Automation Will Silence the Alarmists

Published on June 15th, 2015

Immigration enthusiasts endlessly squawk – despite our high rate of unemployment – that the sky most surely will fall on the U.S. economy if we don’t keep our doors wide open to foreign workers. Skilled or unskilled, it doesn’t matter – we need them now, and for evermore.

But a technological revolution is unfolding, and it has real potential to silence the squawking. A study by researchers at Oxford University concluded that nearly half of the current jobs in the U.S. will be automated within the next ten years. Most experts concur that in the near future computer technology and robotics will be doing a lot of the work that humans now do. Among examples are autonomous drive vehicles.

Nissan Autonomous Car
Automakers are looking at autonomous drive vehicles becoming a reality in the very near future.

With so much robotics technology coming into the workforce, the notion that we must import people to do our jobs will become much more untenable than it is now. Just how much will automation impact the demand for workers and unemployment?

To provide an idea of what may unfold, the Pew Research Center consulted 1,896 experts in fields related to this issue. Their views were almost equally divided into two camps.

Fifty-two percent were optimistic. A summary of their views is as follows: “Advances in technology may displace certain types of work, but historically they have been a net creator of jobs. We will adapt to these changes by inventing entirely new types of work, and by taking advantage of uniquely human capacities.”

Forty-eight percent were pessimists. The following statements summarize their view: “Impacts from automation have thus far impacted mostly blue-collar employment; the coming wave of innovation threatens to upend white-collar work as well. Certain highly skilled workers will succeed wildly in this new environment – but far more may be displaced into lower paying service industry jobs at best, or permanent unemployment at worst.”

So what is the truth? Perhaps a good way to estimate the impact is to split the difference between the two camps. That being the case, we can assume that the new technology will indeed create new jobs. Without a doubt people will have to design, redesign and maintain robots and automated technologies. The optimists point out that automation in the past always created as many jobs as it destroyed – including jobs that workers with average skills and abilities could do. The automobile made the buggy obsolete, but former buggy makers could get jobs on auto assembly lines. But will high-tech automation yield the same outcome? We’re navigating uncharted waters to some significant degree.

The best conclusion to draw is that we should modify our immigration policy to conform to restraints of automation. Perhaps we might still need some people with genuinely exceptional skills. But no longer should we have a policy that disproportionately selects for people with limited education and relatively low skills, a policy which amounts to importing poverty.

Of course the immigration enthusiasts will keep on squawking, but it’s high time to ignore them. If any sky is going to fall, it will be the blunt force of reality on top of these squawking alarmists.

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