Towards a port tax for automated terminals?

One of the biggest political issues of the coming decades is the future of work. Technological advances are such that more than half of the existing jobs could be automated. Automation might create new jobs, but these will very likely not offset the lost jobs. This has far reaching consequences: uncorrected, automation will erode tax income, welfare state and lead to very unequal income distribution. Curiously enough, these issues are mostly absent from current political debate. Could ports move that debate forward?


Ports have been pioneers in automation. Long before it became fashionable to speak about automated driving or autonomous trucks, various ports already had their driverless trucks: the automated guided vehicles. These automation processes, like other productivity enhancing developments such as containerisation, brought employment losses that were dealt with more or less satisfactorily. Most of these transitions were facilitated by sustained trade growth or generous early retirement packages.


Times might be different now. Trade growth is stagnating and will probably never again reach the levels of the last decades. At the same time, robotisation could make more than half of current jobs disappear. Terminal automation in such circumstances might have very different outcomes than in the previous decades – and result in the redundancy of people that are likely not to find another job again.

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