Author Topic: 1.8 million American truck drivers could lose their jobs to robots. What then?  (Read 1817 times)

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Offline BiscuitTomoko

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The concept given to me on this topic in my econ community (where I've hung out for the past year and a half) is the "Lump of Labor Fallacy". It's described on this Wikipedia page. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy

Basically, the supply of labor is not a fixed thing. If a job is replaced by technology, as someone else pointed out in buggy drivers, it doesn't mean the supply of available of jobs has shrunk. People can do other things. Cars got rid of horse buggy drivers, but now there's a car industry. The replacement of an industry creates new industries, and new things people can do. Even if you automated the production of all the stuff and all the services people like today, society would be free to create newer, different things, and have new wants. We're not going to run out of stuff we want other people to do anytime soon.

The CGPGrey video above is kind of a joke in my econ community. The concept of "humans are horses" is a meme there. The domestication of horses was built around a limited set of purposes they could fulfill. Once they were outmoded, they could do little else. They didn't go away, but I'll grant the argument that they mostly did. Humans aren't horses (it feels funny saying that outside of my community, lol). We are an unprecedentedly flexible and creative species. So when technology erodes the need for a human to do a particular job, we do different things. That's how it's always been.

Offline SkeptiQueer

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The concept given to me on this topic in my econ community (where I've hung out for the past year and a half) is the "Lump of Labor Fallacy". It's described on this Wikipedia page. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy

Basically, the supply of labor is not a fixed thing. If a job is replaced by technology, as someone else pointed out in buggy drivers, it doesn't mean the supply of available of jobs has shrunk. People can do other things. Cars got rid of horse buggy drivers, but now there's a car industry. The replacement of an industry creates new industries, and new things people can do. Even if you automated the production of all the stuff and all the services people like today, society would be free to create newer, different things, and have new wants. We're not going to run out of stuff we want other people to do anytime soon.

The CGPGrey video above is kind of a joke in my econ community. The concept of "humans are horses" is a meme there. The domestication of horses was built around a limited set of purposes they could fulfill. Once they were outmoded, they could do little else. They didn't go away, but I'll grant the argument that they mostly did. Humans aren't horses (it feels funny saying that outside of my community, lol). We are an unprecedentedly flexible and creative species. So when technology erodes the need for a human to do a particular job, we do different things. That's how it's always been.
The reply is, of course, that the pool of jobs does shrink when a robot replaces 10 people, and only creates new jobs for 3 people.

Secondly, retraining is an expense that someone has to shoulder. How many of those truck drivers are unsuited for other work, or are over the age of 50 to the point where a 10 year loan to retrain means trying to retire at 70 or 75? There's also the typically poor health of transit professionals to consider.

CGPGrey is great at talking the theoreticals, but this is one that isn't just theoretical. If you close all the coal mines, someone has to pay to retrain those workers, and to support the ones who are in poor health or too old for retraining to be viable. To me, there's an obvious solution, but it's tough to sell to the more supply side and free-market/small government side of the debate.

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Offline BiscuitTomoko

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The reply is, of course, that the pool of jobs does shrink when a robot replaces 10 people, and only creates new jobs for 3 people.

Secondly, retraining is an expense that someone has to shoulder. How many of those truck drivers are unsuited for other work, or are over the age of 50 to the point where a 10 year loan to retrain means trying to retire at 70 or 75? There's also the typically poor health of transit professionals to consider.

CGPGrey is great at talking the theoreticals, but this is one that isn't just theoretical. If you close all the coal mines, someone has to pay to retrain those workers, and to support the ones who are in poor health or too old for retraining to be viable. To me, there's an obvious solution, but it's tough to sell to the more supply side and free-market/small government side of the debate.

FULL ON GAY SPACE COMMUNISM! Or more realistically, a continuously more progressive-socialist society that agrees to shoulder the burden of forward progress.

This supposition that technology would subtract more jobs than it creates breaks on history. Technology has been replacing jobs as long as there's been technology. There is always a space for new industry, which itself is embiggened by new technology.

Both this supposition, and the supposition that the cost of retraining would be a greater burden than the benefits of automation, suggests that the economy is a closed system, that new jobs and new wealth can't be created. But technology creates jobs and wealth. People have to work to build it and maintain it, and can work in new services that entrepreneuring minds can make with new technological products and abilities. All of that creates revenue for people who can do things like retrain people for new services. This is happening now and has been happening as long as technology has existed.

