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TRANSPORTATION IN THE INFORMATION AGE

March 22, 2017
  1.  TRANSPORTATION IN THE INFORMATION AGE

    Following is another of my responses to a blog by Shelia Kennedy, professor at IUPUI in Indianapolis. Shelia laments the coming massive unemployment of millions in the transportation industry as self-driven vehicles become the norm. I expand a bit in my response to general areas subject to change in macro terms and speculate on an economy anything but certain that can accommodate such change and what it would look like. As automation picks up speed it seems that unemployment of human workforces will become less and less important, but there are enormous changes certain to come in how we fashion a new economy with the social and political problems thus created as the industrial society fully transits into the information society and millions are left behind with skills the new economy cannot use. Following is my abbreviated response to her request for commentary as slightly edited.

    Automation is upon us big time and, like the Luddites and their hated looms, we may react by hating robots and yearning for the good old days of the industrial era before we were so uncerimoniously dumped into the information age, an age which, as I have blogged, takes us to transitional economics kicking and screaming as we yearn for what we thought were the economics of yesteryear’s pre-Luddite certainty. There was a time when innovations (see robotry) supplanted human labor and we were told that the new order would give birth to new uses for human labor in ancillary areas thus soaking up such displacements, but now such ancillary areas are themselves subject to automation with the probable result that our economy (as thus transformed) will result in massive unemployment of the human workforce with old skills which are not germane to today’s economic realities, just as markets for buggy whips went their way with invention of the motorcar.

    Sheila is into transportation in her blog today, but that is only one of many such areas that are either in or on the cusp of radical transition. I have even read that Silicon Valley is teaching “emotional intelligence” to robots, so psychiatrists beware! Automation is not just for factories; we may be able to push the right buttons and have robots do our couch time, drones to deliver Amazon goodies, and remote meter readers such as I have here in Florida which displaced thousands of human meter readers in this third largest state by population in the country, their skills now obselete as a result of innovation. Where are those human meter readers working today as their skills and experience have been supplanted by automation?

    As for transportation in isolated context in urban areas, I vividly recall reading a piece by an urban geographer years ago where he posited that he thought cities were experimental and that they may still fail as a means of providing shelter for the masses and their needs. Sheila’s piece suggests that his view may have some validity since we have exhausted both suburbia and exurbia while the urban move is now back into the lofts of central cities by the millennials – and how long will that phenomenon last? Driverless vehicles won’t help employment numbers, so what’s next – driverless airplanes? Robotic air controllers? Don’t laugh. We laughed at Dick Tracy’s “two-way” wrist radios – remember? Who’s laughing now as yesterday’s fantasy becomes today’s reality?

    What will a new economy that can accommodate radical change in current and new economic sectors look like? I as an amateur economic historian have no clue, mostly for the reasons that the current rate of  change is so speedy and that change as a concept is itself changing at warp speed. We are in uncharted waters and will have to fashion new social, political and economic values that rapidly morph into mores and folkways in order to keep humanity in control of its own destiny, whatever that may be, and formation of such new values is beyond my pay grade with a mere B.A. in economics and a J.D. in law. Such determinations belong to brilliant economists such as the Stiglitzes and Pikettys of this world, and I have no place in such elevated company, since Einstein and Nostradamus I am not. . . . I await hearing and reading their views on this topic.     GERALD       E

     

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