Coal and Steel? Donald Trump Is Living in the Past

The president obsesses about dying industries, but pays no attention to retail and tech.

Donald Trump isn’t big on technology.

“I think the computers have complicated lives very greatly,” he said last year. (The computers.)

The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.

By “nobody”, he means himself.

On another occasion, the president said, “I’m just not a believer in email.”

By contrast, Trump has spoken at length about American coal and steel and his desire to revive the two industries.

This doesn’t make economic sense.

Coal and steel are shrinking…

Coal only employs around 65,000 (PDF) Americans anymore. The industry has been losing jobs since the Reagan Administration.

Coal production has nevertheless increased around 50 percent in the same period. The reason: technology, which means far fewer miners need to go underground and risk death by accident or black lung disease.

It’s the same story in steel. The industry has been shedding jobs since the 1970s. There are around 77,000 left. Pig iron production has been cut in half, but steel production is basically at the level where it was forty years ago.

…while technology changes everything

Tech, by contrast, employs 6.7 million Americans — and it’s the most dependent on the sort of high-skilled immigration Trump is making more difficult with his Muslim travel ban and visa restrictions.

Another industry that is not on Trump’s radar: retail. It employs 15.5 million Americans, more than any other sector.

Retail is undergoing an enormous transformation. 100,000 retail jobs have been lost since Trump took office, the result of Americans shopping more and more online.

Technology is the main driver of some of the societal changes that arguably helped Trump win the election, from the dearth of high-paying manual-labor jobs — especially for men — to the stratification of society into college- and non-college-educated workers. Yet the 71 year-old leader of the most innovative country in the world is oblivious to it.