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If you're going to have an opinion on our president elect, you probably need to know some numbers.

I grew up in the Midwest and I'm all too familiar with the lack of economic opportunity in small town America. I like it when I see things like Trump calling up Apple CEO Tim Cook and declaring they're going to find a way together to make iPhones in America.

Of course, the devil is in the details about on-shoring more manufacturing in America that has gone to other parts of the world.  I was in a hotel room last Thursday morning and saw this gem of a chart and about threw up (email subscribers, enable images or click through for picture):

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So there are three types of lies, right?  Lies, damn lies and statistics.  I don't know much about the efficacy of things like tariffs and other trade tools. But I know labor costs are always going to be a primary consideration in where the work goes.

Let's assume for a second this chart is 100% accurate.  What immediately comes to mind for me is the fact that a lot of the pain is going to change again in the next 20 years.  

What happens when self-driving trucks take over the trucking industry and displace millions of trucking jobs?

There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States, according to estimates by the American Trucking Association. The total number of people employed in the industry, including those in positions that do not entail driving, exceeds 8.7 million. About one of every 15 workers in the country is employed in the trucking business, according to the ATA.

Countless families in the midwest who once held jobs in manufacturing reacted to offshoring by - you guessed it - hitting the road to become truck drivers.

You can't say that driving a truck cross-country is your first choice from a work/life balance perspective and raising a family.  But you do it to provide, and it's a reasonable pivot when there are no jobs left in your rural area that pay a decent wage if your highest diploma is of the high school variety.

Again, I don't know world trade.  But I know workforces.  While you're trying to put middle America back to work, it seems like the smart play is to figure out what another 1 in 15 Americans will do once self-driving trucks take over for human drivers.

Tough issue. If the chart above almost made me hurl, there's a future chart about former truck drives displaced by self-driving trucks that's going to make me curl up in a fetal position.

Comments

Matt Landrum

Taxi/Uber drivers under 50 better make contingency plans as well. Fast food workers? Keep pushing for that $15 minimum wage and see how fast a robot can hand me some fries.

Maybe we'll hit Star Trek wealth as a society so I can quit and dedicate my life to playing percussion for Earth, Wind, & Fire.

--Matt
(former technical call center manager)

AL

I don't understand the point you are making. Are you saying we will have a big problem bringing jobs back domestic-side?

AC

Kris, you are dead-on and you're just talking about the tip of the iceberg. The warehouses that those trucks deliver to? Dark warehouses that are totally automated (it's happening now). The package leaving the warehouse? Being delivered to you by drone. The first trucking jobs to go will be the higher cost jobs - probably Union jobs. Robots don't go on strike either.

Jon

This stuff keeps me up at night too - it's easy to fast forward mentally to an end where 100% of returns accrue to capital and 0% to labor.

But if you had told me in 1983 that the typing pool was going the way of the blacksmith, and secretaries (sic) would be all but eliminated in office culture, I would have predicted a decimation of the total workforce opportunity for females in this country. And yet, the exact opposite has happened - women participate in the workforce in far greater numbers and in far more senior positions than we would have guessed when Dolly Parton starred in 9 to 5.

In most states we don't have gas station attendants anymore. Tailors and shoemakers and milkmen and research librarians and lamplighters and Home-Ec teachers and many other respectable occupations have all but disappeared from our economy. But on the other hand we're awash in coders and retail help and electricians and digital marketers and baristas that never were seen the like of before.

All this is cold comfort for the displaced trucker with a diploma of the High School variety, but the economy will likely continue chugging along recycling spare capacity into new categories of skilled and less-skilled jobs in the future. Our job as citizens is just to keep calm and not elect kooks.

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