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Robotics The Almighty Buck Politics

Job Automation and the Minimum Wage Debate 870

An anonymous reader writes "An article at FiveThirtyEight looks at the likelihood of various occupations being replaced by automation. It mentions President Obama's proposed increase to the federal minimum wage, saying big leaps in automation could reshape that debate. '[The wage increase] from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour could make it worthwhile for employers to adopt emerging technologies to do the work of their low-wage workers. But can a robot really do a janitor's job? Can software fully replace a fast-food worker? Economists have long considered these low-skilled, non-routine jobs as less vulnerable to technological replacement, but until now, quantitative estimates of a job's vulnerability have been missing from the debate.' Many minimum-wage jobs are reportedly at high risk, including restaurant workers, cashiers, and telemarketers. A study rated the probability of computerization within 20 years (PDF): 92% for retail salespeople, 97% for cashiers, and 94% for waitstaff. There are other jobs with a high likelihood, but they employ fewer people and generally have a higher pay rate: tax preparers (99%), freight workers (99%), and legal secretaries (98%)."
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Job Automation and the Minimum Wage Debate

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  • by Laxori666 ( 748529 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:25PM (#46579665) Homepage
    The higher the minimum wage, the more incentive there will be to automate those minimum-wage jobs. If it'd average out to $11/hr to have a robot do some cleaning, and the minimum wage is $10/hr, then a janitor willing to work for $10/hr will have a job. If the minimum wage goes to $12/hr, the robot will take the job instead.

    I read somewhere an essay written around the time the minimum wage was being increased a few decades ago. This was during a time when there were still elevator operators. The author predicted that after the increase, elevator operators would get phased out in favor of automated elevators. That probably would've happened anyway, but raising the minimum wage probably helped speed up that process.

    If it gets really bad there will be pressure to illegalize automation of certain classes of jobs.
  • by saloomy ( 2817221 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:28PM (#46579681)
    I used to work in the IT dept. for a company that replaced forklift drivers with highly automated forklifts Vimeo: (http://vimeo.com/75513911) that were able to load trucks. The justification was never the cost of labor, but the increased accuracy in the supply chain, the ability to "house keep" (i.e. moving product bound for shipping close to the dock door it was headed out of, to increase maximum warehouse capacity by reducing average trip times); during the slow hours, as well as reduced damage to product, equipment and the facility. Automation is not about cost, its about having a machine do some work BETTER than workers. Arguing the cost is like arguing that cars are better at moving goods than humans because it costs less per mile to drive a car than it does to pay someone to carry your good. It does cost less, but thats not the point. Automation can scale much faster and increase accuracy, without increasing costs. Thats the point of automation. The benefits were obvious to anyone who had ever seen a mis-ship report or calculated the % of accidents involving a forklift. These units delivered
  • by TrekkieGod ( 627867 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:33PM (#46579723) Homepage Journal

    Many minimum-wage jobs are reportedly at high risk, including restaurant workers, cashiers, and telemarketers. A study rated the probability of computerization within 20 years: 92% for retail salespeople, 97% for cashiers, and 94% for waitstaff...

    A few other jobs that were lost to technology:

    The knocker-up [wikipedia.org] was a person whose responsibility was to go out to people's houses and wake them up so they could get to work on time. Alarm clocks eliminated the need for them.

    Acoustic locators [wikipedia.org] were people who listened to acoustic mirrors to detect incoming aircraft before radar was invented.

    And sure, we can talk about buggy whips. The point is, quite a few jobs and entire industries no longer exist as a result of automation. We can start throwing our shoes at the machines like during the industrial revolution, or we can enjoy the benefits they bring us, accept the growing pains, and adapt to the new world. Personally I don't want to have to pay some guy to come knock at my window every morning so I can go to work. I hope I live long enough to talk to the younguns about all the ridiculous jobs that used to exist when I was their age.

  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:39PM (#46579755)
    You missed the most geeky and relevant of jobs. Calculator (yes, it was a job title). Calculators crunched numbers to create all the tables used to estimate everything from taxes to rocket trajectories. Computers and digital calculators made the human job title "Calculator" obsolete.
  • America is boned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:40PM (#46579767)

    With the vehement anti-socialist thread that weaves throughout the American culture, the US will be one of the hardest hit by the coming automation age.
    More socialist countries will have a chance of moving to the age of leisure, while America, god bless her, will move to the age of the gutter.

