Amazon Force One

Last night, during a worshipful 60 minutes segment with Charlie Rose, Jeff Bezos unveiled a new Amazon shipping plan: short-range delivery drones. Here’s the idea:

Immediately several objections spring to mind: flight regulations will have to be overhauled, the Post Office and other shippers aren’t going to like this, and this could really revitalize the ailing normal retailer if somebody else does it first. Also, what about random idiots with lasers? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this plan gets stalled for 10 years while the FAA deliberates.

From a political perspective, however, this is just yet another reminder of how the modern economy is eating its own tail. If successful, these drones would put a nontrivial number of people out of work. Where might they go? Well, services is the sector of the economy most resistant to technological displacement. But service jobs depend on people having disposable income. And that is notably scarce, especially among service employees, during prolonged spells of mass unemployment.

In other words, creeping automation is pushing people into the sector of the economy that most depends on full employment to create a self-reinforcing cycle of wage growth, but at a time when several decades of stagnation looks increasingly probable.

This drone program will be an extremely heavy lift, but if anyone can do it, it’s probably Amazon. Because probably the most unrealistic part of this segment, at least from their perspective, are the human hands that touch the package at a couple moments.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.