Thursday, February 23, 2017

Jobs and Automation

President Trump ran and was elected on jobs. If you listen to democrats, there are more jobs than people, which means labor must be Imported. Since the beginning of the industrial age people have been worrying that machines would replace humans, which is the main topic of this writing.

A friend and I were discussing economics when he asked me what I thought about minimum incomes and wages. I told him that in the USA the economy is regional and not national. For that reason any minimum wage should be regional or restricted to the state.

Minimum income is something we rarely hear about. It is when the government pays every citizen a set minimum wage. This would replace welfare and any other entitlement. This would dramatically decrease the cost of such programs. Instead of a dozen government agencies, there would be only the one sending out payments.

Jeff, my friend, said, “Milton (Friedman) knew in the 80's that automation would eventually consume labor.”

He is correct that automation does replace labor, but I disagree that it does in the long term. Every since the industrial age began, people have been screaming that machines would replace humans and that it could only end in disaster.

History tells us that hasn't been the case. The country is more automated than it's ever been and some suggest we have full or near full employment. Many of the jobs today are in the service sector which tend to be low paying. This is in-part due to automation, but it's also due to many other problems.

We have factories that are moving offshore due to the cost of regulations, taxes, and labor. Other factories are importing labor from south of the border because they are willing to work for lower wages. Labor is a commodity which means the more you have the less its value.

To fairly judge automation we must remove all outside factors. We must remove illegal labor and we must stop manufacturing from leaving the country. I contend it's far better for the country if a manufacturing plant fully automates, yet remains in the country.

Automation is efficient, which means products can be produced much cheaper. Automation means you must have high skilled workers to maintain the plant and its machinery. High skilled workers make much more than low skilled labor.

There are other reasons we should do whatever it takes to keep manufacturing in the country. People don't often point this out, but it's a national security issue. Imagine if the US went to war with the country that made 90% of our steel? That would be disastrous. That and other such industries should remain in the country even if it could be made fully automated.

Have you seen the movie Wall-e? It's about the future when everything is done by machines and humans have become too fat and lazy to even stand. This could very well be our future. Machines may someday do all the jobs humans do today, but I don't see the future of Wall-e. I see a future where people have the time to be creative. There will be the entrepreneurs who will look for ways to do things no one has thought of, or to make new products.

There will be those writing novels or creating the music of the 23rd century. I don't believe humans will leave it to robots to explore the stars. Humans will always use automation to assist in all the new endeavors, but I don't see them taking over.

As the people of 1900 couldn't see the needs of today, we can't see the needs of people in 2117. By that time we'll see farms growing human replacement body parts. Yes, there will be a lot of automation to the process, but imagine the tech jobs needed to sustain such an operation.

Jeff said, “I have seen automation cut manufacturing department jobs by 75%.”

I have personally witnessed the same thing. In my area we lost about 5,000 jobs because a company moved much of its operations to Mexico. Unemployment in the area hit the high teens. A few years later the unemployment numbers were back to normal. Some people took early retirement, some started their own business or took their part-time business full time, while others found employment elsewhere.

I had been told many times by people in management a decade before those closings that labor intensive manufacturing would be forced out of the country. 10% of those workers could have kept their jobs had the facility been able to fully automate. If those 10% could have kept their jobs, there would have been far less impact on the local economy.

Elon Musk predicted that driving jobs would be eliminated by automation. I have no doubt that will happen. That would likely remove the need for trains since it's much cheaper to build highways than railroads. We might see trains on wheels in selected lanes or roads. Vehicle automation could end traffic accidents and deaths.

We should embrace the future. The left has always fought for communism or economic justice. Automation could bring them that future where most needs are provided by machines. Machines have already saved millions of lives. Automation is the greatest thing to ever happen to humans, and as long as we use it wisely, they will do unimaginable things.

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