History v Now: And Then Technology Struck
Now we are getting to the time period most of those alive and voting today actually remember. Those of us in the Baby Boom generation remember it all too well. Around the same time that US companies began to move relatively low skilled jobs overseas to China, SE Asia and eventually India, to make goods for US companies to be sold in the US and elsewhere, a massive explosion of technology was just about to begin.
In the 1990’s, the commercial internet was released on the world. It did not really take hold as a significant economic force for about 10 years, but since that time it has changed nearly everything, especially the retail landscape. Cables were run across the oceans, connecting the world. Thankfully those who laid them went out of business and the cables became available for peanuts. The truly global internet was born.
In the 1990’s, computers moved aggressively from big huge machines that took up entire floors to desktops and then laptops. But in this 21st century, computers, now held in one’s hand, and their related technologies, have eliminated a high percentage of secretarial, administrative and clerical positions. Anyone who once kept the paper economy moving, now finds herself jobless (yes, most of these folks were women). These jobs will never come back, no matter who the president is.
Robots were developed to replace humans at alarming speeds. Robots don’t argue with the boss, go on strike, demand better working conditions (they often operate in cold, pitch darkness), or get ill or quit to have children. They work 24/7 and make every weld perfectly, so long as their few humans don’t mess up the maintenance or programming updates during scheduled down times.
A new 500,000 square foot subway car assembly plant came to a small town in northern Illinois with the promise of new jobs. 30 years earlier, this would have meant 20,000 new, mostly good-paying, blue collar union jobs. In 2012, it meant 500 new, mostly white collar jobs, a third of which were filled by immigrants from the Korean parent company. Most lived and worked remotely in the Chicago headquarters. The small town saw almost no benefit from the new plant, and the population of the town has fallen by over 250 residents since then.
I saw a special about an ice cream company that laid off 36,000 mostly union, blue collar workers, while consolidating its manufacturing into a single, fully automated facility. Since ice cream is made at -10 degrees, workers would take 20-minute-shifts and tap out in teams of 3, spending the other 40 minutes thawing out before going in again. The robots don’t care about the cold and work 24/7 producing more ice cream than 7 plants did previously at a much lower cost per unit.
Manufacturing is returning to the US, largely because we are the safest place in the world to operate a business, but the old-world blue collar jobs that used to come with these plants, are not returning. In fact, any job that can be done by a machine, will be.
The next major changes? If you’re an over-the-road trucker, get your retirement plan in order. Driverless trucks will be the first vehicles to be converted. Trains, subways and airplanes have not needed pilots for years, but have them because older folks would freak out if they didn’t. The next generation may freak out if they do. Automated, driverless trucks provide ownership with flexibility, reliability, no limits on driving times, required sleep breaks, or risks of drunk or exhausted drivers getting into costly accidents, and they use radar and other technologies to avoid collisions. Insurance companies and logicians are driving this.
That will be followed by local trucking and hauling, cabs, which are already falling to Uber and Lyft, and then maybe flying drone transports. On day soon, you may head into work while your car drives people around making you money all day. Aging Baby Boomers are looking forward to having their car drive them around when they no longer can do so on their own. Will there be any reason to eve own your own car?
Real estate is in huge trouble. Who needs to go to the mall? Who needs an office? Open spaces, temporary meeting centers and the like, which dramatically reduce the required brick and mortar footprints, are and will continue to replace old-school structures. How much longer will we need a realtor to find and buy a house? How much longer will people even want to buy a house as equity growth becomes increasingly uncertain? If we don’t need to build much, what will construction workers do?
We have the technology to safely transfer small amounts of money electronically between people. Cash is on the way out as soon as a few minor legal issues are resolved by Congress. Less than 3% of money in the world now is in the form of currency. Who goes to the bank anymore anyway? A cashless society will make it much harder for the illicit drug business to continue, a critical economic contributor to low income areas.
Those are just some of the changes on the horizon. How long will be have food service workers who could contaminate prepared foods? Panera and other places have kiosks now to replace order-takers.
If making America Great Again has anything to do with getting good-paying, middle class, blue collar jobs back in the US for lower skilled workers, well you can kiss that dream good-bye, no matter who the president is.
Of course we all know that.