Neighbor's note for Trump: Tech will continue to disrupt economy
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When President Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, he should focus on the real disruption upending the American economy: the rapid rate of technological change and the devastating effect it will continue to have on industries and jobs far beyond anything we're prepared to handle.

That's more than criticism. It's actually neighborly advice.

I know something about the economy. I started out as a busboy and worked my way up; four decades later, I'm Trump’s neighbor, with a home just steps from the "Winter White House" in Florida he retreats to every weekend.

Already, a wave of technological automation has steadily changed our economy, taking previous human tasks and turning them into bits of data or mechanized processes. This has caused unemployment and underemployment across many parts of the country. We are far from where we need to be to weather what the next big leaps in technology will cause.

So far, in his first month in office, the president has focused on fulfilling the aggressive promises he made as a candidate. His administration has made deportations a priority; he has signed a controversial refugee ban that was stopped in its tracks by the courts; and he nominated a far-right candidate to the Supreme Court.

None of that will have the impact on the economy that Trump supporters expected when they put him in office.

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A large swath of voters in hard-hit regions cast their support for Trump because they wanted their president to look out for them and bring a sense of stability to the economy. If Trump fails to address how we're going to keep pace with technological change and manage the economic disruption roiling our country, he will have failed not only them, but all Americans.

 

Rapid developments in technology have changed the way we do work, and we must recognize that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. If Trump really wanted to put the economy back to where it was in the 1950s, he'd have more luck taking away people's laptops than focusing on immigration. Of course, we cannot grind technological change to a halt.

What we can — and should do — is to prepare for what's next. What globalization did to the blue-collar workforce over 30 to 40 years, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and big data will do to the white-collar workforce in the next five to 10. The same way apps like Uber have violently disrupted the taxi cab and rental car industries, other parts of our economy will be impacted by what will unquestionably be the exponential growth of technology.

As The New York Times reported this week, we're heading into an era in which Budweiser delivers beer in self-driving trucks and Amazon runs convenience stores with no cashiers. Already, jobs in factories and farms have gone from employing 60 percent of the workforce a century ago to just 10 percent in 2014. To ask what industries will be similarly affected is the wrong question. All industries will face crippling pressure to automate, leaving a significant portion of the population struggling to survive economically.

Unless we take action, the combination of technological trends and our ongoing failure to keep pace with competing industrialized countries in education will only accelerate the systemic fractures in our economy. This will destroy the middle class.

It would be great if traditional Republican pro-business, pro-growth policies and Democratic efforts to reduce inequality were enough. However, the world is changing at lightning speed and we must all adapt and focus on reengineering the economy. If we don't, only a very few of us will have the majority of the wealth and opportunity, and that's not sustainable.

So, Mr. President, take it from your neighbor. It's all well and good to bring together the CEOs of major manufacturing businesses as you did last Thursday to try to save a few more jobs. However, the real way to make America greater is understanding that we can no longer apply Band-Aids to the gushing wound our economy is about to face.

Those same executives are embracing advancements and technological disruptions that, in my view, are leading us into an unprecedented era of job destruction. It is time to focus on that.

Jeff Greene is a Florida-based real estate developer, philanthropist and founder of the Greene School, a groundbreaking approach to K-12 that fuses educational best practices with the latest in scientific research, technology and design. He was a candidate in the 2010 Florida Democratic primary for Senate.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.