Economists point out that we are in the midst of the third industrial revolution thanks to rapid advances in digital technology that will transform the world economy and create a new class of workers. Yet despite the potentially devastating economic consequences to follow for workers left out of this revolution, no presidential candidate is talking about this.
The revolution has already happened to an extent. Since the Great Recession ended over five years ago, most of the new jobs created have been on the lower end of the economic scale while Wall Street is setting records. This helps explain why income inequality has soared under the President Barack Obama despite all the happy talk about a “recovery” that has in reality only benefited the wealthy.
Without changes to our education, immigration, and our overall economic system, millions of American workers will find themselves out of work because the new industrial age will leave these workers behind. This will not only affect low-wage jobs, but middle-income ones such as librarians, journalists, nurses, and accountants. Some experts estimate that nearly half of the current jobs will no longer exist within two decades.
The new machines will do more than simply replace humans at work. They will shift the balance of power more in favor of employers and the wealthy. The number one concern for the average CEO is how each decision made will affect the bottom line. As machines become more widely available and less expensive, employers will hold all the cards when it comes to negotiations. With a cheap robot available, the employee will either have to take what is offered or be replaced. If people think inequality is a problem now, just wait ten more years.
The potential impact of mass unemployment has also alarmed the likes of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking, who all see a bleak future ahead. Musk says we are “summoning the demon” with artificial intelligence while Hawking predicts “the end of the human race.” Gates worries about a future without work and notes that human beings “simply don’t have in their mental model that 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower.” While these predictions may seem outlandish to the average reader, when famous inventors who understand technology like the back of their hands are predicting doom, it is time to wake up.
The first presidential contender to address the looming crisis and propose fresh ideas to prepare the American people for the robot revolution should be the next leader of our country. We know Hillary Clinton is not that candidate, so which Republican will step up?