  • by lordlod ( 458156 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:40PM (#46579779)

    I live in a country where the minimum wage is roughly $15USD. More crucially though, I live in an area with low unemployment so the practical minimum wage is considerably higher.

    What we have seen is changes like such as smaller retailers only have a single staff member on during the week. This means that when the staff member goes to the bathroom or gets lunch, the shop closes briefly. For larger retailers there is an ongoing shift towards self-checkouts, but as they are constantly pushing their costs this seems independent of wage levels.

    Other fields have seen similar pressure. Restaurants try and make do with less staff, warehouses focus more on minimising idle time and companies may consider how often they really need the bins empty.

    All of these are fundamentally positive changes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:44PM (#46579803)

    So it is about costs.. just the reduction of costs from increased efficiency and production rates caused by the automation

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:45PM (#46579815)

    Humans are bad at conceptualizing the very large and small, and the very slow and fast. We are pattern recognizers, but just like we have optical illusions that fool our biological eyes, there are mental situations that fool our inner circuitry.

    The tech is advancing faster than moore's law, and we haven't even started using all the new meta-materials and graphene, nanotubes and all the rest.

    People like to be the straight man, they like to be no-nonsense - they find comfort in being the reasonable one and enjoy a nice philosophically cul-de-sac where if history proves them correct then they reaffirm their own beliefs and if they are wrong then they still get all the benefits of the tech arriving for mass consumption. They are pleasantly surprised, if you asked anyone about the self driving cars and cellphones in the 1980s they would have said its more than 100 years away - and yet we have them now.

    The problem is, with all the naysayers and luddites, their combined negative outlook slows everything down instead of speeding it up by poisoning popular sentiment which is why it takes an Elon Musk to make electric cars and space companies. It's not that Ford could not have done it, it's that Ford and similar companies are staffed by people terrified to make a decision and try anything new unless it's 100% obvious that the time for a thing has come, which is usually when a competitor starts doing it.

    We need access to space, AI, roboticized labor, and the endless energy the sun is currently wasting as it goes out into space largely untapped - and everything that makes those things come faster are good things.

    The ultimate form of humanity is not toiling away for 40 arbitrary hours a week just because we had to up until now.

  • by Aviation Pete ( 252403 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:45PM (#46579825)
    Most of the low wage jobs have been / will be replaced by some self-service arrangement, and computerization will make it possible. Just think of the shop clerks which won't be needed when most selling is done online. Or the bank clerks - ATMs have replaced most already. Or the travel agents - online booking has made most obsolete already.

    Thinking of some 1:1 replacement of a human with a human-shaped machine is too simple. The replacement will be of outdated, job-heavy business models with self-service models.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:49PM (#46579865)

    The point is, quite a few jobs and entire industries no longer exist as a result of automation. We can start throwing our shoes at the machines like during the industrial revolution, or we can enjoy the benefits they bring us, accept the growing pains, and adapt to the new world. Personally I don't want to have to pay some guy to come knock at my window every morning so I can go to work. I hope I live long enough to talk to the younguns about all the ridiculous jobs that used to exist when I was their age.

    The problem is that automation should mean that people are working less and living better lives, not working more and making less like is happening. Companies make more money now than ever before in history, and our country is going to tear itself apart because that wealth isn't going back to the people, but is padding the pockets of the rich and super rich.

    The more things become automated, and rest assured they are going to continue to become automated, the more people you're going to have to find jobs for, or let rot in the street until they violently revolt.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:53PM (#46579891) Journal

    No, it has never been tried. We haven't sufficient automation until recently. Go take a history class.

  • The Luddites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Livius ( 318358 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:53PM (#46579893)

    ...were on to something. Not that mechanization is evil - it is progress. But what we're seeing now that we have not faced in the past is technology and automation advancing faster than society's capacity to restructure the economy so that everyone has an opportunity for some basic livelihood. Extremes of poverty and desperation are not a good alternative.

  • by TrollstonButterbeans ( 2914995 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:54PM (#46579903)
    "at some point we're going to end up with a civilization like in Star Trek TNG"

    First --- I wish, that would be an incredible and ideal future.

    But society is based on power and control, both in government and private industry.

    Government and private industry simply isn't going to say "Dear commoners, robots will do everything and you don't need to work and you get a free ride" --- will never happen!

    And --- even if it did, look at what people with too much time on hands do to this world: crime, gangs, terrorists, cults, drug users --- most of societies ills are AVOIDED by making these people have jobs so they don't have free time.

