Brave New World

The past few decades have seen massive social changes, and even the most superficial scan of the current state of affairs leads to the inexorable conclusion that we “ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

I don’t think there’s a sufficient appreciation of the economic side of that change. Think, for example, of the imminent phenomenon of self-driving cars, and the ongoing collapse of brick-and-mortar retailing.

Self-driving vehicles will eliminate the jobs of five million people nationwide. These are people who make their living driving taxis, buses, vans, trucks and e-hailing vehicles; according to a Harvard labor economist, those jobs represent 3% of the national workforce, and most of them are held by men without college degrees, a demographic that has already been hit hard by the loss of 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000.

Then there’s the cratering of traditional retailing.  More and more Americans shop on line, and one result is the proliferation of empty storefronts in the nation’s malls. Those empty shops signal the loss of thousands of clerking and sales positions. Warehouse work and online “customer service” jobs are unlikely to replace them all.

As I have written previously, international trade is not the culprit;  automation is what is relentlessly driving job losses, and automation isn’t confined to robots in coal mines or on the factory floor. We no longer hire people to pump our gas; a single secretary handles jobs that used to require three or four; automated check-outs are everywhere from the drug store to the parking garage. In many cases, these innovations create new jobs— requiring new and more demanding skills—but in many cases, they don’t.

And then there’s climate change. The deniers can stick their fingers in their ears and chant “la la la I can’t hear you” all they want, but ice keeps melting, weather keeps getting more unpredictable, oceans keep warming and rising, hurricanes get more powerful…and barring an unlikely concerted effort, by the end of this century large areas of the planet will become unlivable. One result will be mass migration on an unprecedented scale.

How will we cope with that when we can’t even resettle a comparatively small number of Syrian refugees?

One of the reason people are climate change deniers is the fact that the worst consequences are still some decades off, and they can pretend those consequences aren’t real. The economic threats posed by mass joblessness will be felt a lot sooner. And we are already encountering entirely new challenges posed by the acceleration of technology. One of my students wrote his research paper on –I kid you not–the legal liabilities of artificial intelligence. (It was an A+ paper, too.)

The paper considered the uses (and misuses) of ‘personal assistants” like Siri and Google Assistant. Legitimate concerns go well beyond identification theft through hacking.  If someone tells his personal assistant he intends to do something illegal, does the device (or its programmer) have a responsibility to remind him it’s illegal? To call the cops?  What if you tell your assistant you plan to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, and it obediently gives you directions to the nearest bridge? What if a crime is committed at your home and the police want to confiscate your personal assistant to determine who was interacting with it and at what time–is the assistant to be treated like the books of a business (discoverable) or is it entitled to protection against self-incrimination?

You may think this is all too fanciful, but Amazon has argued that First Amendment Free Speech rights should be extended to its Alexa assistant in certain circumstances, and a court has ruled that the way Google ranks search results is entitled to First Amendment protection.

Bottom line: humans on this planet are entering a twilight zone in which familiar work is disappearing, new technologies are forcing us to confront unfamiliar questions, the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” is becoming gargantuan–and all of this is happening in an environment that is drastically changing, both climatically and socially.

It really isn’t a good time to be governed by a clueless buffoon and a Congress filled with third-rate intellects and corrupt panderers.


  1. As always, I enjoyed your brilliant observations and insights. But I might disagree with your last sentence.

    We are heading toward something new, and it’s not obliged to be a clean, orderly, or even rational process.

    I think of the current President (and the forces that elected him, and the ones that are keeping him in power) as a forest fire. An inevitable (and destructive and horrible) part of nature.

    And because he is so over-the-top awful, he galvanized a seizing of power by the populace. Whatever place he takes us to, we are not going willingly nor alone. We have more activists, more awareness, more information than we’ve had in decades. And the urgency means we have to focus on core issues. All of this will help us (and our children) create the next chapter.

    Consider, too, that if we had been this vocal and active during Obama’s administration, he would have been a lot more successful. We took for granted that it was safe to be lazy.

