Dec. 1, 2017

TITLE: The robots are coming! The robots are coming!

While it isn't for weight loss, this column may help you lose some weight... particularly if you're the type of person who tends to do a lot of jumping up and down aerobically when you find out things are not the way they have been portrayed to you by (ahem) certain leaders.

To hear the President tell it (I can write Trump and I can write President, but still can't quite put them adjacent to one another) at countless campaign rallies and in comments since the election, the loss of US jobs is directly attributable to illegal immigrants taking jobs from Americans and/or unfair trade deals with Mexico, China, and others.

But, according to a recent study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, just 13.4% of manufacturing jobs losses are due to offshoring. Eighty-eight percent of job losses were caused by so-called 'productivity growth' (primarily improvements in computer systems and software) and automation -- the robots you've been hearing so much about lately. Cheap, relative to human labor. And not just American labor, even inexpensive overseas workers. Which is exactly the way the big bosses like it.

Trump and his golfing buddies get a twofer. They stir up rabid anti-immigrant sentiment among the base and diverts every American's eyes as to what is really going on: massive gains in productivity which accrue almost entirely to the benefit of the .1%.

Mireya Solís, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, summarized, "Simply put, we are producing more with fewer people."

Federica Cocco of the Financial Times wrote, "The US did indeed lose about 5.6 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. But [the Ball study] think-tank found that, although there has been a steep decline in factory jobs, the manufacturing sector has become more productive and industrial output has been growing."

Quoted in the Dailey News, Michael Hicks, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State said, "The loss of manufacturing jobs isn't a new phenomenon in the U.S. because the country has been losing these jobs since the late '70s. Since then, the U.S. has lost over seven million manufacturing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can talk all about trade, you can talk all about everything else. The bottom line is, we have never made as much stuff when you adjust for inflation as we are today, and we are doing it with fewer people."

But all that will change if the currently proposed corporate tax cuts and repatriation of overseas profits on U.S. corporations are enacted, right? Well, let's ask the bosses themselves.

When Bank of America and Merrill Lynch recently surveyed senior executives from more than 300 major companies, CNBC's Jeff Cox reported, "U.S. companies in line to bring home trillions in cash stored overseas would use the windfall primarily to pay down debt, return cash to shareholders and do deals, according to a survey released this week. After paying down debt, the next most likely use at 46 percent is share repurchases, followed by mergers and acquisitions, and only then capital expenditures." Very low on the list were equipment, workers, and research and development. "That's what happened the last time the government gave a break on overseas profits in 2004," Cox continued, "Back then, the biggest recipients not only shoveled the cash back to investors but also in many cases cut jobs."

The days of blaming "them" way over there or "those" deep in the shadows of the lower class are coming to an end whether we're prepared to accept it or not. The robotization of labor is sure to continue. America needs to take a sober look at what is really happening with traditional concepts of labor -- something we'll talk more about more here in the future.

The bogeyman has eyes that glow in the dark. LEDs.

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Multiple award-winning author Charles Carr has written thousands of columns and articles for many publications. He is also an noted playwright whose current show, "It's a Wonderful Christmas Carol," is in preproduction at the California Center for the Arts. Tickets and info at northcountyplayers.org.