    I'd love to get to a Star Trek TNG future, but the vast majority of the populace isn't going to start creating and researching or coding solutions to the world's problems in their spare time, which is why it won't work. And the power and authority would never support a free ride of "their creations" or their use of their power.
  • by saloomy ( 2817221 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:55PM (#46579907)
    Price has nothing to do with cost and everything to do with (perceived) supply / demand.

    And unless you live in a dictatorship, you are not allowed to "demand" anything for any price, just as I am not allowed to "demand" you purchase any particular good or servi... oh wait. I forgot we passed the ACA.
  • by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:01PM (#46579965) Journal

    A terrafoam house is probably nicer than what most poor people have today.

  • by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:11PM (#46580019)

    I know you're right in the grand scheme of things, esp. in corporate employment, but for a dollar an hour difference I will keep my human.

    Why? It's a waste of human effort to be working for $10 an hour. Sure someone with no skills is willing to do it, but I think it makes more sense as a society to have only jobs that pay $20/hr, have all the other jobs done by robots, and have all those people learning new skills or just watching TV or something.

    I know "more jobs" is on the lips of every politician, but actually the goal should be less jobs (for humans to do). We should be focusing on maximizing production using the least resources including human effort. I know that for all of human history we've had to work hard to get the stuff we want/need, but at some point we may just be able to get what we need/want with minimal effort or no effort at all. No one will have any money, but luckily we won't need money to buy things anyway. An economic system that gives the biggest producers more money was important for incentivizing production, but one day we won't need to incentivize production if it no longer requires human effort to do so. Rationing limited resources will be the name of the game.

  • by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:11PM (#46580021)

    Historically, some have speculated that with automation comes more and more leisure time, people not having to work because all of their needs have been fulfilled. What ends up happening in reality however (as we see now) is that productivity gains do end up with fewer people working but instead of more people working fewer hours, there are fewer people working more hours. What happens when there are not enough jobs to go around at all?

    People won't have enough money to pay for goods. Will labor be parcelled out so more people work less? Will there be a perceived "non-need" for so many unemployed people? What happens then? I can't imagine it will be a pretty sight.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:12PM (#46580029)

    Well if you ignore the fact that the project didn't save money-spent overall, then yes, its about costs.

    What you are forgetting to take into account is that you get significantly more production, at a higher rate of accuracy with machines. In some cases (not all), the accuracy and production increase is simply unfeasible with a human workforce.
      Its like asking how many postmen would it take to deliver all the world's email. There simply wouldn't be enough resources to do the job, regardless of cost.

    I don't think you understand "cost" - if the increase in production and better accuracy didn't make the program cost effective, then they'd dump the smart forklifts and bring back the humans. Few businesses can afford to turn the core part of their business into a speculative testbed for technology that costs more to operate than the human workers it replaced. The project may very well have cost more than the human workers it replaced, but that expense was made up by the factors you just mentioned.

  • by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:12PM (#46580041)

    This doesn't take into account the one thing that most futurists never take into account. Maybe I'm not the only one who wouldn't enjoy going to a restaurant and not being served. Maybe I'd see that as a low-quality dive, and wouldn't be interested in a steak from a conveyor belt. Maybe the reason that I often go out to restaurants is specifically to be served by someone else. Maybe that's half the value.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:27PM (#46580173)

    That's great though, who the fuck wants to deal with salesmen? I specifically order all my clothes and music gear online because I don't want to deal with either snotty clerks or shady salesmen. Hell, I'd pay MORE to shop without human interaction. The fact that I can get better prices online is just an added bonus.

  • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:28PM (#46580191)

    They can shove the self checkouts up their ass. I'm not scanning and bagging my own stuff. If it's one item or maybe two okay but I went to wally world about a year and a half ago and they pointed me at a self-checkout machine. I just looked at them and said they could check me out at a register or I'd just let them put the buggy full of shit I had back on the shelf while I drove over to Target. They didn't seem to like it much but they checked me on out. After I thought about it a while I really got more pissed and haven't been back to Walmart in the last 18 months. I don't miss the cheap bastards either. I'll spend a little more money not to be treated like shit.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:29PM (#46580205) Journal

    What about the impending failure of capitalism?

