On Techdirt, Cathy Gellis has an interesting essay on what the Trump administration will mean for various technology-related issues: free speech/copyright, mass surveillance/encryption, net neutrality/intermediary immunity, and Internet governance.
It’s worth a read, but easy to sum up. Gellis feels Trump’s own positions are generally bad ideas, but hopes that now that they’re not the ones in the driver’s seat, Democrats and the anti-Trump Republican faction will be able to work together to try to limit the damage, or even use Trump as a rallying point to get contrarian legislation passed. I’m not sure how realistic those hopes are, but I suppose it’s better to be optimistic than pessimistic–it doesn’t usually change the outcome, but at least lets you feel better about things in the meanwhile.
Nonetheless, that and some other things I’ve been reading lately have crystallized some thoughts of my own about how Trump’s positions might affect things–but positions on some points other than those Cathy Gellis looked at.
One of Trump’s many campaign promises was to require technology companies such as Apple to move their manufacturing plants back home to the USA. As with any campaign promise, it’s doubtful whether Trump will actually be willing or able to keep it–and even if he did, as David noted the other day, it would probably drive up e-reader and mobile device tech costs considerably. But then I saw this piece in The Verge noting that Apple is reportedly investigating the possibility of moving iPhone manufacturing to the USA. It is unclear whether anything will come of it, but it does show Apple is, at least, taking Trump’s position seriously.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest Trump clichés from early in the campaign was his promise to build a wall between the USA and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it. While the idea of such a project is patently unrealistic (and even Trump scaled back the rhetoric later in the campaign), it is certainly indicative of an intention to crack down on illegal immigration and expel as many immigrants as possible.
It’s interesting what these two positions have in common. Effectively, they both demonstrate a willingness on Trump’s part to try to bring more jobs to the US that most US citizens don’t actually want.
Despite all the complaints that “illegal immigrants are taking our jobs,” in actuality most of the jobs immigrants take are jobs American citizens don’t want–minimum-wage jobs like picking crops or doing janitorial work. When there are crackdowns on immigration, farms actually have a hard time getting their crops picked–they have jobs to spare, but almost no applicants. Google “farm labor shortage” and you’ll pull up story after story.
As for iPhone manufacturing jobs, these are the manufacturing plants that actually have to put up giant suicide nets around their buildings because their workers are in the habit of climbing up to the roof and jumping off. Are these the sorts of job that American workers would want either? (And what does it say about us that we’re so eager to buy these products that have such a great cost in human lives and dignity? They’re not our lives and dignity, so it’s okay?)
We’re already having trouble filling the menial jobs that immigrants don’t take. Last night it took 25 minutes to get my order at a Taco Bell because almost nobody was staffing it and the ones who were there were clearly devoting most of their attention to working the drive-through. (So much for “fast food,” huh?) What’s it going to do for the price of groceries if more crops rot in the fields, or the price of electronics if they can’t find enough people to man the factories?
Even if some people do want those jobs, they’re exactly the sort of labor-intensive, repetitive work that is ripe for automation–and iPhone manufacturer Foxconn has already been working on that. (After all, assembly-line robots don’t usually kill themselves.) So any jobs that are picked up may only be temporary solutions.
But regardless of the consequences, bringing jobs back to the US sounds good to people who don’t look too closely at what kind of jobs those are. It played well in the depressed rural areas that voted Trump into office. Still, it remains to be seen just how effective Trump will be at keeping that particular promise.