More than 5 million manufacturing workers lost their jobs after 2000. More than eighty percent of the jobs lost – or 4 million jobs – were due to automation. Men make up 73% of manufacturing workers, so this hit working class men particularly hard. About one in six working-age men in America is now out of the workforce, one of the highest rates among developed countries.
What happened to these 5 million workers? A rosy economist might imagine that they found new manufacturing jobs, or were retrained and reskilled for different jobs, or maybe they moved to another state for greener pastures.
In reality, many of them left the workforce. One Department of Labor survey in 2012 found that 41 percent of displaced manufacturing workers between 2009 and 2011 were either still unemployed or dropped out of the labor market between within three years of losing their jobs. Another study out of Indiana University found that 44 percent of 200,000 displaced transportation equipment and primary metals manufacturing workers in Indiana between 2003 and 2014 had no payroll record at all by 2014, and only 3 percent graduated from a public college or university in Indiana during that time period. The study noted, “Very few went back to school, and relatively few seemed to avail themselves of a lot of the government programs available to assist displaced workers.
This lines up with the research in Janesville, Amy Goldstein’s book about the results of the GM plant closing in Janesville Wisconsin. Jennifer Senior reviewed the book:
“Janesville” joins a growing family of books about the evisceration of the working class in the United States. What sets it apart is the sophistication of its storytelling and analysis.
Readers will also finish “Janesville” with an extremely sobering takeaway: There’s scant evidence that job retraining, possibly the sole item on the menu of policy options upon which Democrats and Republicans can agree, is at all effective.
In the case of the many laid-off workers in the Janesville area, the outcomes are decidedly worse for those who have attended the local technical college to learn a new trade. (Goldstein arrives at this conclusion, outlined in detail, by enlisting the help of local labor economists and poring over multiple data sets.) A striking number of dislocated G.M. employees don’t even know how to use a computer when they first show up for classes at Blackhawk Technical College. “Some students dropped out as soon as they found out that their instructors would not accept course papers written out longhand,” Goldstein writes.
Yang goes on to ask a difficult question:
How do the 40 percent of displaced manufacturing workers who don’t find new jobs survive?
And the answer is: disability benefits. In Michigan, about half of 310,000 who were displaced from manufacturing jobs wound up collecting disability instead of going back to work, even when retraining programs existed.
Yang then connects the dots regarding autonomous trucks, which are likely to offer enormous savings – like more than $150 billion in saved fuel costs, $70 billion in reduced labor, and $36 billion in reduced accidents. And the impact of autonomous trucks, whenever they arrive on the scene, will be enormous economically:
Many, however, will argue for the preservation of truck driving because they recognize just how problematic it would be for such a large number of uneducated male workers to be displaced quickly.
Taking even a fraction of the 3.5 million truckers off the road will have ripple effects far and wide. It is impossible to overstate the importance of truck drivers to regional economies around the country. As many as 5.2 million workers serve the needs of truck drivers at truck stops, diners, motels, and other businesses around the country.
A must read, and Yang asks some difficult question about what the truckers might do if their way of life is threatened, or massively disrupted.
The survey, called the Moral Machine, laid out 13 scenarios in which someone’s death was inevitable. Respondents were asked to choose who to spare in situations that involved a mix of variables: young or old, rich or poor, more people or fewer.
People rarely encounter such stark moral dilemmas, and some critics question whether the scenarios posed in the quiz are relevant to the ethical and practical questions surrounding driverless cars. But the study’s authors say that the scenarios stand in for the subtle moral decisions that drivers make every day. They argue that the findings reveal cultural nuances that governments and makers of self-driving cars must take into account if they want the vehicles to gain public acceptance.
It seems there are three groups with clearly different preferences:
No matter their age, gender or country of residence, most people spared humans over pets, and groups of people over individuals. These responses are in line with rules proposed in what may be the only governmental guidance on self-driving cars: a 2017 report by the German Ethics Commission on Automated and Connected Driving.
But agreement ends there. When the authors analysed answers from people in the 130 countries with at least 100 respondents, they found that the nations could be divided into three groups. One contains North America and several European nations where Christianity has historically been the dominant religion; another includes countries such as Japan, Indonesia and Pakistan, with strong Confucian or Islamic traditions. A third group consists of Central and South America, as well as France and former French colonies. The first group showed a stronger preference for sacrificing older lives to save younger ones than did the second group, for example. The researchers also identified correlations between social and economic factors in a country and the average opinions of its residents. The team found that people from countries with strong government institutions, such as Finland and Japan, more often chose to hit people who were crossing the road illegally than did respondents in nations with weaker institutions, such as Nigeria or Pakistan.
Scenarios that forced survey participants to choose whether to save a homeless person on one side of the road or an executive on the other revealed another point of departure: the choices people made often correlated with the level of economic inequality in their culture. People from Finland — which has a relatively small gap between the rich and the poor — showed little preference for swerving one way or the other. But the average respondent from Colombia — a country with significant economic disparity — chose to kill the lower-status person.
It seems like we are a long way from a consensus of the ethics involved in autonomous vehicles, on many levels.