the trump administration is in denial about jobs and artificial intelligence
In some longform and regular posts after the election, one of the things that were most often highlighted was that automation is taking a lot of jobs, and will continue to take a lot more unless we profoundly rethink how jobs need to work in the near future. After all, the last thing we’d want as the current government is obsessed with gutting the safety net is to rush to build a new one at great expense as millions of workers around the world start to rapidly become obsolete. Can you imagine the whiplash we’ll get from kicking off a few million “moochers” as we demand they just “stop being poor” and get a job, to having to resort to universal basic income and Medicare for all since otherwise, tens of millions would be on the streets starving and dying? But to avoid these hasty extremes (though a case could be made for a Medicare expansion to the general public), we have to start planning for how to best integrate those left behind by automation back into the economy and that’s something that requires a general awareness that this is a problem and will need to be addressed and solved over the next five to ten years.
Enter those alternative facts by which the Trump administration operates, in this case Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is so out of touch, it’s as if he’s living in a different world than just about every economic and technical expert. Aside from fawning over his new boss at a media event held by news startup Axios, he declared that we have nothing to worry about for the next “50 to 100 years” because job losses due to automation “are not even on the our radar screen.” Which I’m sure is of great solace to several million former assembly line workers whose jobs were given to machines. When experts in the field are forecasting that nearly half of all jobs will be done by robots or software in the next 20 years for the person in charge of economic policy to scoff at the notion that anyone could lose a job to machines in the next half a century, saying this 30 years after American manufacturing started to beef up on robotics while laying off humans, the degree of ignorance required is mind-boggling. Although at least it was consistent with the general lack of competence that’s been the hallmark of the Trump government.
Now, this isn’t just to bring up yet another example of the utter lack of both empathy and subject matter we’re dealing with today in government. It’s an example of people making important policy decisions being so out of touch and so afflicted with Dunning-Kruger that five years worth of experts whose work has eliminated jobs and will eliminate more, extremely well aware of what awaits people who don’t have job training programs waiting for them on the other end of the layoff, sounding the klaxons to action, hasn’t left an infinitesimal mark on their worldview. These people are not leaders, they’re more like time-traveling emissaries from the late 20th century, trying to fix the problems of the early 21st century with solutions on loan from the late 19th century. If a doctor today told you that your bad cough is caused by an imbalance of the humors and recommended bloodletting, you’d ask to talk to someone who has heard of antibiotics and the germ theory of disease, so when techies hear the nation’s top economist hear that AI won’t be a thing for another 50 years, at least, out reaction is very similar.
The bottom line here is that we can’t go on electing people stuck in the past and senior citizens whose worldview revolves around talking points of a TV pundit. We desperately need people able to understand and articulate how and why the economy is transitioning, and what we need to cope with all of these changes. Otherwise problems aren’t going to be solved since those in power either refuse to see them as problems, or are unable to kick enough of their brain into gear to realize that solving today’s problems with something employed many decades ago is like trying to repair a steel skyscraper with a train full of bricks, or launch a satellite with a really big wooden catapult. It won’t work, then the very same know-nothings who thought these were all simple and workable fixes will go on TV to lament how government failed to help the people, and claim that they have simple and easy fixes to problems they don’t actually understand, which is why we have to reelect them: to fix the mess they created with their own ignorance and bravado. How about we just send them home and find people who actually have a real clue?