  2. Mankind has always be reactive, rather than proactive. We see these problems coming, but we are unwilling to pay the price now for something that won’t happen for five or ten years. Who knows, we might get a miracle and then all that money and effort would have been wasted.

  3. I just started my summer reading book, WHITE TRASH The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America; By Nancy Isenberg NYTbestseller , I fell it’s quite appropriate at this time due to the once middle class Americans climbing down the ladder of success, in work , wages and opportunity to advance themselves. Even those that have sought higher education for themselves find themselves saddle with debt loads that endangers their families futures for many years. The recent political promise to coal miners for more jobs knowing full well that the natural gas production increases is the real coal business killer.
    Technology will continue to displace middle class Americas jobs in the metropolitan region, and will do the same in rural areas where more corporate agriculture replaces independent farmers, and technology will plow, fertilize, seed, harvest and haul the crops, long haul transport trucks will become driverless trucks assigned to their own highway Lane operating 24×7 ending another good paying job industry.
    Even the highest educated Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers and many other professional jobs will be replaced by technology forcing them and others further down the economic ladder and for those who are on the bottom rung fall off.
    The title White Trash is not exclusive to whites, but a word defining a class not a color.

  4. I have been knowing for some time since reading the conclusions of an economics panel which found that 13% of our jobs were lost to China and 87% of our jobs were lost to automation that we were headed for imbalance with human labor and that it was going to get worse as Silicon Valley was coming up with ever more efficient means of automation, including now the teaching of emotional intelligence to robots. (Note to would be psychiatrists – seek another line for a career – we the disturbed will soon only need to push the right buttons for psychic relief.) Electronics has factored into human labor markets in other ways. For instance, Indian radiologists can and are now doing the same job as American radiologists at half the cost.

    We are going to have to come to grips with an economy that is transitioning from the industrial to the knowledge, and comparisons to the Industrial Revolution and the industrial economy which followed occurred on a different plane and are not instructive. Nevertheless, expect Luddites not just in terms of resisting such change on factory floors and uber streets, but what I call social and political Luddites such as Trump who prey on the ignorance on those misplaced by the rapidly changing economic scene with claims that bad politicians sent jobs to cheap labor venues etc., when the bulk of such jobs did not leave but were automated, and even if those sent overseas were to return, many if not most of such jobs would be automated.

    I knew the global economy (including ours) was in trouble when I read that a Chinese industrialist complained that wages were too high in China and that he was going to automate jobs in his plants. Shelia’s suggestion of a mass migration potential is spot on and far worse than the relatively few Syrians and Mexicans who want to come to America. The real ticking time bomb is the continent of Africa with its exploding population and inadequate means of providing for their needs. I have been blogging for some time that we can expect perhaps 150 million Africans to grace our Atlantic shores by 2050. There are also vast hordes of Indians and Chinese who stand to be automated out of jobs who will arrive on our Pacific shores. If Trump thinks a few thousand Syrians and Mexicans are a problem, just wait.

    My good or bad prediction (depending on whether the reader is a hopeless pessimist or a Pollyanna) is that by 2050 our country may be so debilitated based on our present course that it is not a magnet for those who wish to emigrate to our shores and that even Americans will be considering leaving our shores for, say, southern Siberia.

  5. Professor Kennedy, I enjoy reading your blog because of your insight and thoughts about important topics. I also love that, as a professor, you share the information you receive from your students. In the past few days you have discussed topics that your students have written final papers on and the papers have been about such thoughtful and mind blowing concerns. To state the obvious: it is a brave, new world and I am heartened to see that your students and their cohorts are already looking ahead.

  6. It really isn’t a good time to be governed by a clueless buffoon and a Congress filled with third-rate intellects and corrupt panderers.

    To say the least, Sheila! Surely someone has convened or is convening a conversation seeking answers to your/our important questions. I think we have a responsibility to participate in it (while also dealing with the c.b. and C. filled with t-r i’s and c.p’s, sadly) so we are ready to enact proper public policy as soon as our public institutions are prepared to do so.

    Does anyone here know where such conversations are happening?

  7. Connie Z asks:
    “Does anyone here know where such conversations are happening?”
    My guess is
    1. The insurance industry
    2. The Military

  8. My electricity was off yesterday, so I filled up my time snooping around on conservative news. I read one article from each and glimpsed at the comments – The Blaze, Conservative Review, The Daily Caller, Western Journalism, NRATV, Sean Hannity, Fox News, Family Policy Institute of Washington, Daily Wire, The Federalists Papers, The Heritage Foundation, Christians United for Israel, Breitbart, Trump News, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh and EIB Network, and Louder with Crowder. I also listened to part of Trump’s rally in PA on the Fox FB page streaming live and saw the nonstop comments of Trump supporters – the comments how snowflakes need to melt, blaming Obama and “Killary”, build the wall, and most posts were total nonsense. This “Patriotic” group love Trump, love God, love unborn babies, love our flag, love guns, and love the guidance of rich white men. The things, which this group hates, scare the beejesus out of me.
    Trump picks his words from a second grade word list. His Snake poem about did me in. The only real snake in the grass, who is destroying our country, is Trump, not immigrants. Who is paying for these “rallies”?
    I also saw an older post – an interview of a coalminer from West Virginia, explaining why he loves Trump. We have to recognize Trump is good at one thing – He is “bigly” good at controlling the media, manipulating facts, alternative facts, and redirecting his faults successfully when confronted. Trump has conned the coal miners with his lies during speeches (wearing a coal miner’s hat in true Reality TV effect). I do feel sorry for the coalminer, as he seems like a good guy, just wanting to support his family.

    The interview reinforced what I believe is the issue with many Trump supporters.
    We have voters who do not understand basic science, do not have the receptive language or critical thinking skills to recognize propaganda, and do not understand how government works.
    You are so correct about the growing gap, and the problems of the environment and deniers of climate change, technology and mass joblessness, and the “haves” and “have nots.” Never has it been more important for leaders to be proactive, rather than reactive. The republicans are still in the mindset of opposing ideas, rather than creating workable solutions.
    Facts do not matter to this group. Presenting rational thoughts will not work with this group. Trump supporters dig their heels in deeper when their “alternative facts” are questioned. For the life of me, I still do not understand how Trump continues to avoid legal actions and impeachment.
    I read the articles as I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Trump mindset with the intent to understand why they hold these opinions. I also naively thought that I might find areas where sides could find common ground. I have always felt that it is good to know the mindset and actions of opposition, so one is not blindsided.
    Following Trump is exhausting, and I cannot imagine how frustrated honest reporters must feel trying to keep up with his outrageous actions and lies.
    Today, a FB friend pointed out to me – “we should no longer put emphasis on trying to engage this group. Trump’s core will not be shaken. We will better spend our efforts on moderates and, even more importantly, those who did not vote. Also need to combat gerrymandering and voter suppression”
    The electricity and lights are on today, and I am thankful for FB friends pointing out the obvious. I am also thankful for your blog and read it daily.

  9. Gerald; cheer up, Indiana will increase available jobs if they add toll roads to their inventory of income sources to maintain/repair/replace our collapsing infrastructure (saving the Republican’s “surplus in the budget” to add to their campaign slogans). Toll booths will need to be constructed across the state along with the additional lanes to serve them; they will also need staff to work the toll booths 24/7 for those who don’t keep money in their vehicles to be ready to drop exact amounts into the designated booths. Due to size of vehicles; separate lanes and booths are needed for semis, etc.

    Indiana is a small state and, I’m guessing, there will be those businesses who will find a way around the state to avoid the tolls. There will also be Indiana residents who will find less traveled roads (till the tolls go into effect) to avoid the tolls. Living in Florida, I am aware of the inconvenience of keeping correct amounts of change in vehicles and the slowdown in travel time. Because that is currently a future possibility; is there the possibility we can stop it at the polls?

    Did the Republicans learn nothing from the problems incurred by Daniels’ selling or leasing of the toll road across the northern part of the state? How many Indiana roads will be sold or leased to privatize the change? Will it work as well as the leasing of parking meters in Indianapolis?

    Sheila; any way to contact that student to update their information, concentrating on the “artificial intelligence” of Trump’s family assistants assistance, trying to explain away his lack of intelligence in any form? The fact that this is nepotism at its worst level, is being ignored along with the Trump/Putin/Russia/et al, investigation because those who should be investigating these issues need to be investigated themselves…and they refuse to seek independent investigation on any and all issues. Our national debt (debit) for allowing this election result to happen will take longer to pay-in-full than any of Trump’s mortgage amounts on his real estate sales. Are we currently maintaining the cost of his three White Houses?

  10. President Trump has largely eroded America’s trust in the national political media during his first few months in the White House, according to a new poll.

    On the eve of Trump’s 100th day in office, a new national poll by Morning Consult finds that more voters trust the president than the reporters covering his administration on a daily basis.

    Thirty-seven percent of voters believe the White House has been more forthright than the media, versus 29 percent who favor the press. Another 34 percent were unsure or had no opinion.

    From Immoral Minority today.

  11. I didn’t see any mention of Koch bros and ALEC and other front groups following a years old plan to run all levels of government, the universities, the judiciary. Give it some thought. They can pour money into automation and have cheaper and cheaper labor.

  12. Greetings JoAnn . From reading comments you have posted in the past I thought you resided in Indianapolis, but your one sentence today made it sound like you live in Florida. It is of no importance of course, it just made me wonder. Irvin BAA 🙂

  13. irvin; I did live in Florida from 1994 – 2001, forced to move back here due to failing health. Avoiding the toll roads made for longer mileage but I don’t believe we should have to pay to use something we have already paid for. Weather is the only benefit of living in Florida but the country I lived in was mainly seniors, retirees and the disabled so all costs, including property taxes were lower; politics and politicians interchangeable and the vast number of Republicans as closed minded as they are here. I miss Florida weather.

  14. Florida residents can deposit money into an account expressly to cover tolls. Their vehicle is tagged and a sensor at the booth reads the tag and the account is debited. They do not need to stop or wait to go through a booth. For out of state visitors, it is still a manual process, but I am sure there will be some enterprising entrepreneur out there who will come up with an app for that if there isn’t one already.
    Indiana will likely use whatever will be most efficient with little thought to jobs other than maintenance for which they will pay as little as possible.

    Irvin- I read “White Trash” last fall at the suggestion of a friend after I had read “The Hillbilly Elegy”. My friend pointed out that “Elegy” is a personal memoir and the Isenberg book covers a much broader time period and documents the evolution of our supposed classless society. I recommend reading both books to those who are interested. Please note that J.D. Vance is an outspoken admirer of Mitch Daniels.

    I was appalled to note that this morning’s IndyStar has devoted 5 full pages to Pence’s 100 days. I understand that Gannett is a right leaning publication, but this is out and out propaganda. It made me ill to think of all the people who have suffered and died from actions and inactions of this man over his time in office both as a Congressman and, especially, as governor. He is not a role model I would want for my grandson. In fact, he is the perfect foil for DT, as he is so easy to manipulate and so closed minded.

  15. Greetings JD. I could not bring myself to read the article about that little creature. He is the most mean-spirited excuse for a human being.
    Greeting again JoAnn. I’m glad you are here in Indianapolis with me and those of us of sound mind. Irvin

  16. I started watching John Dickerson’s “interview” with Trump on his 100th day in office. Trump is so offensive intellectually and factually and only focused on politics and his re-election, I couldn’t stomach more than 10 minutes of his lies, diversions and refusal to give a direct answer to a simple question. He and Pence are a perfect match.

  17. Deleb……I lasted about the same length of time with the guy in the WH…..he talks over just like that Kellyann thing…….who learned it from whom? If he is outta there, does that mean dense pence and lying ryan? Help us all…..

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