Editor’s Note: Welcome to Point-Counterpoint, where Liberty Nation writers face off in an intellectual debate about issues affecting everyday Americans. You can read the first part of this debate on LN. In Part ll, our managing editor Mark Angelides continues his debate with economics correspondent Andrew Moran.
…technological advancements have decreased the cost of most goods.
Mark Angelides: My question for you is what happens to those who are too old to go for a complete retrain? They may be able to get another job, but it won’t reflect their experience or tenure in terms of wages
Andrew Moran: Let’s explore your first point. Let’s say that driverless vehicles are getting involved in accidents and killing people every single day. By that logic, we should prohibit or limit humans from getting behind the wheel. The average number of U.S. auto accidents per year is six million, and the number of people who die every day on U.S. roads is about 100. But we wouldn’t and shouldn’t place a ban on humans driving cars. Now, when autonomous vehicles get involved in accidents, it is mostly based on human error and not on the technology itself – the research is clear on this. The media like to blow up when a crash does take place or someone dies, but they typically omit the hundreds or thousands of other instances when there are zero accidents, injuries, or deaths. Plus, the programming language is always improving, so the human error fact will eventually be minimized.
If you have ever been to Toronto, then you would much prefer to have self-driving cars on the road than man-operated vehicles!
Angelides: I see your point, but I liken this to the gun control argument. Sure, a lot of people die each year from gunshot wounds, and the leftists state that this is a reason to outlaw guns. What they neglect to mention is the 2.5 million defensive uses of firearms each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In this particular case, you are counting the accidents that do happen, not the ones that are avoided. Who knows how many lives are saved because of fast synaptic responses and actual driver experience that can never be matched by a computer?
And sure, technology will improve in the future, but it is still an unknown. We don’t know to what level it will improve nor how that will compare to the wonder that is the human brain.
Moran: Exploring your second point and your question. First, it is important to note that those who are displaced by the machine are now free to work in another industry that is having a hard time meeting consumer demand, which would arise from increased consumption and investment in other areas.
Next, I would like to quote Henry Hazlitt from Economics in One Lesson: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act.”
Let’s examine a couple of situations, including your premise of someone who has been replaced by labor-saving technology and then forced to find an alternative job. In the short-term, they might have difficulty finding a comparable position, but in the long-term, they are benefiting from a lower cost of living and a gain in real wealth.
Or, to use a real-world example, what about the low-income family having a hard time keeping up with car payments, yet they rarely use their automobile? Thanks to automated transportation, this household has a cheaper alternative and now has more disposable income available in their monthly budget that can be spent on other things.
These workers displaced by technology may get paid less, but they will have a higher purchasing power.
Think about this: Let’s say there’s a machine that makes everything (this might have been an old episode of Star Trek). People buy this machine, resulting in the elimination of 90% of jobs. Yet, these unemployed people are a lot wealthier because they now own a device that produces everything for pennies, making life cheap. We are not there yet, but every year, technology affords us such luxuries.
Angelides: Once again, Andrew, a great point. But who’s to say that driverless cars will result in cheaper products? Or cars themselves? If we assume that each tech-invested company will eventually bring down the price of a product, who’s to say that the family car that doesn’t get used often won’t end up costing just a few hundred dollars by the time driverless cars are finally anywhere near affordable? If one industry makes savings, why not another?
And let’s remember, low-income families do not always place luxury items like cars as a high priority. Food, clothing, and footwear are the biggest spends for most folk; when these can be produced by machines for a lower cost, I’m all in!
We’ve talked a fair bit about high-end consumables, what do you see in terms of basic necessities benefiting from automation?
Moran: Well, for one thing, I am going off data that has shown technological advancements have decreased the cost of most goods. It is typically government-intervened areas of the economy that are more expensive, like healthcare and education.
Moreover, the more automation that automakers embrace will bring down the cost to manufacture the vehicle – marginal productivity. Also, as another example of transportation, Uber will inevitably be one of the leading providers of driverless vehicles, decreasing the cost of a ride. It can be difficult to predict the future of the marketplace, which is why I’m not a billionaire, but you can be certain that there will be new transportation services that will cost pennies. The opportunities are endless.
Automation is already benefiting consumers when they purchase basic necessities. A lot of farms have adopted automated technologies to plant, grow, pick, and package their products. Apparel prices will come down, too. I wrote a story last summer about a Chinese T-shirt company opening a factory in Arkansas that will manufacture 33-cent “Made in America” T-shirts. It will be staffed by 300 robots and 400 human employees.
One other thing: low-income families do place an automobile as a high priority. U.S. Census data indicate that 75% of low-income households have one car, and one-third have two or more vehicles.
Angelides: Well, Andrew, it looks like we may not find a lot of common ground on this. I’ll leave you with the last word. Where do you think it will all end?
Moran: A robot with an Austrian accent will travel back in time…
I’m only kidding, of course.
Corporations, scientists, and entrepreneurs keep coming up with inventions and innovations that improve our lives. From the typewriter to the computer, from the telephone to the smartphone, there have been so many great goods and services borne from the free market in the industrial age. Artificial intelligence is just one of those superb developments. It can be difficult to foresee 10, 20, or 50 years from now – we have seen this from the left and climate change; we’re still waiting for the planet to end.
Remember, it was predicted a few decades ago that by now we would work only a few hours a day, with the rest of the time for leisure. While we are working fewer hours than at any other time in history, we’re not clocking in two or three hours per workday and enjoying great wealth.
The future is bright.