We’re Not Ready
The Race to Zero Labor, and Rethinking The American Way of Life: IV
General Motors reveals its all-new modular platform and Ultium battery system, by Steve Fecht for General Motors.
I was going to publish the essay I promised last week, but that has been pushed to next. Instead, a revisiting.
John Stoehr’s The Editorial Board had writer Brandon Bradford discussing this week the US’s $225 billion Innovation and Competition Act that the Senate passed earlier this month, which intends to shore up the country’s capability to compete with China. It’s a great, informative read that you should check out.
The piece coincided with my own thoughts I’ve been laying out in this series, and it prompted me to finally put some more of them down in writing.
More From The Series:
The actual bill the Senate passed is a solid first step, but it’s far from the political panacea we need to combat rising authoritarian powers around the world.
It’s easy to slip into a Cold War-era mindset in dealing with China, but that won’t be enough to secure and protect the US this time around. What the country needs is a New Deal-era level of investment into an endeavor as bold and audacious as the Apollo program that puts the US ahead of the world in technology, innovation, and manufacturing.
However, this program can’t just prepare the country for the future—whatever it may be. No, the program must prepare the US to dictate it.
Obviously, such an endeavor now is futile because the GOP would rather throw a temper tantrum and let the US succumb to foreign competition on the world stage than actually govern the country toward a better tomorrow, but I digress.
We know automation and green energy solutions will be the eventual future. It may be a far-off one, stymied, rightfully, by the fear of change, but robots and AI will eventually take over more and more jobs as autonomous electric cars begin to fill driveways fueled by solar panels in the backyard.
Right now, this is decades away for most. But the idea is no less exciting and frightening.
That transition will cost countless jobs, yes, but fighting against it only serves to put the US further behind in the next century. The task would require monumental cooperation between the government, universities, the states, and private businesses and untold amounts of investment as they work toward a common goal—creating a zero-labor workforce.
One of the program’s goals should focus on automating as much of the manufacturing process as possible—from raw natural resource allocation through sale and delivery. The fewer human hands needed, the better. It’s a monumental task that’d see hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear. Still, it’d give the world the cheapest manufacturing facilities in the world—one without the cost and complexities of mass human labor.
I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.
Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.
—John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams (May 12, 1780)
Manufacturing is a vital piece of a country’s economic backbone, helping establish the US as the Arsenal of Democracy 80 years ago before creating a massive middle class unlike the world had ever seen. But technological advancements make manufacturing a zero-sum game. Capitalism requires always finding lower production costs, and corporations will seek those out once China moves away from being a hub for such affordable labor. There is always cheaper labor to find somewhere else.
The program’s ultimate goal, and bar for success, would see the US become the world’s manufacturing hub again, profiting from its exports by a margin that would support a national universal basic income—a likely necessary piece to whatever future the US decides to chart.
Is such a shift feasible? I like to think so, but being feasible doesn’t mean it’s possible. The political will of either party is depleted, with one openly hostile to the very structures of our government necessary, vital, for such a sustained, years-long, and committed effort.
It’s easy to see the GOP exploit this economic stagnation, caused by its own delinquent party members, as a bid to regain minoritarian rule for their insidious purposes, which is why it’s all the more important, as Bradford points out, that Democrats seize this opportunity to give people a roadmap, blueprint, idea—something—for people to be hopeful about.
Here’s The Tip Jar!
People are worried about tomorrow and what problems it’ll bring. Giving them something to hang their hat on—a hope that we’re working toward something better on a national level unlike any mobilization since World War II—could be the answer to many of our ills. Call it the Arsenal of Freedom.
This idea of zero labor and a federally funded UBI is not without its challenges and roadblocks. I plan to address many of them, such as taxes, immigration, continuing innovation, and “unemployment,” in future newsletter installments, including what we’re supposed to do when we no longer have to work.
That doesn’t mean no one will be working, though.
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