July 7, 2015


The Rubio Jobs Plan : Empowering American Innovation (Marco Rubio)

[T]oday, many jobs like the ones my parents held no longer provide a viable path to the middle class.

Their jobs assembling lawn chairs, or even the cashier job my mother held, have likely been replaced by machines. Other similar positions have been outsourced or have paid the same wage for a decade or more. Most of those impacted lack the qualifications to move into better-paying positions, and the higher education they need is too expensive or requires too much time away from work and family.

The result is that the path to the middle class is narrower today than it has been for generations, and the American Dream so many achieved in the last century is in peril.

This hardship is not the result of a cyclical economic downturn that will naturally correct itself. It is born of a fundamental transformation to the very nature of our economy, the disruptions of which have been prolonged and compounded by the failure of our leaders, our policies, and our institutions to transform accordingly.

There are two primary forces behind this transformation. The first is radical technological progress - including the development of the Internet, information technologies, wireless and mobile capabilities, robotics, and more. The second has risen partly from the first, and that is globalization. From where you sit, you can sell a product to someone on the other side of the world almost as easily as to the person on your left or right. This has pulled us into competition with dozens of other nations for businesses, jobs, talent, and innovation.

Over the last two decades, not a single industry has been untouched by these forces, and the disruptions have triggered a cascade of anxiety. Fewer Americans believe in the viability of the American Dream today than during the worst of the financial crisis in 2009. Many pundits and media outlets stoke these fears, painting a dreary picture of the future in which automation and outsourcing continue to shatter the American workforce.

But history is not silent on this subject. It tells us the future is swayed by the actions we take, not the predictions we make. Generations of Americans before us have faced equally disruptive periods of transformation. In the Industrial Revolution, machines suddenly automated tasks people had built their lives around for centuries.

Like today, the beginning was rough: jobs were lost, wages were static, and new wealth was concentrated at the top. Doubts and fears about the future were widespread. But then something changed. When our children learn about the Industrial Revolution today, they learn it was a period of progress. Yes, jobs were lost - but even more were gained, and the middle class expanded, thrived, and laid the cornerstone of the American Century.

So how did that generation overcome its challenges? It wasn't through resistance: pushing back against new technologies or trying to resurrect old jobs. It was through adaptation: businesses integrating new technologies, workers learning new skills, and leaders leading in a new direction.

Today's Technological Revolution carries extraordinary opportunities - even more, I believe, than the Industrial Revolution ever did. But we have not yet seized these opportunities, nor is it guaranteed that we will. Whether we do or do not will depend on the actions we take, the leaders we choose, and the reforms we adopt. [...]

As our technological capabilities grow, it is true that we will see more low-paying jobs replaced by machines. But that's only part of the story. With the innovation economy I just discussed, we will also see the creation of higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs that only humans can perform.

History backs this up. When the power loom was invented, for example, many feared it would eliminate all textile jobs. The truth turned out to be the opposite. The loom increased production, and as production increased, so did demand, and as demand increased, so did the need for skilled laborers who could operate the machines and manage the factories. Jobs in the textile industry actually increased for 100 years.

But these jobs did not immediately pay higher wages. Before that could happen, workers needed to learn marketable skills that could be standardized across the industry. Only then could the methods learned in one factory become useful in another, which increased the need for experienced labor and gave workers leverage to demand higher wages.

The lesson of history is clear: to empower today's workers, we must equip them with today's skills. And to do that, we need our higher education system to innovate at the same rate as our economy.

In the next ten years, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created, but if our higher education system stays stuck in the past, 2 million of these jobs will be left unfilled. 

The coming Technological Revolution does indeed carry an extraordinary opportunity, the opportunity to produce greater wealth while decreasing the input of human labor.  It is not a matter of jobs going unfilled, just of jobs being filled by non-human actors.  We are not like the humans who lost jobs weaving by hand, but like the horses who served as draft animals.

Mr. Rubio deserves credit though for at least recognizing that the two main forces mitigating against American jobs are Globalization and Technology.  The reality is that no Republican is going to oppose either. So the candidates need to start talking about how they'd deal with a post-labor world.

Posted by at July 7, 2015 1:39 PM

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