If you’ve ever watched Star Trek or most science fiction shows you’ll inevitably encounter “teleportation” devices that can “beam” or transfer one object from one point to some other point, usually a distant point tens or hundreds of miles away.   I usually do thought experiments and ponder what would happen if such a device existed today and how it would impact the economy.

For starters, if such a device existed, I would imagine that the following industries would almost immediately collapse:

Shipping – No need for oil tankers, cargo ships, or other bulk carriers since goods can be “teleported” from point A to point B with no problem.

Airlines – No need to “fly” anywhere if you can “beam” there instantly.

Air Shipping – No need to “fly” goods anywhere if you can “beam” them there instantly.  If teleportation devices could be installed on every home then UPS, Fedex and others would disappear too.

Hotels – If you could “beam” back and forth from your favorite vacation spot, why would you need a hotel?   The entire industry wouldn’t collapse but a large portion of hotels would eventually succumb.

Car Rental – Once again, if you could “beam” to your destination, why bother with a rental car?

Auto Industry – If you could beam from home to your place of employment, the grocery store or your favorite vacation spot would you ever need a car?

Now that air travel, shippers, autos and other industries have disappeared you can look at what other industries are no longer needed.  If planes, trains and automobiles are no longer needed then oil is no longer needed in the quantities that are currently being consumed so a significant portion of the oil & gas industry would collapse.

You can take this thought experiment in any direction and I did with a friend over a long discussion about other technology advancements that could further destroy the economy.   If a cure for the common cold is discovered then there isn’t a need for NyQuil, Sudafed, and hundreds of other cold remedies.  The marketing, sales, production, distribution and other personnel associated with the cold remedy would be made obsolete.

My friend argued that we would always have new jobs and new innovations to keep people working but my argument is simple: there is an initial burst of jobs created initially but then the jobs go away and people don’t have the time or money to constantly retrain onto something else.   In our teleportation thought experiment, initially many new jobs would be created with the creation of teleportation units, installation and eventually maintenance of units but what do you do when you reach saturation?   Worst yet, what if you could simply teleport a teleportation device then you would saturate the entire planet within a year then all the installation jobs are gone.    The only jobs left would be repair and maintenance similar to AC repair and in the process, millions of jobs have disappeared!

Ultimately, this begs the question, with the population continuing to grow exponentially and technological advancement growing exponentially, what will members of a society do in the future, particularly at a time when wage deflation is spreading throughout the world?