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Tucker Carlson is wrong even when he's for bigger government
And don't even get me started on the Reddit comments
I came across this clip the other day and had to share. Please watch - it’s only two minutes long: Tucker Carlson on trucking
The key dialogue is here:
Ben Shapiro: The fact that there are going to be automated cars on the road. So, would you, Tucker Carlson ,be in favor of restrictions on the ability of trucking companies to use this sort of technology, specifically, to you know, sort of artificially maintain the number of jobs that are available in the trucking industry?
Tucker Carlson: In a second. In a second. In other words, if I were president would I say to DOT, the Department of Transportation: "We're not letting driverless trucks on the road, period." Why? Really simple. Driving for a living is the single most common job for high school educated men in this country, in all 50 states. By the way, that's the same group whose wages have gone down by 11% over the past 30 years. The social cost of eliminating their jobs in a 10-year span, 5-year span, 30-year span, is so high that it's not sustainable. So the greater good is protecting your citizens…
Tucker Carlson is mainly known as a conservative thinker, so it’s surprising to hear him advocate for a strong government intervention in private industry. The banning of an entire technology would be highly unusual, especially one that is already more prevalent than people may realize. As much as I like seeing a public and polarizing figure have an unpredictable opinion for once, Carlson is dead wrong. In fact, he’s making arguably the most common fallacy in all of economics, the Lump of Labor Fallacy.
The lump of labor fallacy says that the number of jobs in the economy is fixed. If one company that employs 100 people closes down, then the number of jobs available permanently decreases by 100 people. If those 100 former employees find another job, then that means a different set of 100 people are now unemployed. The lump of labor fallacy pops up often, most frequently when people say things like “the elderly should retire to free up more jobs” or “letting in more immigrants will result in more unemployed Americans”.
I cannot stress enough that this is incorrect. Not just in theory, but in fact. Many people, however, believe in the lump of labor hypothesis. The title of the Reddit post is “These people are secretly sane”. All the top comments are in agreement that the automation of trucking is bad for America. History and a thought experiment, however, can prove that the lump of labor is a fallacy.
Start with history. The most common occupation listed during the first census of 1790 is farmer. In fact, about 90% of Americans said their occupation was farmer. This doesn’t include the many individuals who had other occupations but farmed on the side. When people imagine themselves living in the 18th century, they often imagine they would be a blacksmith or cooper or cobbler. The fact is almost everyone before the industrial revolution farmed. Today, farm employment is about 1.3% of US employment. What happened during the interim? According to the lump of labor fallacy, a society losing 88% of its jobs should be in mass chaos. Instead, America is exponentially wealthier than in 1790.
Alternatively, think of the number of jobs that have been destroyed by automation at ports. I’ve lived near the 53rd busiest US port for the last seven years. 100 years ago, a port that handled 10 million tons of cargo annually would have required tens of thousands of workers. Yet I have never met a longshoreman. I’ve never met a stevedore (have you?). I’ve never met a single person affiliated with the port. Why? Because almost all the work is done by machine. Has this resulted in the devastation of the US labor market? No.
Jobs are created and destroyed all the time. In March 2023, 236,000 net jobs were added to the US economy. That number hides the fact that in that month millions of jobs were created and millions were lost. The net effect is 236,000, but the churn is far higher. Every year, tens of millions of jobs are created and destroyed. There is not a fixed number of jobs!
What Carlson is right about is that yes, if automated trucking comes to pass, there will be millions of Americans who lose their current jobs. But that’s how progress works. If the government would have banned machines from ports and tractors from farms, it would mean way more stevedores and farmers. But it would mean way fewer app developers and robot developers and satellite builders. It is absolutely horrible policy to ban technology to preserve existing jobs - otherwise we would still be watching television by candlelight. I’m glad that the quill gave way to the pen which gave way to the typewriter which gave way to the keyboard. Countless jobs were destroyed along the way, but society became wealthier with every step.
Where Carlson has a point is that eliminating 10 million trucking jobs over a three year period would be highly disruptive to those individuals who lose their jobs. But is it sustainable? Absolutely. 10 million jobs are eliminated every year. Some of those workers find similar jobs for other companies. Other workers find new jobs in different fields. And others, unfortunately, will never find consistent work again. The government’s job is to help that last group, not prevent all progress so that 2023 becomes the plateau of human achievement.
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