Automation could eliminate millions of truck driving jobs


What will happen to the countless truckers who could lose their livelihoods?

According to an Oxford University study, nearly 50% of jobs in the United States are at risk of being eliminated by automation . With recent advances in self-driving vehicles, trucking can be added to the list.

Already, The Daimler Freightliner Inspiration automated truck is approved to drive on Nevada freeways, and certainly will not be the last vehicle of its type. The autopilot feature steers the truck, but the Freightliner Inspiration still requires a human driver to take control if necessary. So while humans are still needed in the driver’s seat for now, the inexorable march of automation continues at a rapid pace.

Though often overlooked in economic discussions, trucking accounts for a substantial amount of jobs. There are 3.5 million truckers in the United States alone, which means rising automation will have a huge cost in lost jobs and wages.

Like everything in our interconnected economy, lost jobs and wages have a ripple effect. The trucking industry supports countless isolated diners and rest stops as well as many driver training jobs, all of which will be negatively affected by automation.

Like all who could lose from automation, truckers will need support

As automation moves ever-onward, governments are doing very little to prepare. The answer is not to stand in the way of automation, but to take the necessary steps to adapt to it. If action is not taken, it is easy to see how automation could lead to a serious economic crisis and even collapse, if the millions of potentially displaced workers are not given income security and opportunities to access new education opportunities.

The failure of governments to prepare for the incoming wave of automation is a symptom of our deeper political failure to plan for the long-term. With politicians obsessed by the election cycle, short-term decision-making takes the place of prudent planning.

The millions of truck drivers who could lose their jobs in the coming years and decades will – like millions of other workers – need the opportunity to find new employment. That will require new skills. And this is where we face a serious problem. The cost of education is rising, pushing people into debt. If someone loses their job, how can they be expected to learn new skills if they don’t have any money? Right now, we are setting people up to fail. With the economy undergoing massive upheavel, tinkering around the edges is not enough.

Automation is a key reason to bring in Universal Income Insurance

I have written in-depth about the idea of Universal Income Insurance. Also known as a Guaranteed Income, Basic Income, or Mincome, the idea is that every citizen would be guaranteed a base level income. If the base was set at $15,000 no working age person could make less than that in a year. If someone had no income, the government would give them a cheque for $1250 every month.

To ensure an incentive to work, the payout could decline by only 50 cents for every additional dollar earned, phasing out entirely at $30,000. So, if someone made $10,000 they would receive a check for $833.33 per month ($20,000 combined for the year) – meaning it would always be more profitable to work. This would keep people out of poverty, and create some breathing room for transition to new employment.

Though the idea of Universal Income Insurance sounds expensive, consider that the average annual truckers’ salary in the United States is $51,000. The loss of millions of salaries at that level would be devastating for the economy, and Universal Income Insurance would be a helpful cushion to the loss in economic output. If you think protecting people from poverty would be costly, imagine the cost of millions of unemployed workers.

Do you think we can sustain a society where a few people become spectacularly rich from automation while the vast majority lose jobs and wages?

If not, you can see why Universal Income Insurance could become a necessity. Just as we consider access to roads, water, fire and police protection to be the right of everyone, so too could we come to see access to income in the very same way.

Besides securing some income stability for those who lose jobs from automation, the opportunity to learn new skills and get back in the workforce will be essential. Debt free access to education will be a must, and that means government must make skills retraining and college free for all. This is easily achievable, as many advanced economies already do so.

Free (government-subsidized) education and Universal Income Insurance sound like big ideas, and they are. But our world is going through big changes. When human drivers look in our rearview mirrors we can see machines catching up fast. With almost half of us – and the number will certainly grow as technology advances – at risk of losing our jobs to automation, we must rethink our economy and government services.

If we fail to prepare, poverty, suffering, and economic collapse may be the result. It’s up to us to make sure automation is a new golden age, rather than a dystopian nightmare.


Follow Spencer Fernando on Twitter: @SpencerFernando

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4 comments Add yours
  1. Sounds good doesn’t it. What happens when these trucks are hacked, encounter slippery roads, or censors fail and a mini van is run over. Not saying that does not happen now, but recent technology is not that great. I run a 94 425 mechanical with 2.7 million miles on the old girl. My truck is not down as much as these new computer run, def burning, won’t run derating prices of garbage they’re selling now. This new Technology will fail, who’s responsible when that happens?

  2. Spencer this is just glorified cruise control, far far away from threatening trucking jobs. Going straight down the road in gooD weather is nothing. Bad weather, then picking up and delivering will be impossible given the current infrastructure of the roads and the customers. How does an automated truck arrive at its pick up location, check 8n, park in a difficult dock, deal with flats, etc., etc., etc.,? Not in our lifetimess.

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