    You're confused. Capitalism is doing fine. It's government that's failing.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:31PM (#46580231)
    In my experience (i.e. here on /.), most Americans wouldn't know socialism if it slapped them in their collective faces. To those people it's just another word like commie/liberal/conservative (delete as appropriate) to conveniently label someone with different political views.
  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:36PM (#46580269) Journal

    I know you're right in the grand scheme of things, esp. in corporate employment, but for a dollar an hour difference I will keep my human.

    Why? It's a waste of human effort to be working for $10 an hour. Sure someone with no skills is willing to do it, but I think it makes more sense as a society to have only jobs that pay $20/hr, have all the other jobs done by robots, and have all those people learning new skills or just watching TV or something.

    People and dogs both need a job, a responsibility, or a mission.

    I know "more jobs" is on the lips of every politician, but actually the goal should be less jobs (for humans to do).

    People, like dogs, are not ideally suited to leisure and no obligations.

    I know that for all of human history we've had to work hard to get the stuff we want/need, but at some point we may just be able to get what we need/want with minimal effort or no effort at all.

    I respectfully disagree. By your own account, we have been struggling to survive for generations. We have not been selected for a life of leisure.

    No one will have any money...

    Doggone it, how will we know who's winning?

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:41PM (#46580303) Homepage Journal

    there is absolutely nothing wrong with the present system that an overhaul of our tax codes won't fix. But I can tell you one thing... the people who are presently gaming the system won't like it and they will do all in their power to keep the status quo

    That's what an overhaul of our tax codes won't fix. To fix that problem you're going to have to fix the disparity in wealth, and the tax codes have only ever been a part of that disparity.

    If that is the case, I feel we are on the road to repeating the French experience.

    Yes, the wealthy forget who is in charge every few generations, and must be reminded with fire and sharp steel. This, more than anything else, proves that these people are not particularly intelligent.

  • Uh no... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:22PM (#46580627)
    it's the incredibly high cost of entry (burying lines, running copper) combined the the fact that you pretty much need a gov't mandate in order to get everyone to allow you to bury/run all those lines on their property (otherwise sooner or later somebody either holds the whole thing up because he's crazy, wants infinite money or some combination of the two).

    But hey, never let a little thing like facts and reality get in the way of a good right wing rant I always say. How's the joke go? Fact have a liberal bias...
  • Re:The Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by unimacs ( 597299 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:23PM (#46580635)
    Because automation in the past created as many unskilled jobs as it destroyed. I'm not sure that is still true.
    Because our economy is dependent on a continuously growing population and that is not a sustainable model in the long run.
    Because companies are willing to spend less and less on training.
    Because there is no longer a social contract. Companies making money will still lay off workers to satisfy Wallstreet
    Because higher education is becoming an enormous financial burden
    Because the unions that used to protect workers in the past have been decimated
    Because more and more of the money companies earn goes to the C-level executives
    Because a larger percentage of our population is too old to work
    Because it's has become cheaper and cheaper to move jobs and manufacturing overseas
  • Only in America (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:34PM (#46580745)

    Would an abundance of goods with no requirement for people to work their butts off making them would be considered a problem. What is wrong with just letting people enjoy fruit of the modern civilization without considering our collective wealth a downside? Plenty of people will still find a way to work in order to afford more exclusive stuff line posh houses, luxury vacations or whatever. Lots more would find something productive to do just out of boredom. For everyone else, we should just encourage responsible birth control in the sense that if you can not even find your own place in society you are not in the position to teach your children to do the same.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:35PM (#46580749)

    Every time I hear someone claim they're "creating a job" when they hire someone I cringe. You're not creating the job. I create that job when I buy the good or service you offer. That's the only reason why you can even "create" that job. Because someone else is buying what you can offer due to this job existing. And that's also why it's not the employer but the consumer who needs the money if you want to create jobs.

    Take the average plumber. Or hairdresser. Or janitor. Or, hell, anyone providing a service (i.e. what 3/4th of our GDP producing population does). That plumber will employ someone if, and only if, there is a reason for him to do that. Because if there is no reason, he's better off without that person. Why? Because he costs money, DUH! What reason could he have? Well, of course if there are more people wanting to use his services than he can fulfill himself. Then, and only then, he will be forced to hire someone.

    As you can see, "creating" jobs isn't something employers do out of altruistic motivations. It's something that only happens if they're forced to do it. Forced by the very person that wants to use that service provided.

    And that in turn will happen if, and only if, that person not only needs that service but also is able to afford that service. And services is the FIRST thing people cut back on when money gets tight. When facing the choice to get some food or get the plumbing fixed because there is only money for one of them, the faucet will keep dripping because I simply HAVE to eat. I don't have to have a non-dripping faucet.

