During the campaign, President Trump’s big selling line that he would be bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, and spurring job growth in what is now the Rust Belt and big sections of rural America. It was bought hook, line, and sinker by those areas, since they’ve been seeing declines for decades. As I pointed out last year, they didn’t share in the economic recovery other areas of the country. They’re going to be badly disappointed though, because any jobs that do return won’t involve them.
A lot of these areas, and yes, I live in one, have a large number of senior citizens who will tell you of “the good old days.” You could graduate high school, go to work in the local factory (often unionized), and make decent money. It was something that you were proud to do. But like most memories of “the good old days,” it turns out that the “good old days” weren’t quite what they’re remembered as. In fact, far from it.
In 1949, the sociologist Charles Walker conducted detailed interviews for his study of the man on the assembly line of two General Motors plants. When asked about how much thought he put into his work, Joseph Romalko, a dash board assembler, commented: “Brains, hah! It sure doesn’t take brains out there. They just put you in the line and drive you.” Another General Motors worker, William Bradley, observed: “This place is different from any I’ve worked in every respect. If you work here you gradually become an automaton.” One Framingham plant assembly line worker reported: “Anybody who would want to work on an assembly line is crazy in the head. It’s not just the monotony, but the rush, rush. . . . you get in the hole and have to work like hell to catch up.” A black line worker in the same plant also recalled: “you feel like they enjoy working you by push buttons. They push a button for you to begin, they ring a buzzer when they want you to stop and so on.” Another worker stated: “There’s nothing more discouraging that having a barrel beside you with 10,000 bolts in it and using them all up. Then you get another barrel with 10,000 bolts and you know that every one of those 10,000 bolts has to be picked up and put in exactly the same place as the last 10,000 bolts.”
In other words, all you needed was a strong back and a strong toleration for insane monotony and repetition. It wasn’t just auto plants, it was most manufacturing plants back then. Lots of people doing a single thing, and that’s all they did. A plant floor would look like this:
Thousands of people working along the line. Today? That factory floor looks like this:
That’s right, machines do it. The dull, repetitive tasks that used to be done by people are done by industrial robots. It’s a trend that’s going to continue.
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Open markets and global trade have been blamed for job losses over the last decade, but global CEOs say the real culprits are increasingly machines.
And while business leaders gathered at the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos relish the productivity gains technology can bring, they warned this week that the collateral damage to jobs needs to be addressed more seriously.
From taxi drivers to healthcare professionals, technologies such as robotics, driverless cars, artificial intelligence and 3-D printing mean more and more types of jobs are at risk.
Most of the jobs people in my generation or older “remember” simply aren’t there anymore, because they’re being done by machines. The jobs that are created by these plants don’t need “strong backs, weak minds,” they need educated, flexible people who can program and repair the machines. Those are the people who benefited from the economic recovery, while the people who didn’t don’t fall into that category. What does it mean for those areas that believed Trump? It means they’re going to be badly disappointed. You see, even if manufacturing plants were to start up again in this country, they’d create fewer jobs those areas believe, and even worse for them, the people who would be in demand for those jobs aren’t … them.