if you think globalization has been rough to you so far, you ain’t seen nothing yet…
Widespread automation is about to hit the developing world, hard.
Here are four percentage values that tell a disturbing tale of some very, very bad things to come in a broader context. Those stats, in no particular order are 12%, 88%, 45%, and 66%, and they signal the endgame of the industrial economy not just in America, or the Western world, but globally. That we’re not talking about them, that no political pundit or politician obsesses about what these numbers mean and how to cope with them should be a sign that they’re dangerously ignorant about the future and all the promises of more jobs and returning jobs from overseas are as likely to be fulfilled as a sexual fantasy involving your favorite celebrity. It’s not willful ignorance for all the players involved, for many it’s like trying to understand the finer points of engineering a virus nucleotide by nucleotide: intimidating and requiring a lot of specialized education to really wrap your head around.
So what are these stats? The first two are the reason why Trump will never be able to bring back the jobs he says he will after backing out of free trade agreements, even if he had a magic wand to make it happen. And yes, the same would apply to Clinton if she had won. Here’s why. Only 12% of jobs in manufacturing lost in America were sent overseas. The remaining 88% went to robots, not other human workers. Factor in the fact that machines are on track to eliminate some 45% of all jobs in the next few decades, and even if somehow, Trump gaslighted world leaders into sending every single job sent overseas back, some 90% of the chronically un- and underemployed would still have nothing available for them because the jobs they’re after simply no longer exist. Shut the border to free trade and impose tariffs, and you will be seeing another 1.3 million out of work thanks to the reduction in the many ancillary services needed to keep goods crossing the borders.
This is why resisting globalization is like complaining about the weather, it’s so pervasive today that voting to opt out of it is a pyrrhic victory. You’re not going to able to turn back the clock and get jobs that haven’t existed for years back. But come on, you say, what about the developing world? They have millions of manufacturing jobs! How could we not bring them back if we implemented new tariffs and forced companies to build factories here? In an almost Shyamalanian twist, a new UN report places our final stat into its foreboding context. Some 66% of jobs in developing nations are also going away sooner rather than later thanks to robots and software. So for context, over the next ten years, two thirds of all those jobs we could’ve brought back are doomed to extinction anyway. And even in this best case scenario, we’re still millions and millions of jobs short to revitalize small towns around new and shiny factories. The machines, not the foreigners, is what destroyed the American manufacturing dream so thoroughly.
Why don’t you hear more about this? Well, it’s a hard truth to accept. If we all pretend that manufacturing jobs of half a century ago are alive and well in a distant land, we have a simple answer to a complicated problem. Just end the free trade deals, re-open the factories, and hire everyone back so a high school student can accept a diploma and walk straight to the nearest factory to be hired for a job that with full benefits that will provide for the next 25 to 35 years, and pay so well, only one income would be required for a lifestyle of plenty. When we’re told that instead, all we’d be doing with closed borders for trade is shedding jobs created to support that trade, the factories would still be closed, whatever new ones would be built will only hire a handful of people to supervise and maintain robots, and that we will need entirely new careers to replace manufacturing, we don’t want to hear these painful facts, so we just shrug them off, unable to imagine how much machines today can do with minimal human input. And that’s dangerous because we indirectly perpetuate a soothing fantasy over a reality to which we needed to start adjusting about ten years ago.
Failing to bring jobs back from overseas is not going to be a Trump problem and we just elect a Democrat after him the issue will be solved. This is well beyond the powers of any one world leader to control. The only politician who may have had a prayer of dealing with this mess was, amazingly, that socialist Jew who almost beat Clinton in the primaries. And it’s not because Bernie would’ve had some magic touch to deal with the global economy, in fact I would argue that he would be well out of his depth in this area, as his recent op-ed in NYT confirms by failing to even mention automation. But a huge part of his platform was easy access to education and a stronger safety net to allow those most affected to learn new jobs, ones robots can’t simply take away in the future, or even ones that rely on automation. That’s what we need: grand job training and education programs to allow us to move on past needing manufacturing jobs on a massive scale to get more people back to work. And and politician who doesn’t make this a central point in his or her campaign is simply too ignorant to offer a real solution what ails us.