Should Government Put the Brakes on Technology?

by Esther Rhoads, Age 12
Submitting Teacher: Carla Sethna

Imagine it is the year 1860. You’ve just spent fourteen hours making a single shirt, but your friend, who now owns one of the newly invented sewing machines, has made one in just over an hour. Maybe you should save up for one of those machines also. People were thrilled when the sewing machine was invented because it made sewing, and life, a whole lot easier. Technology has been sprinting ahead at an ever-increasing rate throughout history.  Even the skeptics must admit that technology not only has made life easier and more convenient, but it has vastly improved our health and safety in countless ways. What would our lives look like if we were to stop using cell phones, cars, computers, airplanes, and modern medical technologies? Nervous Nellies insist on government intervention to secure jobs and to ensure safe products. However, the free market, which is the only solution that includes the free flow of ideas and innovation, is the best “regulator” to secure the health and well being of a nation.

Many are understandably worried about technology taking over their jobs. Job displacement is already happening. John Stossel’s In the Classroom video segment Robots and Cars features the Henn-na Hotel in Japan. There, intelligent robots greet guests, carry their luggage, and even operate a storage room. Guests’ rooms unlock with facial recognition.Soon, robots could also replace teachers, doctors, mechanics, and so on. Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, cites an estimate by Oxford University researchers that “47% of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next two decades.”[1] Even Arizona governor Doug Ducey, who brought Uber into Arizona, agrees that millions will lose their jobs. So, it would seem reasonable for the government to intervene.

Though on the surface we see jobs fading away, we never look past the tip of the iceberg. In actuality, the free market creates more jobs than the government could rescue. For instance, when workers were able to produce clothing much faster, their improved efficiency cut costs and enabled factory owners to expand production and hire more workers. A century and a half later, some now worry that driverless cars will take over taxi and truck drivers’ jobs. Economist James Miller acknowledges that when companies start using driverless cars and trucks to transport products, stores “will undoubtedly fire some truck drivers...but this is going to cause [them] to lower their prices.”[2] Yet, as Trevir Nath writes in Automation Technology and Its Impact On Jobs, “Despite what it may seem, technology has not replaced labor, but improved task efficiency… Over the course of history, the adoption of new technology has created jobs, increased productivity, raised earnings, and increased the demand for skilled labor.”[3] This process does not happen because of government intervention. In fact, when the government does not attempt to protect outdated jobs and does not interfere in the innovation process by imposing regulations, then the free market enables companies to develop products and services that will require new types of workers.This issue of government intervention to combat job loss is particularly timely in the energy sector. Should the government, for example, promise to get coal miners’ jobs back? Of course not! Technological innovation has and will continue to produce cleaner and better energy sources. According to the Solar Resource Guide, “The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that by 2030, with an installed capacity of 100 GW of solar power, the United States could avoid 100,995,293 CO2 emissions by replacing natural gas and coal with solar power.”[4] Only a month ago, China announced that it will spend billions of dollars developing renewable energy sources. Should U.S. jobs in non-renewables replace renewable energy jobs? ​

Safety is another concern cited by those who favor government control of technology.  They believe that regulations are necessary to ensure that corporations, which are motivated by profit, will make their products safe. They fail to recognize that companies must make their products safe so that people will want their goods and services in the first place. For example, many doubt the safety of driverless, and understandably.  It can be daunting to put your life in the “hands” of a computer traveling at 60 mph. But, as John Stossel states on his video segment Robots and Cars, “94% of people killed in car crashes are killed because of human error.”[5] We drive an hour to my weekly piano lesson on Interstate 75 through Atlanta, a dangerous route. Our car’s sensors have saved us from potential crashes. Once my mother nodded off at the wheel. Not only did the lane sensor warn her, but the car steered itself back into our lane. We are safer in our new car, and my mother is more aware of her driving now, not less. Furthermore, it is a fact that such an innovation could “[help] the disabled...the blind… the elderly… people who can’t drive.”[6] If the government tries to control the development of such technologies, life-saving innovations will be stifled. 

Solar technology also exemplifies life-saving innovation. Assuming that 100 GW of solar capacity is installed in the United States, “437 mortality cases [will] be reduced. Heart attacks [will] be reduced by 717, and 7,945 emergency room visits for lower respiratory systems [will] be avoided. Ultimately, we’d avoid 50,755 work loss days and 348,787 minor restricted activity days.”[7] If the government took control, it would tie up the technology in red tape.

Thanks to technology, we now have better jobs, healthier environments, and longer lives. These innovations came about through economic freedom, not government red tape. Truly, with certain innovations, there will be a period of painful readjustment as people go through retraining and find new jobs. But throughout history, innovation, fueled by creativity and a desire to improve people’s lives (and yes, a desire for money), has transported us from the Stone Age to the Technology Age. 

[1] Ford, Martin. (2015, April). Rise of the Machines: The Future Has Lots of Robots, Few Jobs For Humans. https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2015/04/rise-machines-future-lots-robots-jobs-humans/

[2] Stossel video segment Robots and Cars

[3] Nath, Trevir. (2015, Oct. 5). Automation Technology and Its Impact On Jobs. NASDAQ.com.

[4] http://www.solarresourceguide.org/solar-environmental-benefits/

[5] Stossel video segment Robots and Cars

[6] Fox News, Jan. 14, 2017. Interview with Doug Ducey

[7] http://www.solarresourceguide.org/solar-environmental-benefits/