Not Everything Is a Zero-Sum Game

In a zero-sum game, one player gains at the expense of the other player’s loss.

Recent actions by the White House seem to reflect the belief that the U.S. is playing a zero-sum game with the world. If we don’t win, we lose. But not everything is a zero-sum game…

Donald Trump steamrolled his way into the White House by painting the United States as a country on the verge of collapse, constantly pushing his belief that American jobs are leaving and he will bring every single one of them back. He repeated all throughout his campaign that the U.S. is losing and everyone else is winning. What Trump fails to see is that the economy is ever-changing. Pushing the notion that you can bring back the jobs that left is reassuring, but it is a false claim. This is the reality that Americans need to understand.

Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have been in constant decline ever since Henry Ford perfected the idea of the assembly line. As manufacturing became more efficient, less labor was required. Trump’s claim that he will bring these jobs back just isn’t feasible.

Take, for example, the news industry. As television and the Internet came about, the need for print media decreased. As news companies turn digital, however, new jobs are created, along with cheaper, more efficient ways to get the news. (Whoa, who knew there were positive effects!) As a society, we praise our ability to adapt and overcome challenges. This is what we must do now. The solution isn’t to be unrealistic and promise people jobs that there just isn’t a need for.

Society needs to realize the jobs the White House is promising simply can’t and won’t come back. While this may sound like a harsh reality, it doesn’t have to be. We have the tools as a country to invest in new technologies and ideas to create new and sustainable jobs, but we are not currently doing so. The government needs to fund programs to help retool the labor force instead of guaranteeing people dying professions. Your iPhone, car, laptop, TV, and GrubHub account—things that have come to be a part of our everyday life—are all responsible for killing thousands of jobs while creating higher paying jobs in a greater quantity in return. In his book The New Geography of Jobs, Enrico Moretti argues that for every ‘tech job’ created, five jobs that can’t be exported are consequently created (e.g., barbers, fitness instructors, and restaurant workers).

The world is not a zero-sum game. Companies like Nike and Apple are able to sell their products to us as at cheaper prices because of the evolving economy. Though they export their manufacturing jobs to keep costs low for consumers, they inadvertently create many more to replace them. Americans need to accept and understand the cyclical nature of industry: for all the jobs made redundant by technological advances, new jobs are created as a result of these advances. Trump’s promise to “bring back” now-outdated jobs is neither practical nor desirable. Though changes in the economy may seem scary, it’s the president’s job to provide Americans with the guidance and expertise we’ll need to manage this process.