening coal mines, America should be training people how to do the jobs that will be available in the future. Building a carbon free energy system would create hundreds of thousands of jobs while protecting our land from clear cutting, mountain top removal, and the horrors of fracking. It would create technology that America could export to other countries and help us with our balance of trade problem.

Hand wringing and whining about how unfair things are will tear the country apart (if it hasn’t already). Building for a bountiful, sustainable future will heal our divisions and truly set us upon the path to resume our position of prominence among the world’s nations.

Reprinted with permission.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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