The size and scope of the U.S. government has been growing since its inception centuries ago, regardless of party politics. By most metrics —whether it’s the government’s fiscal budget, employee count, land value holdings, military expenditures, or most anything else it’s involved in —the U.S. government is getting larger. But the specter of AI on the horizon presents a reason for change. For the first time in America’s history, AI may finally curtail government’s continued overall growth.
The federal government’s debt has now reached an astounding $34 trillion dollars—and the interest payments to that debt will soon be the biggest single line item of the federal budget—even bigger than defense. Increasingly, many economists believe shrinking the government is not just fiscally practical, but imperative. They believe we really can’t keep spending the way we have been; if we do, the dollar will grow weaker, inflation higher, and other countries will then turn away from buying our debt, potentially leading us into a fiscal doom loop similar to countries like Argentina.
None of this is new news. But so far politicians have lacked the political will to shrink government and stop its incessant growth. In fact, quite the opposite, argue some scholars—because the more workers bound to the government, the more those workers have their livelihoods on the line. There is almost a perverse incentive to increase government size, especially with workers loyal to whoever runs the current administration.
But AI is a different matter altogether. Unless specifically programmed, it doesn’t have political bias. It’s simply a machine, and if coded accordingly, it will forever automate and streamline many of the services that human government employees perform daily.
We hear a lot about how AI will take jobs and change the workforce, but rarely do we hear how the government may become smaller because of this. Currently, the federal and state governments combined make up the single largest employer in the nation. In 2022, a study showed there were 19.2 million people employed by the American government.
But if anyone has watched the development of robots recently—such as the video of the Tesla bot somewhat successfully folding laundry—then they can see what’s coming. Everyone from White House cleaning staff to Department of Motor Vehicles tellers to Congress landscapers are at risk to be replaced if a decision is made to save money.
Of course, politicians may want to protect human jobs from automation, AI, and robots, regardless what political party they belong to. But I don’t expect that sentiment to last for long. The power of cheaper labor, without the need to pay for health insurance, do security checks, and avoid liability may be too compelling.
As someone who has run for office before, I strongly believe a Universal Basic Income (UBI) could be the answer to what automation does to workers, both in private industry and government. I believe much of our unused federal land—which amounts to at least tens of trillions of dollars—could be monetized in the best interest of the people, something called a Federal Land Dividend.
However a basic income is accomplished, it’s likely inevitable that the U.S. will need one. AI—and the massive robot work force it will soon unleash—is coming. The International Monetary Fund recently said 60 percent of jobs in advanced economies could be affected by AI.
As a business owner, my primary way to earn income over the last 25 years was via real estate construction and rehabbing projects. I’ve hired plenty of workers over that time. The promise of a robotic construction work force that can work 24 hours a day with no break, no sick call-ins, and no vacation time is very compelling. Any entrepreneur, including myself, will naturally want to acquire that kind of labor.
Tech companies are promising such robots for sale to the public in as little as “a few year’s time.” Already, hundreds of autonomous taxi vehicles are driving the streets of San Francisco’s Bay Area, where I live. Clearly, the world and its workforce is on the verge of great change.
Regardless what politicians promise, this age of AI and robots will also affect the size and growth rates of the U.S. government. Federal and state government may not immediately take up with automation and AI to the extent the private sector does, but eventually the stark rationality of lower overhead expenses—and thus lower taxes for citizens—will prevail.
This is a good thing. A smaller, nimble, more efficient government will benefit the majority of people.
Zoltan Istvan writes and speaks on transhumanism, artificial intelligence, and the future. He is the author of “The Transhumanist Wager,” and is the subject of the forthcoming biography by Dr. Ben Murnane and Changemakers Books titled, “Transhuman Citizen: Zoltan Istvan’s Hunt for Immortality.”
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