NOTHSTINE: Automation and the Washington disconnect

A tanker truck exits the Eco Energy storage and transfer facilities photographed in Philadelphia

Whatever happened to all the predictions about flying automobiles? It was just assumed in “Back to the Future, Part II” that the technology would be the norm by 2015. However, the less thrilling consolation prize of driverless vehicle technology is emerging rapidly. Reduced labor may prove one way to dramatically cut shipping costs, while providing more convenience for commuters and travelers. Not everybody is excited though, as Fox News host Tucker Carlson pointed out as an invited speaker last week for the International Association of Fire Firefighters, a more than 300,000-member union affiliated with the AFL-CIO.Carlson noted that automation means a massive amount of American job loss, particularly for men. “Truck driving is the single most common job for high school educated men in America,” Carlson declared. There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the U.S. and over 8 million directly employed by the industry.The average trucking salary is a little over $50,000, but a driver in a private fleet like Walmart has a median compensation of $73,000, with even more bonus opportunities. Some companies offer decent benefit packages too, making it an ideal profession for many who support a family. If a driver owns his own truck, the average earnings are closer to $100,000. Carlson pointed out that those in the construction industry should be “really worried” too. He highlighted a recent video of a 3D printed house built in 24 hours.But Carlson made much larger points in his remarks. While the vast majority of people in D.C. are excited about the prospect of self-driving vehicles, nobody in the beltway is having conversations about the potential loss of jobs. On top of that, per Carlson, the Obama administration spent almost half a billion dollars funding self-driving vehicle research, and taxpayer expenditures for the effort are ongoing. “What are those people going to do next, write software?” Carlson rhetorically asked. He called the looming job loss to automation “a social disaster waiting to happen.”Carlson said President Trump should ban self-automated trucks. It’s hard to imagine the free-market devotee morphing more into a populist regulator. After all, Carlson first emerged on the scene as the foppish elitist looking conservative on CNN’s now-retired Crossfire show. After spending a year and a half listening to Trump and talking to Americans across the country, Carlson says it has reinforced how disconnected D.C. has become and it even changed his politics. The disconnect is emphasized by the fact that Trump surged on the issues of limiting immigration and international trade, two policies not even on the D.C. radar.In his remarks, Carlson noted that Republicans in D.C. hate Trump. Virtually the entire federal bureaucracy loathes him. But Trump became a vessel for a shrinking and increasingly scoffed-at middle class. Most people who pay attention to politics know that the cracks in conservatism have split wide open. The fusionism of hawks, conservatives, and economic libertarians that brought Ronald Reagan to power is a shell of itself. The belief that markets can rescue large swaths of the working and middle class might be at an all-time low, at least since the Great Depression. Where Trump and the GOP should agree, mainly substantial cuts to government, many in the GOP this week are guarding the bureaucracy, or the “swamp,” in their comments.The main point of Carlson’s address was that D.C. doesn’t listen and still hasn’t learned anything from Trump’s rise. Whether it’s loss of jobs from trade or automation, even where there are policy disagreements, listening and transparency is fundamental to good government. Otherwise, our current broken federal government will continue to serve itself.Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.