Thursday, February 1, 2018

Now It's Electric Vehicles Driving Out Jobs

When Alan Emtage, the father of the modern search engine ("Archie") told me during a conversation in Barbados in April, 2017 that most jobs that required driving would be gone by 2025, I didn't believe him.

"How is this going to happen?" I asked. Of course, I knew about the advent of self-driven vehicles but truth be told, these were nowhere near ready to be taking the highways en masse anytime soon. There were still too many technical details to work out.

But he didn't budge.

"Those issues will all mostly be solved by 2020. Then that will pave the way for long haul self-driven trucks carrying cargo, so humans won't be needed on such drives any longer. Also, bus drivers as well as taxi drivers stand to be replaced. Already, Uber is considering self-driving vehicles, removing most of the problems they've had with driver - passenger negative interactions."

He also assured me that was the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and very soon electric vehicles would be rendering redundant most jobs that depend on maintaining internal combustion engines.  I knew Emtage was also something of a futurist, but believed at the time even this might be too big a stretch even for his seer powers.

That was before I read the December 17, 2017 Denver Post article, 'Electric Vehicles Driving Jobs Out',  by Peter Holley.  We learn therein:

"As a wave of electric vehicles quickly approaches, experts say, it could wash away a large portion of a skilled labor group that has been around for decades: the automobile mechanic."

And why?

"The reason is simple: Unlike gas-powered engines, electric engines don't require oil changes, have far fewer moving parts and rarely break down, eliminating much of the maintenance repair shops rely on. The latest electric vehicles can be services using parts purchased online or fixed remotely through over-the -air updates."

That has serious implications when one considers the U.S. auto repair industry currently employs some 750,000 workers - or almost four times the number employed in the coal industry.   The worst aspect? None of these workers is remotely prepared for the end of the era of gas powered transportation.  Thus, they will likely remain on their soon to be extinct jobs until informed they aren't needed any longer.

According to one long time auto mechanic, Craig Van Batenburg, quoted in the piece:

"People are freaking out. Ninety percent of our industry has done nothing - absolutely nothing - to prepare. They just turn the hybrids and EVs away and say 'We don't work on those cars, take them back  to Ford or Toyota."

This is a sad commentary given there are 160,000 independent auto shops in the U.S. which may all be going out of business very soon.  They are literal dinosaurs given that EVs - unlike gas powered cars- require no traditional oil changes, fuel filters, spark plug replacement or emission checks.  You can also basically say goodbye to changing timing belts, differential and transmission fluid.

This elicits the question of what all these auto mechanics will do once displaced?  Well, it seems clear the same provision of UBI (universal basic income) as needed by the other 300 million in the world about to be displaced by automation. According to one recent WSJ  report ('Firms Leave The Bean Counting To The Robots') in the Business and Investing section (p, B5, Oct. 23) .AI -based robots will soon be taking over CFO and accounting work across the land.  And this is but a fraction of all the workers that will be displaced globally.

The same applies to the realm of manual labor, and  in an October column Jim Hightower cites the example of "SAM" a robotic bricklayer that "lays three times as many bricks in a day as a human can". Hence, it has the potential to displace three times the number of human workers.

Hightower then sizes things up with crystal clarity:

"It's not robots that are taking our jobs, but corporate profiteers. They're creating a robot economy in order to displace you and me with inexpensive machines that don't demand higher wages or health care, don't take sick days or vacations and don't organize unions, file lawsuits or vote for pro-worker politicians. It's to be a plutocratic utopia designed by and for the corporate elite "

His words ought to sound resonant chords in any sentient worker, especially if your job is of a repetitive nature even if not manual labor.   As Hightower notes:

"Also, the jobs of librarians, pharmacists, lawyers, air traffic controllers, doctors, teachers, hospital administrators, bartenders — and so many more — are targeted for massive displacement."

As I warned in earlier posts, now is the time for our vaunted leaders to get serious about implementing the UBI solution.  The alternative is not something any of us will wish to see.

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