Look, I am not an economist. I just hang out with with them on the internet. 99% of econ questions I have no clue about. But among my econ community, and as is even clear to me, the CGPGrey "humans are horses" argument is what we would call "low hanging fruit".

Offline Jeremy's Sea

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The concept given to me on this topic in my econ community (where I've hung out for the past year and a half) is the "Lump of Labor Fallacy". It's described on this Wikipedia page. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy

Basically, the supply of labor is not a fixed thing. If a job is replaced by technology, as someone else pointed out in buggy drivers, it doesn't mean the supply of available of jobs has shrunk. People can do other things. Cars got rid of horse buggy drivers, but now there's a car industry. The replacement of an industry creates new industries, and new things people can do. Even if you automated the production of all the stuff and all the services people like today, society would be free to create newer, different things, and have new wants. We're not going to run out of stuff we want other people to do anytime soon.

The CGPGrey video above is kind of a joke in my econ community. The concept of "humans are horses" is a meme there. The domestication of horses was built around a limited set of purposes they could fulfill. Once they were outmoded, they could do little else. They didn't go away, but I'll grant the argument that they mostly did. Humans aren't horses (it feels funny saying that outside of my community, lol). We are an unprecedentedly flexible and creative species. So when technology erodes the need for a human to do a particular job, we do different things. That's how it's always been.
The reply is, of course, that the pool of jobs does shrink when a robot replaces 10 people, and only creates new jobs for 3 people.

Secondly, retraining is an expense that someone has to shoulder. How many of those truck drivers are unsuited for other work, or are over the age of 50 to the point where a 10 year loan to retrain means trying to retire at 70 or 75? There's also the typically poor health of transit professionals to consider.

CGPGrey is great at talking the theoreticals, but this is one that isn't just theoretical. If you close all the coal mines, someone has to pay to retrain those workers, and to support the ones who are in poor health or too old for retraining to be viable. To me, there's an obvious solution, but it's tough to sell to the more supply side and free-market/small government side of the debate.

FULL ON GAY SPACE COMMUNISM! Or more realistically, a continuously more progressive-socialist society that agrees to shoulder the burden of forward progress.
The robot doesn't have to create the other 7 jobs, those people can hand make furniture, brew craft beer, can and pickle regional delicacies, etc.
This is already happening in our economy.
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Offline SkeptiQueer

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The concept given to me on this topic in my econ community (where I've hung out for the past year and a half) is the "Lump of Labor Fallacy". It's described on this Wikipedia page. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy

Basically, the supply of labor is not a fixed thing. If a job is replaced by technology, as someone else pointed out in buggy drivers, it doesn't mean the supply of available of jobs has shrunk. People can do other things. Cars got rid of horse buggy drivers, but now there's a car industry. The replacement of an industry creates new industries, and new things people can do. Even if you automated the production of all the stuff and all the services people like today, society would be free to create newer, different things, and have new wants. We're not going to run out of stuff we want other people to do anytime soon.

The CGPGrey video above is kind of a joke in my econ community. The concept of "humans are horses" is a meme there. The domestication of horses was built around a limited set of purposes they could fulfill. Once they were outmoded, they could do little else. They didn't go away, but I'll grant the argument that they mostly did. Humans aren't horses (it feels funny saying that outside of my community, lol). We are an unprecedentedly flexible and creative species. So when technology erodes the need for a human to do a particular job, we do different things. That's how it's always been.
The reply is, of course, that the pool of jobs does shrink when a robot replaces 10 people, and only creates new jobs for 3 people.

Secondly, retraining is an expense that someone has to shoulder. How many of those truck drivers are unsuited for other work, or are over the age of 50 to the point where a 10 year loan to retrain means trying to retire at 70 or 75? There's also the typically poor health of transit professionals to consider.

CGPGrey is great at talking the theoreticals, but this is one that isn't just theoretical. If you close all the coal mines, someone has to pay to retrain those workers, and to support the ones who are in poor health or too old for retraining to be viable. To me, there's an obvious solution, but it's tough to sell to the more supply side and free-market/small government side of the debate.

FULL ON GAY SPACE COMMUNISM! Or more realistically, a continuously more progressive-socialist society that agrees to shoulder the burden of forward progress.
The robot doesn't have to create the other 7 jobs, those people can hand make furniture, brew craft beer, can and pickle regional delicacies, etc.
This is already happening in our economy.
Service economies are delicate. The demand for hand-made furniture and craft-beer is elastic but not infinite. There's also still the issue of those people learning the skills, if they don't already have them, and generating the capital.

