This Article Is NOT About Trump
This article is not about Trump, but we’re going to have to go through him to get to the point.
Last October, Wired’s David Wong wrote a piece called "How Half Of America Lost Its F**cking Mind." If you’re not a Trump supporter, it’s the single best thing I’ve found to help you understand the other side.
“[R]ural jobs used to be based around one big local business -- a factory, a coal mine, etc. When it dies, the town dies. Where I grew up, it was an oil refinery closing that did us in… Cities can make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs with service jobs -- small towns cannot…
“The rural folk with the Trump signs in their yards say their way of life is dying, and you smirk and say what they really mean is that blacks and gays are finally getting equal rights and they hate it. But I'm telling you, they say their way of life is dying because their way of life is dying. It's not their imagination. No movie about the future portrays it as being full of traditional families, hunters, and coal mines. Well, except for Hunger Games, and that was depicted as an apocalypse.”
So along comes Trump, and says we’re gonna bring those coal jobs back, and it’s gonna be so good, and nobody is ever gonna be a better friend to the coal industry than him, and all the people who work in the coal industry are gonna get tired of winning. And maybe you can understand why people whose way of life is dying would want to hear that.
But if you’ve been paying attention to exponential technologies, you’ll know that solar power is improving faster than Moore’s Law, down to as low as 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour -- way cheaper than coal. Those mining jobs aren’t leaving because they’re going to Mexico; they’re leaving because we are getting to a point (if we’re not there already) where mining coal is simply no longer economically viable.
Likewise manufacturing. Foxconn, the giant Chinese manufacturing firm that makes your iPhone, has been in the news lately, considering opening a factory in the United States. Sweet, a new big local business for the rural town, right?
Wrong. Last May, Foxconn replaced 60,000 people with robots. Six months later, they came out with a three-step plan to automate entire factories. Think it’s not possible? A different factory in Dongguan replaced 90% of its workers with robots and production went up 250%.
But that’s China. Who cares? I’ll tell you who should care: every minimum wage worker in America. Last May, in response to a push to move the minimum wage to $15 per hour, former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi said, “[I]t’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries -- it’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe.”
That’s Ed comparing $15 an hour labor to a $35,000 capital cost. What happens when -- as is technologically inevitable -- the capital cost comes down to $25,000? $10,000? $1,000?
This is not about Trump, any more than the ravages of climate change are about the Paris treaty. This is about every business owner in the world realizing the interconnectedness of the economy. This is about all of us recognizing that, if a system rewards capital over labor, the labor market will eventually collapse. This is about, as author Tim Jackson says, understanding that investment is the bridge between the present and the future, and that with our investments we shape the society we want to leave to our children.
What kind of society do you want to leave for yours?