Another autonomous trucking startup has weighed in on Andrew Yang’s proposals for the trucking industry, seeking to debunk the Democratic presidential candidate’s ideas about the negative impacts of self-driving technology on truck driver employment.
“The belief that technological advancements of labor-saving equipment will lead to long-term unemployment is a fallacy that can lead to great harm,” Robbie Miller, CEO and chief safety officer of San Francisco-based Pronto, said in a lengthy email to FreightWaves.
Miller became CEO in August after previous chief executive and founder Anthony Levandowski was charged with stealing trade secrets from Google subsidiary Waymo.
His email to FreightWaves followed last week’s publication of an article describing Yang’s policies, which would compensate American workers for job losses stemming from automation, particularly in the trucking industry.
A certain strain of Luddite-ism is embedded in Yang’s proposals, Miller suggested.
“Would it be wise to think we could employ significantly more people if we carried goods on our backs instead of by truck?” he asked.
The history of innovation shows that labor-saving technology does not lead to drops in employment, he said, “but instead produces large benefits to society including higher-paying jobs.”
Trucking issue in 2020 presidential campaign
Potential job losses stemming from automation are a hot button political issue, and many self-driving vehicle companies are unwilling to enter the fray by commenting publicly on Yang’s proposals, which include a tax on self-driving trucking companies.
At the same time, AV companies are taking great pains to defend themselves against the two primary criticisms leveled against self-driving trucks: that they are unsafe and will lead to widespread job losses.
In his email, Miller outlined a series of examples in which labor-saving technology led to “significantly more” people working in the affected industry.
There are more retail jobs in America today than there were before the introduction of e-commerce, he said. The introduction of the ATM led to a comparable increase in bank teller jobs.
“Even though the number of bank workers per bank transaction has dramatically reduced,” Miller said, “the ATMs ushered in an era where the total number of banking transactions increased by so much that, in absolute numbers, more bank tellers were needed.”
Miller said similar increases in employment will likely occur in trucking.
The claim that retail and bank teller jobs have increased with the introduction of new technologies is a controversial topic among economists, with some reports disputing figures of increased employment.
AV profits invested in labor
Diving more deeply into trickle-down theories of autonomous trucking on freight demand and employment, Miller said the cost savings that come from carriers not having to hire drivers will ultimately increase the number of workers in trucking and other sectors of the economy.
That seeming paradox stems from the fact that carriers “may only use new profits from labor savings in one of three ways,” according to Miller.
The first is to expand its business and purchase more autonomous trucks. The second is to invest the profits in another industry, and the third is to sink profits into the carrier’s own consumption (of other goods and services) or distribute to shareholders so they can buy more consumer products and stimulate the economy and job growth with their purchases.
“No matter which option the trucking company chooses, employment will increase,” Miller said, “and it will likely increase in sectors that today’s truck drivers have the skills to do.”
Elastic demand another employment driver
Another labor booster will result as the cost savings generated by autonomous trucking brings down the cost of goods, leading to an increase in consumer purchasing, Miller believes, and “then more people may be employed to move goods than before autonomous trucks were introduced.”
Finally, Miller said, even if consumers don’t respond to a fall in the price, autonomy will result in additional employment.
He cited a hypothetical example in which the price to move a truckload from Los Angeles to Dallas post-autonomy is cut from $1,700 to $1,000 — and not a single additional shipment was made.
The result is that each buyer now has an additional $700 to spend on something else “and so provide increased employment in other lines,” Miller said.
Yang is by any metric an outsider candidate. But in an era dominated by populist politics — and an increasingly fluid Democratic presidential playing field — his policies are gaining traction, giving industry players yet another reason to hone their talking points around the potential social benefits of autonomation.
Pronto is pursuing a more incremental path toward autonomous driving than many of its competitors. Its Copilot system is a Level 2 safety system that uses a camera-based software suite to control braking, throttling and steering.