Our Robot Economy

Donald Trump blames China for job losses in U.S. manufacturing, but he should blame robots. Ball State University reported that trade and offshoring was responsible for 13% of manufacturing job losses. The remaining 87% were lost to automation. McKinsey has suggested that 45% of the tasks people are paid to do today could be replaced by existing technology — this doesn’t account automation enabled by fully self-driving trucks, for example.

Trump’s initial (later withdrawn) nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, understands the appeal of automation well enough. He explained the virtues of robots versus human employees to Business Insider: “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.” Puzder would know, having run some of America’s largest food chains as CEO of CKE Restaurants.

We are terrible at predicting the future, but it’s almost certain that increased automation will result in less work for people. It’s less certain — though still a reasonable bet—that in the near future robots will be able to do most of our work for us.