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America's Wacky New President...and Technology

I am not a political commentator. But anyone not living in a cave has to admit that the past year of American politics was just plain wacky. For those of you for whom English is not your first language, "wacky" is a word that basically means (by my personal definition) "strange, highly unusual and a bit crazy". Which also applies to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th American President two days ago on Friday, January 20th. I spent Friday and the rest of this weekend pondering this and what it might mean for those who work in technology. 

What actually happens under President Trump is anyone's guess at this point. Leaving aside (to the political commentators) all of the wacky things President Trump has said, I am going to take some time here to speculate on what it means for technology. I am talking of technology here in a broad sense, and not the ridiculously narrow sense one often sees it portrayed - as if Silicon Valley technology is the only technology which is important.

First, let's talk about automation technology. Automation technology has been a powerful force for the last 200-300 years. While we all like to talk about humankind's "progress", that progress has destroyed countless jobs. But it has also created countless more jobs. I wrote about this in a previous blog Are Technology and Automation Really Destroying Jobs?.

President Trump appealed to the loss of jobs in the American so-called Rust Belt states. As Americans now know, the Rust Belt states are what propelled Donald Trump to his improbable victory. The loss of manufacturing jobs in these states was possibly the biggest reason people there voted for Trump. The common perception in America is that our manufacturing is in decline. As I understand the facts, that is not the case at all. American manufacturing has been growing steadily (with the exception of the decline that occurred during the "Great Recession"). What has happened is that America has lost roughly a third of it's manufacturing jobs over the last twenty years. How does a country increase manufacturing with fewer workers? Through automation. Restoring manufacturing jobs in the USA is a noble goal of President Trump. But when automation is a key cause of lost jobs, it is hard to see how those jobs can be restored. It would seem a better goal is to work towards creating and supporting entirely new manufacturing industries in the USA and supporting programs that retrain workers. It is not clear to me that President Trump understands this. It sounds like ex-President Obama did though in this article.

Second, let's talk about some dirty things. Like oil and coal. President Trump has made clear he supports oil infrastructure development (see Donald Trump can easily reverse Obama, fast-track Keystone pipeline). He also made many promises related to bringing back the coal industry. The reasons for his support always seemed to boil down to job creation. President Trump has taken a dim view of regulatory growth in the USA. This includes how regulations affect oil and coal industries and, in particular, jobs in those sectors.

I personally agree with the idea of oil infrastructure development for many reasons. Among them is that, as an American, I believe it is strategically important for the USA to have as much energy independence as possible. I hope President Trump makes progress in this area. However, when considering coal, many would say that the rise of inexpensive natural gas produced in the USA has had a far bigger impact on the coal industry than have regulations. I am not sure what can be done to restore jobs in the coal industry short of a subsidy - which is a very un-American idea. For more on this see Can West Virginia’s New Governor Save Coal Country?.

Along these lines, the emergence of inexpensive natural gas is a result of huge technological progress in the area of hydraulic fracturing. Hence technology development seems to be perhaps the biggest cause of the coal industry decline. Here is more food for thought - an article on automation in the oil industry: Robots Are Taking Over Oil Rigs.

Third, let's talk about American infrastructure. It is commonly understood that American infrastructure is deteriorating. Roads. Bridges. Pipelines. Water delivery. Improving our infrastructure involves engineering jobs and a chance to apply more modern technology to systems created 50-100 years ago. See Trump's trillion-dollar infrastructure plan faces congressional scrutiny.

Finally, let's talk about the military and it's close cousin, the defense industry. President Trump has promised to significantly strengthen the US military. The US military has been a technology driver for many decades. Heck, it is fair to say that the internet was invented by the US military establishment through ARPA (today called DARPA). An increased emphasis on military strength will involve new technology development. This will require engineers. And, if history is a guide, this will result in development and refinement of new technologies that will spill over into the commercial sector. An example of this is me, and the company I founded and whose website you are now reading (see Rockets are Pumping Systems Too - The Aerospace Heritage of AFT).

Most are taking a "wait and see" attitude with respect to President Trump. He has certainly said many wacky things. In hindsight it seems clear his focus on job creation was not one of those wacky things. My guess is his efforts will, in the big picture, benefit technology development and application. Only time will tell.

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Comments 2

Guest - Michael Shahrokhani on Monday, 06 February 2017 02:12

Dear Trey,

I agree with you he is a wacky and he shows more of his wackiness every day which is pathetic as the president of the country which is the leader of every good thing including science, technology and DEMOCRACY, most people on the globe see US as the savior and her president is a role model for all heads of state of the world, but I am pretty optimist about USA, USA with a great civil society and millions of good brain never ever will let buffoons rule it...GOD BLESS USA...

Michael Shahrokhani

Dear Trey, I agree with you he is a wacky and he shows more of his wackiness every day which is pathetic as the president of the country which is the leader of every good thing including science, technology and DEMOCRACY, most people on the globe see US as the savior and her president is a role model for all heads of state of the world, but I am pretty optimist about USA, USA with a great civil society and millions of good brain never ever will let buffoons rule it...GOD BLESS USA... Michael Shahrokhani
Trey Walters on Monday, 06 February 2017 09:17

Dear Michael:

I will tread carefully in the area of politics and just say that there are many places in the world where similar things are happening. I wrote about this last July here: A 30,000 Foot View of the BREXIT Trend: Should We Stay or Should We Go - or Should We Even Care? https://www.aft.com/blog/entry/2016/07/13/a-30-000-view-of-the-brexit-trend-should-we-stay-or-should-we-go-or-should-we-even-care

Dear Michael: I will tread carefully in the area of politics and just say that there are many places in the world where similar things are happening. I wrote about this last July here: A 30,000 Foot View of the BREXIT Trend: Should We Stay or Should We Go - or Should We Even Care? https://www.aft.com/blog/entry/2016/07/13/a-30-000-view-of-the-brexit-trend-should-we-stay-or-should-we-go-or-should-we-even-care
Tuesday, 31 January 2023
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