In keeping with my temporary/permanent “eschew bitching about politics” initiative I’m going to point out a place of agreement between me (a deplorable, fire-breathing, small “l” libertarian, who clings to his guns and religion) and the most hippy-rific, socialist, dreadlocked, trustifarian, coastalite, to wander the streets of Seattle. I’m all about highlighting common ground. Kumbaya and all that. Group hug y’all!
Here’s the thing we both agree upon:
We both believe if the minimum wage gets high enough, awesome things will happen.
Whoa now, step away from the keyboard. Let me finish because the “awesome thing” is different to each of us. They want unicorn money and I want robots.
The standard Marxist ideal is that when minimum wage hits some magic number, rainbows and love will make everyone healthy, wealthy, and fulfilled. The exact value of this perfect minimum wage appears to be whatever minimum wage is now plus 10%. I presume it’ll always be plus 10%. When it comes to tweaking the economy, the perpetual answer to “how much” is “more”. Nonetheless, they’re entitled to their opinion and (with fits and starts as politics ebb and flow) seem intent on repeating the experiment until they get the answer they demand.
I see an upper limit to that experiment but I’m willing to let someone else who lives far away give it (yet) another self-inflicted shot. As their managed economy experiments continue I’ll apologize if I was wrong and everyone magically gets rich. Then I’ll move there and get rich too.
On the other hand, if my theories on economics are correct, I’ll enjoy schadenfreude and bacon sandwiches on my homestead while folks in Seattle/Venezuela/San Francisco/Vermont pay $18 for a cappuccino to wash down the $23 big mac they bought on the way to their $20/hour part time minimum wage job at the bong factory.
My hope is different. I expect that when minimum wage hits some very high level it’ll make robots unquestionably cost effective. When that happens, they’ll appear everywhere. (In particular there’s one kind of robot I’ll mention in part 2.)
I love robots! I’m not talking about the scary industrial arms that make car doors in Detroit. I’m talking about stuff that doesn’t even look like a robot but makes my life as a consumer… better.
I base this on robots that have already infiltrated our lives. Here are two examples:
The first ubiquitous robot is ATMs. Remember life before ATMs? (Some readers may have to ask an old person. Hint: old people don’t bite… usually.) Back then you had to plan ahead for the limited hours the bank was open, navigate the bank parking lot, trudge into a fussy looking building which highlighted an irrelevant but impressive safe door behind the counters, fill out a little slip of paper, and wait in line with 40 other grumpy people. Eventually your turn came and a kindly octogenarian grandma would count out your cash and send you on your way. (Some readers may have to ask an old person about “cash”.)
Pre-robot, elapsed time to grab enough cash for a night of binge drinking? Forty five minutes.
That ended 25 years ago. It was cratered by the ATM (which has already been largely replaced by point of sale card readers). The ATM, a soulless calculator cemented into a wall that spits out your cash in 30 seconds, very rarely makes an error and is open most of the time. (Yes, ATMs sometimes mess up but I’m sure they’re more accurate than the bank of my youthful memories.) Post robot elapsed time to grab enough cash for a night of binge drinking? Thirty seconds. (In the post ATM cashless world you just start drinking. If you maintain enough sense to hurl your debit card at the bartender before you slide under the barstool it’s all good.)
ATMs are cheaper than humans. Which is fine with me because I prefer ATMs to humans. The money counting robot wins.
Want another example? Back in the stone age you’d buy gas at what was then called “full service”. In 1940 that might have meant a mechanic checking your oil but by 1970 it was a flunky in company overalls who barely made eye contact while slopping leaded gas all over your rusting piece of Detroit crap. (Possibly an AMC Gremlin which would be partially dissolved by it.) “Full service” was degraded as an idea. You wouldn’t ask the attendant to check your oil, they wouldn’t do it anyway, and if they did they might put their own eye out. Now, we all pump your own gas. (Except for people in Oregon who are deemed by state law to be too stupid to operate a fuel pump. Those poor souls pay big time for the flunky that pumps gas.)
The fuel kiosk robot is simple. Step out of the car, swipe your card on the pump (convenience store owners sure didn’t like that new technology!), get your gas, and get the hell back on the road. Like the ATM it’s not perfect. Sometimes it’s snowing, sometimes it’s raining, it’s impersonal, and you have to stand outside your car like an idiot. So what? It’s efficient and cheap… which is just how I like it. If I want a companion to hang out with me while I buy fuel, I’ll put my dog in the truck.
I prefer automated pumps to humans. The gas kiosk robot wins.
All this pales compared to the vision I have of the future. First mentioned as an aside in The Stainless Steel Rat is Born, a book I read three decades ago, I’ve been waiting for it’s arrival. The time is nigh! I’m convinced it hovers on the horizon somewhere between $15 and $18 minimum wage. (Depending on the inflation which everyone pretends isn’t happening.)
More on my hopes later…
P.S. For the folks who’ve read The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born the key is the McSwiney’s where the Bishop hid out: