Blog 1: A thought experiment

This blog will be a thought experiment looking into the future of this country should self driving cars be fully implemented.  When I say implemented, I’m assuming that nearly every trucking job is performed autonomously, cabs are autonomous, most individual vehicles are autonomous etc.  I understand that we are nowhere close to a full implementation: a report from BEC estimates that it will only happen by 2050:

This blog post is assuming that Era 3 will be fully implemented, overlooking a major flaw – that the world will be a completely different place by the time that autonomous cars are implemented and accepted.  There might be entirely new industries that employ millions to solve any problems that come from losing this amount of jobs.  But just for the sake of this post, we will assume that Era 3 happens in the near future.  We must be prepared for the possibility and be able to predict how the economy will change without pining all of our hopes on a new market.

In order to understand the effects that autonomous vehicles will cause, we must first understand the driving and trucking market in the United States.  According to a study done in a CNBC article, almost 9 percent of working people in certain places currently operate a vehicle as their primary job.

Apart from just those that drive, there are many related markets that will be affected.  The parking industry will be heavily affected, as there will be far fewer parking lots and much less money resulting from those lots.  Car Insurance will take a massive hit, as it is estimated that roughly 90 % of accidents are a result of human error.  These cars can now legitimately be used to sleep in, heavily affecting motels and even some hotels.  Auto repair will suffer a heavy hit, as cars will not need get into anywhere as many accidents.  All in all, at least 10% of the workplace could be displaced due to self driving cars.

On the flip side, we will save an incredible amount of money due to autonomous vehicles.  Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council claims that “Self-driving cars have remarkable potential to make a significant dent in the $160 billion worth of time and gas that Americans lose stuck in traffic every year, and the hundreds of hours each American spends each year driving,”  According to Melanie Zanona of the hill, driverless cars could save the US 300 Billion dollars per year (explanation can be viewed from link in the source section).  The moral of the story is we will end up with many people unemployed, but a whole lot of money to spend on other things.

It is also important to make one more point about what this blog is ignoring – if driving becomes an automated process, it is highly likely that many other jobs such as being a cashier, a waiter, or a secretary for instance become automated.  This post ignores the changes of every automated  change other than that of self driving cars.

Now I will get into my own predictions.  With the influx of cash, there will be a lot of spending, that will stimulate the economy, and in turn create more jobs.  It is estimated that there will be more money added to the economy than taken away, so it leads me to believe there is nothing to worry about – in fact, it is likely that unemployment will go down as a result of autonomous vehicles.



One thought on “Blog 1: A thought experiment

  1. Vivek, great article! This is a fun thought experiment and I appreciate the explanation about how far away this thought experiment is from reality in terms of time and in scope.

    I thought you brought up some interesting points: I had never considered how the parking industry would be affected, or how auto-body shops would be hurt as well. If you’ve ever tried to park in downtown Boston you probably are looking forward to the demise of parking companies ;). But the auto-body shop problem is more interesting. Back when rear-view cameras became a near-standard, the number of parking lot fender benders went down drastically and many of the auto-body shops that dealt with small accidents like these went away, so that industry is already in decline. That is to say, we need auto-body shops of some kind because cars fail, I just think it will be interesting to see what the `minimum set’ of repair tools and shops we will need when there is less driver error.

    Also I agree with you that having people spend less on gas and more on other parts of the economy is good and benefits the economy as a whole, but my concern is that the benefit from this shift will not reach the people who’s jobs were lost. There might not be an answer yet but I think this will be a large political roadblock to the adoption of AVs.

    — Isaac

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