The Future of the American Economy
By Bob Branco
March 9, 2018
Are jobs going away? Think about it. Think of the professions that are going in the direction of automation. We keep hearing about driverless cars, robotics, automated ordering of food, self service cash registers, and much more. Imagine all the jobs that could disappear in the coming years: gas station attendants, drivers, cashiers, waitresses, telephone operators, housekeepers, etc.
While society tries to sort out the next job shift in our economy, we have to think seriously about ourselves and what we are capable of doing. It is so easy to recommend training in automation and how to maintain or manufacture this technology. The fact is not all of us possess the kind of intelligence necessary in order to do that.
Those of us who drive, answer the phone, wait on customers, handle a cash register or clean a house may have spent our entire working career doing this one particular task, not expecting our careers to be in jeopardy. But that’s okay, because it’s supposed to be easy for us to suddenly run a business, begin a career in writing or make a robot. While some of us can accomplish these goals, others cannot. How many blue collar workers in their late forties have the desire or even the capacity to make these career changes? As you know, many companies prefer younger people to fill future jobs. People who are older are up against it.
My mother, God rest her soul, spent 24 years on an assembly line as part of the process of manufacturing ring binder notebooks. At 16 years old, she dropped out of high school in order to go to work in a factory while taking care of my sick grandmother. My mother had no other work experience than factory work. Yet if she were alive today, and a little younger, people who know about the next job shift will suggest that she run a business, start a writing career or go for training in high technology. This is easier said than done.
A friend of mine has another solution for a fast changing economy. She proposes universal income for all. So, even if you are the victim of a dying job, you will still make money as if the United States became a socialist country. Our government is trillions of dollars in debt, so where will this magical universal income come from. Though many people will still have the desire to work and perform quite well knowing that they would be entitled to universal income, you know as well as I do that some may not be motivated to go to work because there happiness will be realized in the form of such income. So, what will the blue collar industry do while their ancestors worked very hard to be extremely productive? God only knows. In the past, job shifts made sense because machines didn’t take over the work force. Cars replaced the horse and buggy, but people still drove those cars. Computers took over pencil pushing, but people still operated computers. People who wash dishes for a living still performed their work even though they now use automatic dish washers instead of hosing down dishes by hand. When the Merlin telephone took over the rotary phone, receptionists still had to answer it. Today, machines are taking over, so job shifts are not so simple anymore. If my job disappears, what happens if I go somewhere else for a job and watch that job disappear as well? If driverless cars are mainstreamed in our society, everyone who drives for a living is in danger of losing their job, and it won’t matter what the job is. It could be a food delivery job, a cab driver, a trucker or anything else related to a motor vehicle. Again, many of these drivers are blue collar workers in their forties who neither think about another career nor expect to start over.
There is a lot to sort out, and I do not envy economists for trying.