    So if you want someone to create a job, make sure people have money to consume. Because that's how you create jobs!

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:36PM (#46580763)
    That's sorta the argument you'll hear. I saw an interview on Fox News years ago where they brought on an economist who explained he would combat automation by taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth. The host said, "But that's socialism" and he replied "that's right, I'm a socialist". The whole rest of the interview was the Host just trying to come to grips with the fact that the man just admitted he was a socialist. I think if he said he skinned babies for a living he'd have gotten less of a reaction.

    After 70 years of being told that Communism == Socialism == Hitler == bad it's just ingrained in American Society. It's really the only answer to automation. There just aren't enough jobs. The world _doesn't_ need ditch diggers, and we only need so many scientists even if everyone was the next Albert Eisenstein. But the notion that a job, any job, is better than no job is heavily ingrained in America.
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:44PM (#46580843)

    "Capitalism" does not mean "free from government interference". In fact, it thrives (and maybe depends on) on certain kinds of heavy government interference: IP laws, a solid banking system, corporate charters, and limited liability spring to mind.

  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:50PM (#46580881)

    I believe the standard retort here is that despite many countries trying to implement communism over a 70 year period, all ended up with something with the general theme of authoritarian rule. It is reasonable to conclude that perhaps it is impossible to implement "communism" as Karl Marx envisioned - that it is a nice idea that cannot be realized with current levels of technology.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:23PM (#46581071) Homepage Journal

    Most of those problems exist now because too many people are in poverty and see no real prospect of improvement working within the system.

    Give thyem a decent lifestyle now and prospects to improve it within the law and you might be surprised how many will go that route instead.

  • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:40PM (#46581159)
    Betcha if there is a pretty little girl in a short skirt at the checkout, next to a self serve, then you would happily stand in the 50 person line-up...
  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @12:43AM (#46581455)

    The fact is that most of the luddites were right-- they mostly died horrible homeless deaths of starvation. The fact is, they asked for training on the new machines and were refused (much as employers are today refusing to train employees). They were not just blindly rejecting new machines. The fact is they could see they were going to suffer terribly if the industrialists were allowed to go to the new technology with no social safety net for the luddites.

    I think there are too many people for it to be as quiet this time.

    And it is coming- it is unstoppable. It *could* be a utopia but it probably won't.

    Space is too expensive to be a realistic proposition for more than a fraction of a percent of humans (a fraction of a fraction of a fraction). It's more about species survival than an SF wonderland of colonies with heavy meatsacks lifted out of the gravity well.

    The automation coming on line *right now* is cheaper than human poverty level wages and can duplicate much of their labor. If so- with the exchange of labor for wages broken- you are looking at a fundamental challenge to the capitalist model.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @12:46AM (#46581463) Journal
    Why were there so many ancient "Romans"? - They didn't all come from Rome, they just called themselves Roman citizens in order to qualify for free bread from the empire (to the tune of 30kg/month in grain). Once the Roman army had basically conquered the known world and pillaged it's crops, the bread stopped being "free" and the empire disintegrated.
  • by bondsbw ( 888959 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @12:49AM (#46581465)


    I'd rather have millions of corporate overlords than 1 government overlord.

  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @01:16AM (#46581541) Homepage Journal

    Heh. I greatly prefer self-checkout.

    I think it's mostly because I just don't like dealing with people. I'm not anti-social enough to refuse the exchange of pleasantries when I have to deal with someone, but I am anti-social enough that I really don't want to be bothered. Since I go through self-checkout 95% of the time (sometimes even waiting for a self-checkout lane when there's a staffed lane open), I also now find it vaguely creepy to have someone pawing through my stuff. I know that in either case the computers are tallying it all and my purchase history is being datamined, but I don't care about that. People looking through my stuff bothers me.

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @02:12AM (#46581699)

    That's known as the Luddite fallacy and has been wrong every time it has been stated for the last 200 years. You will need to explain why this time is different.

    Ah the fallacy of the "Luddite Fallacy"! The problem is that the industrial revolution ushered in a period of drastically reduced living conditions for a period of at least 60 years - that is to say an entire lifetime, or two generations for the majority of British citizens. Ever heard of all those poor houses is Dicken's London? The unemployment rate among those teeming urban masses looking for work in factories was 50% or so.

