Governments, including Canada's run for cover whenever vision is most needed. During Harper's reign, his then BFF, Tom Flanagan told an audience on Saltspring Island that the Conservative prime minister utterly eschewed vision. He was focused on the present. The future held little currency for Stephen Harper.
Justin Trudeau is scarcely better than Harper. He acknowledges challenges such as climate change more freely but his gestural response, hopelessly inadequate, is strictly short-term. He is doing next to nothing to prepare this nation and our people for climate change impacts even in the near and mid-term.
Automation? That's not even on this government's radar. We've already had Trudeau's finance minister, Morneau, consign working class Canadians to a future of "job churn," membership in the 21st century precariat. In abandoning Canadians to a grim fate and doing nothing to avert this calamity, Trudeau and Morneau have pulled the pin on a very nasty grenade.
An essay in Foreign Policy argues that politicians must prepare their electorate for the onslaught of automation or allow their nation to succumb to opportunistic populism.
In 2016, there were already 309 installed industrial robots for every 10,000 manufacturing workers — a measurement known as robot density — in Germany, 223 in Sweden, and 189 in the United States. The use of robots had risen 7 percent in the United States, 5 percent in Sweden, and 3 percent in Germany in just one year. That may not sound like much, but at that rate, robot density would double in the United States in about a decade. And these numbers are only likely to grow because next-generation robots are already highly cost competitive. The average hourly cost of a manufacturing worker in Germany as of 2013 was $49, in France it was $43, and in the United States $36. The hourly cost of a collaborative robot — a machine that does not require skill to interact with — was $4, according to a recent study by Bain & Company.
That same Bain study estimates that advances in automation could displace up to 25 percent of the U.S. labor force over the next two decades. This would mean nearly 2.5 million Americans would have to find new work each year. By comparison, only 1.2 million Americans were displaced annually in the transition from agriculture to industry in the first part of the 20th century. Estimates for other countries vary widely, but all suggest significant displacement can be anticipated thanks to the rapid adoption of robotics and AI in both the manufacturing sector and, increasingly, the provision of services.
To say that publics are wary of these impending technological changes would be an understatement. In Europe, 70 percent of respondents to a 2015 Eurobarometer survey agreed that “robots steal people’s jobs.” This included 89 percent of Spanish, 75 percent of French, and 72 percent of Germans. In the United States, according to a recent Gallup report, 73 percent of those surveyed worried that artificial intelligence would eliminate more jobs than it created.
... Three in 10 Europeans and roughly 4 in 10 Americans told the Pew Research Center in a recent survey that life was worse today than it was 50 years ago for people like them. As of 2007, 70 percent or more in Spain, the United Kingdom, Poland, France, Germany, and the United States already said their traditional way of life was getting lost. And significant portions of the publics in Europe and the United States — 49 percent of Americans, 45 percent of French, 44 percent of Italians — say their country’s involvement in the global economy is a bad thing because it lowers wages and costs jobs.
Popular reactions against globalization help explain the nationalist and populist currents in today’s politics. In contrast to widespread support in the past, only about one-third of U.S. Republicans today say trade agreements are a good thing for America, according to a Pew survey, echoing the oft-repeated sentiment of President Donald Trump. Those most critical of trade deals are white men over the age of 50, a demographic group quite likely to have lost manufacturing jobs because of globalization and who various polls show are among Trump’s strongest backers.
Similarly in Europe, those who have a favorable view of populist parties — such as the National Front in France, the Alternative for Germany party, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and the Sweden Democrats — are much more likely than others to believe that life is worse today than 50 years ago. And they are also more likely to believe that involvement in the global economy is a bad thing.Governments today respond to these destabilizing changes much as Morneau did with "job churn" - with a shrug of inevitability. They declare themselves powerless to stop or even alter these corrosive forces that spread anxiety, anger and disaffection. Indeed, they are powerless. They have surrendered that essential power to a no-longer-new order, neoliberalism to which they now respond not as instigators but as captives of the very system they implemented. It is people the like of Harper and Trudeau and Morneau that have placed our very democracy in very real peril.
They ought to be consulting the very best minds, the public intellectuals, the great progressive economists, on how to get out of this trap, how to steer another course, while there's still time. Will they? Hardly and in their failure, their unwillingness to act with the vision needed in these rapidly worsening times, they betray the nation and our people.