Articles: The Fight for $15 and the Rise of the Machines

Articles: The Fight for $15 and the Rise of the Machines.

by Daniel John Sobieski · March 13, 2017
Once upon a time in America, there was a “full service” lane where a young man on his first job might come out and wipe your windows and maybe check your oil and tire pressure. But as technology and labor costs both advanced, the inevitability of job loss through automation loomed on the horizon. Either you developed the skills needed to compete in a rapidly changing world or found yourself on the outside of the job market looking in.

The “Fight for 15” movement and proponents of that distortion of economics called the “living wage” are clearly on the wrong side of history. Asking the question, would you like fries with that, is simply not worth $15 per hour, and, yes, you can be replaced by a machine, perhaps one whose name is “Flippy”. As Nation’s Restaurant News notes, the Caliburger group of restaurants is now employing a robot burger flipper that doesn’t take sick days, is relentlessly productive, and doesn’t march for social justice:

“The application of artificial intelligence to robotic systems that work next to our employees in CaliBurger restaurants will allow us to make food faster, safer and with fewer errors,” said Miller. “Our investment in Miso Robotics is part of our broader vision for creating a unified operating system that will control all aspects of a restaurant, from in-store interactive gaming entertainment, to automated ordering and cooking processes, ‘intelligent’ food delivery and real-time detection of operating errors and pathogens.”

The chain declined to reveal the cost of Flippy, saying Miso Robotics is working with customers to determine the best pricing model.

“The price will be in line with the productivity benefits Flippy provides to restaurant owners,” said a spokesperson.
Caliburger, as well as a few other well-known restaurant chains, have something politicians working for a federal government that can print money are unaware of — a bottom line. When the costs of taking an order, frying chicken, cutting veggies, and wrapping or plating a customer’s order cut too much into that bottom line, such companies will find a way to do it more efficiently and cheaper using automation. As ZeroHedge notes, the response by Wendy’s to both the laws of economics and the whining of fast-food workers is also automation, with the installation of order-placing kiosks at 1,000 of its locations:

“Last year was tough — 5 percent wage inflation,” said Bob Wright, Wendy’s chief operating officer, during his presentation to investors and analysts last week. He added that the company expects wages to rise 4 percent in 2017. “But the real question is what are we doing about it?”

Wright noted that over the past two years, Wendy’s has figured out how to eliminate 31 hours of labor per week from its restaurants and is now working to use technology, such as kiosks, to increase efficiency.

Wendy’s chief information officer, David Trimm, said the kiosks are intended to appeal to younger customers and reduce labor costs. Kiosks also allow customers of the fast food giant to circumvent long lines during peak dining hours while increasing kitchen production….

As Nobelist Milton Friedman correctly quipped, “A minimum wage law is, in reality, a law that makes it illegal for an employer to hire a person with limited skills.”
President Obama, in his 2014 State of the Union address, said of the $15 minimum wage: “It’s good for the economy; it’s good for America.” Not if it prices unskilled labor out of the job market entirely, denying entry level workers access to the job market and the opportunity to place their feet on the first wrung of the economic ladder. Not if it denies them the basics of future success, the development of a work ethic, the discipline of getting up every morning to go to work, and the pride of buying things with your own money.

Ironically, in June, Obama mocked Trump’s desire to keep employers like Carrier from leaving the country. Obama called them the “jobs of the past” and in effect said good riddance to them:

In June, President Obama participated in a PBS townhall and was asked about Trump’s promise to keep Carrier’s Indiana plant in the U.S. The townhall participant — Eric Cottonham, a member of the Steelworkers Union employed by Carrier — asked Obama if anything could be done to stem the tide of jobs flowing out of the country, as Trump had recently promised to do.

“I see here you’re doing a lot of things, but in Indianapolis, there’s nothing there for us,” he asked. “I mean, what’s next? I mean, what can we look forward to in the future as far as jobs, employment, whatever? Because all of our jobs has left or in the process of leaving, sir.”

“Those jobs of the past are just not going to come back,” Obama told Cottonham.

Instead, Obama advised workers losing their jobs to learn how to adapt their skills to “some of these new technologies,” in particular, the “clean energy sector.”

“Let’s focus on those,” he suggested. “The days when you just being able to — you just being willing to work hard and you can now walk into a plant and suddenly there’s going to be a job for you for 30 years or 40 years, that’s just not going to be there for our kids because more and more, that stuff’s going to be automated.”
Funny, he doesn’t hold the threat of automation over fast food workers striking to get $15 per hour to ask people if they would like fries with that burger. They may very well be replaced with automated kiosks. Why doesn’t he call their jobs “jobs of the past”? Some jobs are the jobs of the past, as President Obama noted when he famously blamed things like automated teller machines for unemployment:

The other thing that happened though, this goes to the point you were just making, is there are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers,” President Obama said about unemployment in an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry.

Obama claims ATMs and kiosks at airports have eliminated some jobs.

“If you see it when you go to a bank you use the ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport and you use a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate,” he said.
Now automated kiosks are coming to fast-food restaurants like McDonalds, the inevitable consequence of “fight for 15” and the minimum wage. As Investor’s Business Daily editorialized in 2014, wages should be determined by the value of your labor, not the cost of your lifestyle:

Fast-food workers engage in a nationwide “Fight for 15″ while ignoring the economic reality of higher prices, fewer jobs and the sawing off of that first rung on the economic ladder of success…

The protesters apparently don’t understand that if you raise the minimum wage of fast-food workers, you raise the price of the fast food they serve. That cuts into profits and limits job opportunities. The irony is that these workers would find that the extra money they might earn would be consumed by the higher prices they themselves would have to pay.

Wages should be determined by the value of your labor, not the lifestyle you wish to live. It used to be that if you wanted a higher wage, you studied hard and worked harder. Now you’re just supposed to write your legislator or call for union help. Equal opportunity has become supplanted by demands for equal success as politicians try to buy votes with other people’s money.

The concept of economic mobility is also lost on these protesters. A minimum-wage job is intended to be a stepping stone and not a career. It is supposed to teach basic skills, such as showing up on time, working with others and following the instructions of a superior. One takes these skills and uses them to climb the economic ladder.
So go ahead, you who fight for a $15 minimum wage. Just answer this one question — would you like fries with your unemployment check?

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