So President-elect Trump saved 1,000 blue-collar, middle-class jobs in Indiana.
It’s a good start.
Now, as long-haul trucker Jerry Jackson told me the other day, it’s time to stop the elimination of millions of middle-class blue-collar jobs that so far have been spared from the offshoring or automation that’s killed millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Yes, unless Trump wants the U.S. to grow ever closer to a workerless society — where Americans are given a guaranteed income — he should make sure driverless trucks aren’t allowed to take over an entire class of blue-collar work in America.
Experts say huge caravans of driverless trucks — they already are being experimented with in Nevada and Europe — could be regularly roaring up and down roads in less than 20 years. At first, driverless trucks will have a human aboard, but as soon as the technology is seen to be working, as many as seven trucks would follow just one with a human driver.
“Driverless trucks won’t help the country,” the 43-year-old Jackson said as he sat in the cab of his semi at the Pilot Travel Center truck stop in North Las Vegas. “Even if they save on labor costs, if millions of working people are put out of decent jobs, who’s going to buy the stuff for sale? I thought advances in technology were supposed to be good for the country overall.”
Jackson, a proud Texan, is right. Driverless trucks won’t help the country as a whole. Wealthy shareholders in trucking companies will love it, of course, as profits rise from reduced labor costs.
While advocates of autonomous trucks also say safety will be enhanced, a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Institute has shown more than 80 percent of auto-truck accidents are caused by car drivers.
And Jackson isn’t sure computers running driverless trucks can deal with emergencies or weave in and out of traffic.
Trucking is a $700 billion industry — it is currently the best trucking system in the world with consumers getting their goods faster than any other nation. According to Morgan Stanley, autonomous technology will save the freight industry $168 billion annually.
But analysts also say the vast majority of the country’s 3.5 million truckers who average around $42,000 a year — it’s one of the last jobs in the country that provides a middle-class income without requiring a post-secondary degree — will be out of work, creating an even larger pool of unskilled labor fighting for fewer and fewer jobs.
And the millions who currently man the vast network of of truck stops and motels that serve the big rigs also will be looking for work. With many travel centers serving as the centerpiece of small towns and rural economies, entire communities could be decimated.
So the savings consumers are supposed to see from driverless trucks’ reduced labor costs will vanish as the nation enlarges safety net programs to help those drowned by a tidal wave of needless technology.
Conservative scholar Charles Murray and Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, argue a universal basic income is the best response to the continuing disruption caused by technological change.
“Isn’t that communism?” trucker Jackson asked.
The good news is Trump can undo this disaster in the making.
While the Obama administration supported automated driving, Trump’s administration simply can refuse to set nationwide rules through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for autonomous vehicles on U.S. highways.
He also can pull back the millions of federal dollars going to research autonomous trucks.
While those who have invested in the technologies will whine, they should understand that capitalism is all about risk — you win some , you lose some.
Trump has said repeatedly that he’s for the working man. This is a huge opportunity to show just how much.
He has promised Rust Belters who lost their jobs because of bad trade deals, low-wage outsourcing or technology that he wouldn’t be a slave to unfeeling corporations.
Those workers don’t want welfare and don’t want to have to try to raise a family on a $15-an-hour job at McDonald’s.
“If he (Trump) cares about the working man, he’ll stop this talk about driverless trucks,” Jackson said.
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Life section. Contact him at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter