Lawrence Solomon: How robots will end mass-immigration policies and make workers happier
U.S. robot use, up by a whopping 16 per cent last year, is at record highs; U.S. unemployment, meanwhile, is at 50-year lows with people abandoning welfare for work. American wages are rising too. And all of this is happening largely for the same reason. President Donald Trump’s tariffs, opposition to multilateral trade and immigration policies have tightened labour markets, letting workers bid up wages while spurring industry to find alternatives to the low-cost migrant labour it has relied upon in decades past.
Robots are not yet leading to mass unemployment and social instability as predicted, and are unlikely to ever do so. Because humans have insatiable, ever-changing wants, there will always be limitless demand for workers to satisfy those wants, no matter how many low-skill and routinized jobs in future go the way of elevator operators and bank tellers. Robots need not be feared for another reason, too. Rather than being the dreaded economic disruptor many label them as, robots are more likely to be a force for social stability. They have the potential to counter one of the main sources of conflict in the western world today: cheap-labour-driven globalization and the reaction to it — demands to promote nationalism by restricting mass migration.
Big business in the Western world — whether represented by the Koch brothers on the right or the EU model on the left — has been the most powerful force arguing for mass migration. Its argument in this alliance — that migrants from Mexico, Turkey and other poor countries are needed because Westerners aren’t willing to do menial work — has been persuasive, undercutting those in the broad middle class who felt they weren’t sharing in the economic growth.
But the persuasion only lasted so long. After some four decades of little or no growth in median incomes, the backlash against the so-called “one per cent” became potent, electing Donald Trump as president in the United States, fostering Brexit and numerous other exit-EU movements in Europe, and raising animosities between the globalists and the nationalists to destructive levels.
Robots could soon become peacemakers. Once Western big business recognizes that it doesn’t need to import cheap labour to turn profits, it can stop pushing immigration policies that affect workers who must compete for wages in the job market. The upshot would be a realignment on the right, with business interests — large and small — allied and making common cause against their traditional rivals, socialists, who in the United States have been on the rise through Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Shorn of the pressure to maximize the number of immigrants, Western immigration policies can revert to their 18th and 19th century approaches, becoming picky as to the skills and numbers wanted from abroad, and limiting immigration to levels that will allow the middle class to share in the economic gains. Contrary to the myth that the West and North America in particular had open borders in the past, controlled immigration has been the rule. Nations have always sought to control their destinies.
By reasserting control over their borders, the nations of the West will be able to reassert their national character — the character that before the rise of socialism a century ago created economic as well as cultural powerhouses in the U.S., U.K., in Germany, in the Netherlands and elsewhere. In the process, the EU state — a form of socialism that micromanages and homogenizes the economies of dozens of nations to diminishing returns — will crumble away. Unlike the U.S. economy, now the most vibrant of any of the major economies, the EU suffers from sclerosis. Its diminishment through Brexit and other exits would return Europe’s national economies to capitalist norms and prosperity.
The Trump model — where pro-growth policies incentivize workers to abandon welfare, leading to full employment — points the way. American workers today have no reason to fear the robot. The robot is their friend.
Lawrence Solomon is policy director of Toronto-based Probe International. [email protected]
Published at Fri, 08 Mar 2019 12:00:47 +0000