The reply is, of course, that the pool of jobs does shrink when a robot replaces 10 people, and only creates new jobs for 3 people.

Secondly, retraining is an expense that someone has to shoulder. How many of those truck drivers are unsuited for other work, or are over the age of 50 to the point where a 10 year loan to retrain means trying to retire at 70 or 75? There's also the typically poor health of transit professionals to consider.

CGPGrey is great at talking the theoreticals, but this is one that isn't just theoretical. If you close all the coal mines, someone has to pay to retrain those workers, and to support the ones who are in poor health or too old for retraining to be viable. To me, there's an obvious solution, but it's tough to sell to the more supply side and free-market/small government side of the debate.

FULL ON GAY SPACE COMMUNISM! Or more realistically, a continuously more progressive-socialist society that agrees to shoulder the burden of forward progress.

This supposition that technology would subtract more jobs than it creates breaks on history. Technology has been replacing jobs as long as there's been technology. There is always a space for new industry, which itself is embiggened by new technology.

Both this supposition, and the supposition that the cost of retraining would be a greater burden than the benefits of automation, suggests that the economy is a closed system, that new jobs and new wealth can't be created. But technology creates jobs and wealth. People have to work to build it and maintain it, and can work in new services that entrepreneuring minds can make with new technological products and abilities. All of that creates revenue for people who can do things like retrain people for new services. This is happening now and has been happening as long as technology has existed.

Look, I am not an economist. I just hang out with with them on the internet. 99% of econ questions I have no clue about. But among my econ community, and as is even clear to me, the CGPGrey "humans are horses" argument is what we would call "low hanging fruit".

You cite history, but don't account for the explosive population growth over the last century.

You say that technology creates jobs and wealth, but I can't simply take that as a given. More accuratelyrics, I suppose, I can't take it as a given that new technology will create more jobs and wealth in the same area and social strata that it eliminated them. Eliminating drivers doesn't guarantee that those drivers will be able to get jobs as repair technicians, and they certainly won't be manufacturing anything in the US or Europe, all that is going to China or somewhere else in southeast Asia.

I don't have to presume that economics is a closed system, I just have to presume that supply doesn't create demand. In some respects, there is a cap on how much wealth can be created, particularly if much of it is being hoarded or taken out of the economy. Referring back to the population booms, many of the new jobs created (and I'm thinking of the UK Labour Fource Sourvey or however it's spelled) perhaps even most are in nursing, home and geriatric care, education, or childcare. What happens to those jobs when your population boom collapses instead of continuing to grow? We've had a 7x worldwide population boom since 1910. Will that continue?

How about the accounting industry, big booms there. If the US ever simplifies our tax code, those are going to take a hit.

Citing history to predict the behavior of new technology and future markets is fallacious thinking, and it's woefully blind to presume that the new jobs created will be available to the people just put out of work. 
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Offline Simon Jester

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I have mentioned this before. A teamster is required to operate the lift on the back of the truck, nobody else can touch it. If the truck doesn't move all day that teamster still gets paid to sit there whether the lift is needed or not. Robotic trucks may be taking over but a teamster will still get paid to sit in the truck even if he is not driving it.

Q: How many teamsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: six... "Why... you wanna make something of it! "

If the Teamsters fold and loose power IATSE. SAG, and the DGA will as well, not to mention most non film related unions and guilds.  If the teamsters are about to loose their jobs we will all stand behind them and strike alongside them. What then?


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Offline BiscuitTomoko

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You raise interesting points SkeptiQueer. My econ community gave me some legs, but they might be disappointed in me to learn that those legs could only take me so far out of the kid's side of the pool, far less than they should given my time there, and especially far less than they used to. I blame the fact that I hate economics now and became bored with it when I got a handle on the big consensuses. I'll say that the lump of labor fallacy was a meme-level consensus, and although I forgot what they said when I asked about a similar concern about whether technology could ever create stable unemployment, I remember being satisfied with what they said in the negative. That's not a helpful answer for you obviously, but I hope you can at least consider the idea that economists consider your concerns as a settled matter as a motivation to research the issue yourself. It is a sound principle to apply to one's process of intellectual enrichment not to give to much worry to an alarmist Youtube video.

I have mentioned this before. A teamster is required to operate the lift on the back of the truck, nobody else can touch it. If the truck doesn't move all day that teamster still gets paid to sit there whether the lift is needed or not. Robotic trucks may be taking over but a teamster will still get paid to sit in the truck even if he is not driving it.

