LibLInk: Nick Clegg: This is the future – the unstoppable march of machines

Nick Clegg’s latest Standard column starts off by setting out a number of current problems. One is very different from the others:

There’s a lot to worry about these days: hard Brexit, Trump’s protectionism, Diego Costa’s future at Chelsea, Putin’s manoeuvres, conflict in the South China Sea, Boris Johnson’s next gaffe, climate change.

It’s another that he focuses on, though. What happens to people as their jobs are replaced by machines. He uses the self-driving truck as an example:

According to one recent report, truck driving and related jobs employ more people than any other job in 29 out of America’s 50 states. It is estimated that there are 8.7 million trucking-related jobs in the US. It is one of the few jobs that still attracts a fairly decent income — about $40,000 (£32,000) a year — without requiring higher academic qualifications. In other words, it’s a precious ingredient in the American Dream: a dependable job, accessible to everyone.

It is a question of when, not if, American highways will be crisscrossed by thousands of similar self-driving trucks. And what then for the millions of truck drivers, their families and their communities? An economic earthquake, that’s what, which could leave millions of people out of work.

With nothing to replace these jobs, what does the future hold? Politicians need to get to grips with this, he argues:

Much of the rage that propelled Donald Trump to the inauguration stage on Capitol Hill last Friday was fuelled by angry blue-collar workers threatened by technological change. His answer is the deeply misguided reflex of populists down the ages: build walls, yell “my country first” and impose protectionist barriers against products from abroad. But he had nothing to say about the bigger, unstoppable technological change just around the corner. Nor, I safely predict, will Theresa May’s new Brexit industrial strategy have much to say either.

Nick’s article sets out the problem, but he doesn’t offer much in the way of solution either.

You can read the whole thing here.

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16 Comments

  • Wouldn’t worry too much about Diego Costa. He’s likely to be deported if we get a Hard Brexit.

    PS. Does Abramovich still have Russian citizenship and are we likely to get rid of him too ?

    PPS The future of Chelsea FC is of absolutely no consequence to me.

  • David Evershed 25th Jan '17 - 12:11pm

    Productivity has been improving since time immemorial. Increased productivity is the source of increased wealth.

    Fears that increased productivity will result in mass unemployment have always been with us eg the Luddites. However, enterprising and hard working people are adaptable and change to make themselves employable and useful in other ways.

    Hence past increased productivity has not resulted in mass unemployment. Living standards have been improved across the board because the cost of goods and services has been slashed by the higher productivity.

  • of course given this threat the best answer is free movement of labour ie an extra 330,000 people a year to give an extra challenge to their job hunting days. Nothing like a bit of competition at the bottom.

  • David Evershed 25th Jan '17 - 2:17pm

    David Becket

    Productivity in the UK has stagnated in the past decade hence living standards have stagnated.

    In economics you don’t get something for nothing. To improve living standards you have to improve productivity. This means increasing the value added per person.

  • I agree with David Becket and social liberalism which helps the people left behind, the libertarian one does not as it’s all out for individual wealth.

  • @ David Evershed
    “Productivity has been improving since time immemorial. Increased productivity is the source of increased wealth.”

    During the nineteenth century the hours worked were gradually reduced. This continued into the twentieth century, but except in France it seems to have stopped. Both my father and mother talked about working on Saturday mornings as part of their normal working week. Each worker worked fewer hours but the amount produced related to the number of people employed grew. Increased mechanisation will continue to mean more can be produced with fewer workers.

    Part of the solution has to include reducing the number of hours a person is allowed to work as happened in the nineteenth century and some of the twentieth. Another part of the solution has to include reducing the retirement age to 65. Another part of the solution is taxing suppliers more to finance a Basic Citizens Income (which will increase freedom for people). Another part of the solution is trying to move society away from the idea that everyone who can work should work and providing alternatives to paid employment.

    It is clear that there is a section of the UK population (and American population) who feel that there are no longer jobs that pay enough for them to be content doing them. A reduction in driver jobs will only increase this. As would the creation of a humanoid robot capable of doing all unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. It is no good being complacent believing that new paid employment roles will appear for those displaced, as a political party we should be advocating solutions.

