Automation in America
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The debate on whether or not the labor market (and by extension consumers) should fight automation has long been in the spotlight. Arguments for automation have usually taken the position that it will not only create new jobs for the labor force, but also reduce the price of goods for consumers. Arguments against have had much darker tones, usually predicting a larger divide between the haves and the have-nots.
There have been moments where each side has gained the upper hand, and a loud populist movement which focused on forcing private companies to employ American laborers, even when there was no interest in taking the jobs by the American public. It was the lack of labor supply that drove California farmers towards automation this summer. It wasn’t a conscious decision to attack the American work force. No one wanted the job, even when prices were reaching $16 per hour back in March. This matches data published by PEW which states 85% of Americans support automation replacing dirty and dangerous jobs (with 47% of that strongly favoring).
It’s instances like this that make it abundantly clear that the questions about automation in the future are not what American labor forces should do to combat it, but rather how to adapt to it. Their interests are clear; though they helped vote for a President who promised to bring the economy back to the days when everyone would have a job and get to work with their hands none of them actually wanted to be the person working with their hands, and it helped open the door for automation not just as a fiscally responsible alternative, but a necessity to make up for a waning work force.
An article from the Wall Street Journal shared a similar sentiment on November 29. It stated that a new report by McKinsey Global Institute predicts “up to 375 million jobs” will be at risk for replacement by automation by 2030. While the exact numbers of this report are new, the overall tone of it is not. A PEW report from last year showed 65% of Americans predict their jobs to be gone or completely replaced by machines within the next 50 years.
While groups still oppose automation it’s development and implementation seem imminent pending direct government intervention. However, as the journal article said “Throughout history, technological change has created more work than it destroyed, but the transitions often were brutal and took time to play out.” The focus has to be on easing the transition from labor to automation, much like what those on left have been saying about easing labor out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. There will be a period of doubt and hardship but after the conflict the country and the economy will be stronger.
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