Q: How many teamsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: six... "Why... you wanna make something of it! "

If the Teamsters fold and loose power IATSE. SAG, and the DGA will as well, not to mention most non film related unions and guilds.  If the teamsters are about to loose their jobs we will all stand behind them and strike alongside them. What then?


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On the subject of things I've forgotten, I once asked my community if unions protect jobs that are outmoded simply due to their heft. The answer I remember was that if an employer did not want to pay someone to do a job, like these lift operators, a union wouldn't help them. I imagine this was because, at the end of the day, if you're not needed, you can strike all you want—you don't have the job. I can't give you a more confident answer, however.

Offline SkeptiQueer

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I have mentioned this before. A teamster is required to operate the lift on the back of the truck, nobody else can touch it. If the truck doesn't move all day that teamster still gets paid to sit there whether the lift is needed or not. Robotic trucks may be taking over but a teamster will still get paid to sit in the truck even if he is not driving it.

Q: How many teamsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: six... "Why... you wanna make something of it! "

If the Teamsters fold and loose power IATSE. SAG, and the DGA will as well, not to mention most non film related unions and guilds.  If the teamsters are about to loose their jobs we will all stand behind them and strike alongside them. What then?


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I just googled, and the Teamsters union says they represent 75,000 members, not all of those are drivers. Google also says there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers.
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Offline Desert Fox

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This is not robot vehicles but cargo vessels have far smaller crews than they once did. . . I know this because of one of my interests is ship sinkings. MV Derbyshire cad a crew of 42 and most similar sized vessels today have a crew of around 20.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2016, 07:13:33 AM by Desert Fox »
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Offline SkeptiQueer

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This is not robot vehicles but cargo vessels have far smaller crews than they once did. . . I know this because of one of my interests is ship sinkings. MV Derbyshire cad a crew of 22 and most similar sized vessels today have a crew of around 20.
I think I have also mentioned trains. Train crews are all union, but the old heads tell of days when a mile of coal was a six man job. Now it's 2, 3 if they need to stop and swap and there isn't a yard brakeman. Smaller, shorter runs are even being run with 2, or even 1 man in the engine.

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Offline Soldier of FORTRAN

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AI's ahistoric.  The job losses might be, too. 
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Offline Desert Fox

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This is not robot vehicles but cargo vessels have far smaller crews than they once did. . . I know this because of one of my interests is ship sinkings. MV Derbyshire cad a crew of 22 42 and most similar sized vessels today have a crew of around 20.
I think I have also mentioned trains. Train crews are all union, but the old heads tell of days when a mile of coal was a six man job. Now it's 2, 3 if they need to stop and swap and there isn't a yard brakeman. Smaller, shorter runs are even being run with 2, or even 1 man in the engine.

I made a mistake in what I wrote. . . .MV Derbyshire had a crew of 42 (twice what modern vessels of the same tonnage)
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Offline Simon Jester

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I have mentioned this before. A teamster is required to operate the lift on the back of the truck, nobody else can touch it. If the truck doesn't move all day that teamster still gets paid to sit there whether the lift is needed or not. Robotic trucks may be taking over but a teamster will still get paid to sit in the truck even if he is not driving it.

Q: How many teamsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: six... "Why... you wanna make something of it! "

If the Teamsters fold and loose power IATSE. SAG, and the DGA will as well, not to mention most non film related unions and guilds.  If the teamsters are about to loose their jobs we will all stand behind them and strike alongside them. What then?


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I just googled, and the Teamsters union says they represent 75,000 members, not all of those are drivers. Google also says there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers.

True however that includes all film transportation, UPS, and several other industries that only hire teamsters. Its because of the teamsters that many unions are able to operate in non union states (Georgia for example) if these industries dont hire union the teamsters wont provided drivers. Its also why we say thank you every time we step out of a teamster transpo van. 

The postal union will probably have an issue as well.

My point being that this issue will not only effect truck drivers.
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Offline Redamare

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There are four different Postal Unions in the US, but it's likely that mail carriers would take longer to replace than long haul truckers. They do have to put the right mail in the right box and do a hundred other things.
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Offline daniel1948

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There are four different Postal Unions in the US, but it's likely that mail carriers would take longer to replace than long haul truckers. They do have to put the right mail in the right box and do a hundred other things.

Oh, how I wish they would put the right mail in the right box! They used to. Once upon a time. But now I regularly get my neighbor's mail in my box, and occasionally my neighbor brings my mail to me. And I wonder how often a letter is delayed or even lost when it goes to an entirely different street. I also regularly get mail addressed to my house number but the next street over.
Daniel
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