  • Nick’s article touches on one of the great challenges of our time. We are living through the digital revolution and the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Last time the world went through a wholesale industrial revolution, it went hand in hand with the rise of nationalism, with all the great harm that came with that. The root causes appear to be the same we face in 2017: vast inequalities, loss of economic security, loss of social identity and community displacement.
    Watching the mistakes of history repeat themselves this past year has been both alarming and depressing. However, it is incumbent upon us Liberals to continue to point out that, there is no wall we can build, or border we can close that will halt the march of technology and the effect it will have on us. The mass industrial economy of last century has dwindled to the point of no return in Britain. And even if all the factories, mines and shipyards could be magically re-opened tomorrow, it would be machines doing the manufacturing, digging and welding.
    It’s imperative that we can offer real solutions to those people who have lost out and will continue to lose out during all the changes that will occur in the next decade and beyond. I guess that starts with confronting the truths of the arrival of artificial intelligence in the workplace and being front and centre of the conversation on how to steer it to benefit the individual and their place in society.

  • This is a discussion that we need to have as a party but not just internally.
    What jobs can’t robots do, now or in the near future. Some that are coming have been listed above but Japan is moving forward to their use as carers or in the field of medicine.
    I’m not suggesting that all jobs will be filled by robots, and lets be honest we appear to struggle to fill Care and Nursing/Medical roles, but if they can fill these roles and Amazon becomes the Food Supplier they seem keen to become (Supermarket shelf stackers beware) what can’t they fill

    What will the population do
    We won’t all be artists, scientists, students or making and selling crafts…
    As already asked – what are the alternatives to paid employment, and what need for Investment Advisers and shops and many products if an ever increasing section of the population is “earning” only a basic income.
    We might have more time to help others, be better parents and so on or we might have more time to be bored, make mischief or make a bigger population!
    Who will pay for the Basic Income if that is part of the answer, in a globalised world where perhaps more and more UK companies are owned by global corporations who use all available methods to avoid paying tax.
    Perhaps the corporations or the shrinking few very rich will provide for excellent free transportation and infrastructures etc for all as part of the deal See David Becket 25th Jan ’17 – 12:00pm (the Bread and Circuses of Rome).
    Society has struggled and will struggle more with the issues around this.
    There is a small LibDem Loomio group set up to discuss Universal Basic Income
    https://www.loomio.org/g/NTeVbO2f/uk-universal-basic-wage

  • The idea of a Basic Citizens Income crops up time and again. It’s invariably the ‘goto’ suggestion when the dilemma of where/when,.. technology ~ resources ~ population ~ clash head on.?

    In and of itself, I can’t fault the actual desire for a Basic Income, but I’m always left wondering how.??
    The State Pension is [through economic necessity], drifting upwards from its baseline of age 65, towards Millenials having to wait probably, until they’re 68/70, before they have any hope of a basic old age financial support. In light of this funding deficiency for OAP cash, where on earth do the promoters of Basic Income [for all citizens!], think the money is going to come from.?

    If there is available cash, [theoretical,… real,… or factored into some notional future GDP],.swishing around, ready and waiting to pay all citizens a Basic Income,… why for heavens sake, do we have a food banks,… a crumbling Health Service,.. poverty pay,.. limited hours of work….. and pensioners waiting until near death, before they get the support they need..??

    Assume for a moment, that your proposed CI is (say) £3,000 per year, and the State Pension presently, is (say) £7,000 per year.

    This is what I don’t get.
    When the state declares that you have to have contributed, for 35(ish), years of full employment before you get a full [£7,000], state pension,… where is this other,..magic money coming from, to pay for a non-contributary [£3,000], basic income for all citizens.?

  • @ J Dunn

    It would cost nothing to replace the Income Tax Personal Allowance with a Citizens Income of £2,200 for those in full time work. It has been suggested that National Insurance could be increased to the over £155.01 per week rate of 12% to those earning over £827 a week (£42,004 pa) to pay for most of the rolling out of a Citizens Income to those who are not in full time employment. However if we can’t even keep 90% of the working age population in work we need to think about spreading the work around more. I think that a Basic Citizens Income has to be over £3900 a year, which is close to the Job Seekers Allowance rate of £73.10 per week. If we have accepted that there will be fewer people working then we will need to get commerce and industry to pay more tax. It could be done with a Land Value Tax and increases in VAT. (I don’t like VAT as a tax, but it is way to generate income from everything that is sold in the country no matter where it was made.)

    Also if we built 3 million more homes then rents might be decreased and there could be some savings from housing benefit.

  • I’ve often criticised Nick Clegg as Leader, but one good characteristic I always thought he had was the ability to think long, strategically and about issues that aren’t top of the breaking news cacophony.

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