Information technology, automation and globalization are eliminating many jobs. The intensity of this process keeps increasing.
Meanwhile, new jobs are emerging. But this process takes time, and the new jobs require different skill sets than those that disappear. In consequence, a growing number of people in the “modern” world are facing unemployment and existential crisis. People who often lack the resources and mental frameworks to choose alternative roads (such as self-education or entrepreneurship). Not the cognitive capacity, but the tools to access it.
Politicians are faced with 2 alternatives for how to deal with the situation:
a) Creating and “selling” a new societal and economic model which enables and empowers people to create meaning in their lives even in a scenario in which a lot of “traditional” jobs are gone and a lot of new jobs are (initially) out of reach.
b) Trying to artificially “save” jobs that could be done by machines more efficiently, through market interventions, punitive tariffs and public threats. That’s Trump.
Since alternative a) is a bold move requiring unbelievable amounts of effort, involves lots of uncertainty and requires getting rid of various traditional moral principles, alternative b) is what politicians tend to favor. This is why Trump and others talk about saving jobs or “bringing jobs back”.
The upside of alternative b)? A few more years for maybe a few tens of thousands people in jobs that technically are obsolete. Jobs whose only purpose is to offer meaning in life.
The downside of alternative b) is gigantic. The actions required to achieve b) lead to radical nationalism, isolationism, zero-sum-thinking, the inhibition of progress & innovation and a public that is constantly being encouraged to look backward, not forward. But in the past, most things were shitty. It’s just our memory which plays tricks on us. Considering that in aggregate, seen globally, the world in the 21st century is in a better shape than ever before, looking backward means cheering for a world that gets worse, not better.
Which brings me to a question to which I have no answer: How to achieve alternative a) if politics don’t get us there?
Update: Albert Wenger just published a post along those lines as well, aptly calling the current conflict a “fight of the past against future”.