Self-Driving Trucks Won’t Kill Millions of Jobs
We’ve been oversold by people pushing their own agendas
In 2015, universal basic income advocate Scott Santens wrote a compelling piece arguing that self-driving transport trucks would kill up to 8.7 million jobs by automating the work of human drivers. The argument was picked up by a number of publications, helping to set off a narrative of fear around the future of the industry.
At the time, automation was in the news with frequent reports about the large percentage of jobs that would be lost in the coming decades due to the forward march of technology. In a very short period, millions of people would find themselves destitute. People like Santens had a ready answer: an unconditional $1,000 per month for everyone, which its supporters promised would solve a plethora of social ills.
As the looming threat of automation has faded from the headlines, it’s now clear that Santens’ argument played on the fears of ordinary people and the concerns of the moment to make a case for the policy that he makes his living promoting. We can now see that self-driving trucks are not the boogeyman they were presented to be. Not only is the technology further away than previously expected, but the number of people likely to be affected is much lower than Santens’ estimation — in the hundreds of thousands at the very most.
The warnings of basic income promoters and tech determinists are overblown.
Trucking jobs aren’t going far
In his argument, Santens seems to have used the highest numbers he could find to make his warning all the more threatening. He cites figures of 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States, with another 5.2 million people in industries supported by trucking — a very broad category that includes restaurants, motels, and “entire small town communities.”
The federal government, however, puts the number of heavy truck drivers closer to 1.8 million. It would still represent a major hit if they all lost…