I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately.
Here are some eye-opening stats from a post at NewCo by Ross Mayfield last week:
A recent study found 50% of occupations today will be gone by 2020, and a 2013 Oxford study forecasted that 47% of jobs will be automated by 2034. A Ball State study found that only 13% of manufacturing job losses were due to trade, the rest from automation. A McKinsey study suggests 45% of knowledge work activity can be automated.
94% of the new job creation since 2005 is in the gig economy. These aren’t stable jobs with benefits on a career path. And if you are driving for Uber, your employer’s plan is to automate your job. Amazon has 270k employees, but most are soon-t0-be-automated ops and fulfillment. Facebook has 15k employees and a 330B market cap, and Snapchat in August had double their market cap per employee, at $48M per employee. The economic impact of Tech was raising productivity, but productivity and wages have been stagnant in recent years.
It’s blindingly obvious that the biggest threat to American jobs – middle class, lower class, professional class, you name it – is automation. And this is not the same as saying TECHNOLOGY IS BAD. I’m just saying that the stuff about Mexico and China is a major distraction from what’s actually going on – and from I believe will be accelerating into the end of this decade.
Trump doesn’t say a word about automation. His fan club doesn’t seem to talk much about it either. His economic team is fairly quiet on the subject too. Hillary didn’t have much to say about it, which is a little weird as well.
Here’s maybe an explanation for why this issue hasn’t become politicized (yet)…
Trump’s lack of attention to the issue is based on good reasons and bad ones. The bad ones are more fun, so let’s start with them. Trump knows virtually nothing about technology — other than a smartphone, he doesn’t use it much. And the industries he’s worked in — construction, real estate, hotels, and resorts — are among the least sophisticated in their use of information technology. So he’s not well equipped to understand the dynamics of automation-driven job loss.
The other Trump shortcoming is that the automation phenomenon is not driven by deals and negotiation. The Art of the Deal‘s author clearly has a penchant for sparring with opponents in highly visible negotiations. But automation-related job loss is difficult to negotiate about. It’s the silent killer of human labor, eliminating job after job over a period of time. Jobs often disappear through attrition. There are no visible plant closings to respond to, no press releases by foreign rivals to counter. It’s a complex subject that doesn’t lend itself to TV sound bites or tweets.
Read the whole thing at the Harvard Business Review at the jump below.