The Anti-Robot Party

This presidential election season has been all about jobs - despite an economy that is growing. Republicans and Democrats alike blame the loss of jobs to trade and immigration.

Both are wrong - sort of.

While it is clear that manufacturing jobs were lost to trade - that doesn't mean that more protectionist trade policies can bring back millions of high paying, stable manufacturing jobs.

First of all, we've demolished the unions that made those manufacturing jobs stable and high paying in the first place. That means new jobs that are created will have lower pay, lower benefits and less security than the ones we lost.

Moreover, as FiveThirtyEight's Ben Casselman writes this week, Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Coming Back because manufacturing itself has changed.

The reason the economy looks good on paper but feels bad all around is that the this has been a long "jobless recovery." Employers have invested heavily in automation and outsourcing to contractors and consultants over the past decade, using low interest rates to rebuild their manufacturing capacity without hiring new workers.

Productivity -- the amount of goods produced by an hour of work -- has gone way up, while unemployment has not.

One way that happens is just laying off a worker and making whoever is left do the jobs of two or three people. Certainly I've seen this in many American workplace. It is a very easy way to increase "productivity." Moreover, no matter how stressful it is for the remaining workers, they will put up with it because they fear the loss of their own job.

The other way to increase productivity is through automation. Robots don't need health benefits and don't call in sick. They don't complain when you pile on the work.

Automation in factories has been -- and will continue -- to increase. We lost jobs to cheap labor in China and Mexico, but lately manufacturing has been returning to the U.S. without the increases in manufacturing employment. The new factories are more automated and the jobs at these factories require a higher skill and education level.

So a new factory only needs a fraction of the manpower to run it as was needed a generation ago.

The trend is likely to continue and not just in manufacturing.

Just read the Robot Invasion series Slate magazine did last year to get an idea of the wide range of professions that can and will likely be replaced by software and automation. From lawyers to pharmacists to sports writers, software is getting better at the jobs that humans used to do.  Even pizza delivery is now being automated, with Dominoes rolling out automated pizza delivery drones in Australia. That's right, even the pizza delivery driver's job isn't safe.

So scream all you want about immigration and China -- it won't do any good.

The robots aren't even listening.

Required Reading:
Robot Invasion: Slate
Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Coming Back from 538
Delivery Robots Making Pizza Runs from Discovery News
Business is Thrilled that Automation Raises Productivity

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