Fight for $15 Protests Sweep US

The fight for a “living wage” of $15 per hour is raging in the US. Here are a few recent headlines.

Fast Food Robots

Those fighting for a $15 living wage need to consider Hamburgers, Coffee, Guitars, and Cars: A Report from Lemnos Labs.

Momentum showed off its prototype hamburger-making robot, which is expressly designed to displace two to three full-time kitchen workers, thus saving fast-food companies up to $90,000 per franchise per year, or $9 billion nationwide. In a matter of minutes, the machine can grill a beef patty, layer it with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions, marry it with a bun, and wrap it up to go. (I saw it with my own eyes.)

In addition to restaurant automation, the Lemnos companies are exploring areas like street-legal electric shuttles for corporate campuses (Local Motion), a new generation of electric guitars that take advantage of the smartphone revolution (Unplugged Instruments), and helping baristas brew the perfect cup of coffee (Blossom Coffee). Along with their peers at other specialized accelerators, such as Rock Health, Greenstart, and Media Camp, these entrepreneurs are trying to prove that a rapid-iteration mindset and a focus on customer needs can help almost any kind of technology startup get off the ground.

“Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient,” said co-founder Alexandros Vardakostas. “It’s meant to completely obviate them.”

Obviate the Workers

By all means let’s pay workers $15 an hour, the ones with a job. But let’s also pay 80% of the current set of fast food workers precisely what they are worth: Nothing.

That may sound harsh, but it’s simple economic reality. Here’s the real deal: Once machines cost less than worker salaries and benefits, the replaced human workers are essentially worthless.

It’s not quite that simple because many people, myself included like human contact. For example, I do not use self-checkout lanes. 

Yet, I have to wonder: How long will it be before there is an extra charge for having a human checkout clerk?

And at a fast food or chain restaurant, I don’t care if I have human contact or not. Indeed, I would rather click buttons myself, accepting responsibility for my order. To top off the benefits, there is no need to tip a robot.

Counterproductive Push for $15

The push for $15 is counterproductive.

Not only will higher minimum wages displace workers, if everyone’s wage rose, $15 would no longer be a “living wage”.

And the higher the wages and benefits, the greater the incentive for companies to replace workers with hardware and software robots.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock