The Economic Implications of Drones

albatros_uav_at_interpolitex-2016_01
A drone on display at Interpolitex. Posted to Wikimedia Commons by Vitaly V. Kuzmin.

Conversations about drones usually revolve around the ethics of using them in warfare or the possibility of using them for surveillance. Both of these are important issues, but they are not the only issues at play.

The emergence of drones, particularly in everyday life, could have drastic impacts on the economy and on the livelihoods of the working class.

Drone technology is here; more and more companies are considering using drones to carry out tasks. Companies like Amazon are planning on using drones to get goods to consumers. There are a lot of exciting possibilities in the use of drones, but we must acknowledge that there are also costs. Drone deliveries could cut business for delivery and mail services, leading to layoffs.

Deliveries are just one example of areas where drones could replace human workers, often to the detriment of those workers.

Drones are set to replace human workers. One report estimates that the labor drones will take over is valued at over $127 billion. That could be 127 billion dollars of lost wages for unskilled workers. This is a number that represents not only lost jobs but perhaps families going unfed because their sole breadwinner was replaced by a drone.

In another example, Wal-Mart is currently developing a drone that could replace human inventory checkers. Wal-Mart claims that the employees replaced will be given other opportunities within the company, but there is no guarantee there will be enough jobs for all of them.

One possible argument in favor of drones replacing workers is that it will replace the jobs lost with jobs building, programming, and repairing drones. But will this generate jobs for unskilled workers, or will these be the kind of jobs that require STEM degrees?

The costs of higher education continue to rise and many workers simply will not be able to afford to get the degrees required for more advanced work. Will the drone industry be able to create enough jobs for unskilled workers, or will workers be unable to keep up?

While this may not be reason enough to dismiss drones entirely, it is something we will need to consider and adapt to as drones grow in popularity.

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