    It is striking that recent revisionist economic historians, pushing the argument that the Industrial Revolution really wasn't so bad, argue that the period of dramatic wage collapse only lasted 40 years, and was 'speedily' made up over the course of merely another 30 years. These are the guys looking on the "bright side"!

    The fact of the matter is that the livelihoods lost by one generation were made up by their great grand children!

    If we are as successful as the first Industrial revolution we can look forward to poverty and misery of the next 60 years.

  • by Linsaran ( 728833 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @02:17AM (#46581727) Homepage

    You're a human being with a reasonably competent understanding of basic technological concepts. There is a LARGE portion of the population who does not meet this criteria. [/understatement]

    There are people who cannot grasp the concept of putting 3 color coded wires from one box into the back of another box. There are people who cannot understand the difference between their tv remote and their cable remote, and are probably the same people who need someone to clearly show them how to use their remote even though the purpose of each button is clearly labeled. Switching inputs on a TV between a cable box and a DVD player is a challenge to these sorts of people. And these are some examples of a technology (the tv) practically everyone is familiar with, the examples I've given are not new technological developments for TVs, these sorts of capabilities have existed on TVs since the 90s, giving roughly 2 decades for people to become familiar with them. But it still confuses the heck out of a good 20% of the population.

    These are people who have trouble working their microwave and you expect them to suddenly work a touch screen order taker, and not screw it up? Not likely. And guess who these people are going to blame for their failure to operate? I mean it obviously wasn't their fault that your machine didn't understand that when I said only ketchup, I meant I didn't want mustard, I still wanted the pickles and onions.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @03:22AM (#46581907)

    Both sides have to work out for a market to be created and goods/services to change hands, i.e. to create trade. But we don't have any kind of shortage on the supply side. We have a shortage on the demand side.

    I covered that bit (here, a "demand" shortage for labor) when I wrote " Most of the ideas expressed in this thread ... get in the way of that." Money dropped from helicopters doesn't employ people. It creates some jobs as a result of the temporary increase in economic activity, but it also loses jobs through the destruction of the value of money.

    Actively, discouraging investment in favor of spendthift behavior most certainly doesn't employ people (since when has encouraging short term thinking been helpful?). And of course, the research of this story, which claims that minimum wage laws encourage the elimination of low wage jobs for automation, implies that bit of law doesn't employ people either.

    What keeps them all from producing is a lack of demand. The economy is in a downturn not because our production cannot keep up with demand, not because we lack the ability or willingness to invest and we certainly don't have a shortage in the workforce.

    So what? Ever consider that lower demand is the right move to make in a recession?

    Half the things complained about in the comments to this story are consequences of trying to stir demand at a time when it shouldn't be so stirred - eg, bank bailouts (and the highly leveraged adventures that lead to those bailouts), businesses not willing to act due to economic uncertainty, prioritizing economic activity and "stimulus" over generation of value (which is my complaint in my previous post), quantitative easing, and of course, minimum wage laws.

    It's all pain management (with a large dollop of corruption and just plain incompetence, I wager) and it has a higher priority than the health of nation-level economies. In the medical world, that only happens when either the illness is inconsequential (like a cold) or the patient is about to die with nothing possible except a somewhat less painful send-off. Do you think either possibility is relevant here?

    Recessions don't happen because there was a magic drop in demand. They happen because enough of us were wrong about the world and what things are worth. That massive shift in our collective worldview is what creates the uncertainty and the drop in economic activity characteristic of a recession.

    Most demand management, whether in a recession or not, is an attempt to provide incentives to pretend that the problems of the recession didn't happen. That is remarkably foolhardy and wasteful. I hope we grow out of that some day.

  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @05:33AM (#46582261) Homepage

    What you really mean to say is the higher the minimum wage the cheaper it will be to the chances (the psychopaths might lose and face the executioner) and go back to whips and overseers. The minimum wage in a sound democratic society will always be a properly survivable and rewarding wage, which provides for food, clothing, transport, accommodation and a reasonable level of entertainment.

    So, automation, easy problem, should robots pay tax and should that tax per robot be exactly the same as the minimum wage and measured in human work units. If the robot does the work of ten people, it pays taxes to the tune of 10 times the minimum wage. We are after all a society if human beings not robots. A society for the majority normal people and not a society for the minority psychopaths, no matter that they are currently running our society as visible by all the purposefully created faults they promote in our society.

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @05:40AM (#46582285)

    While it is tragic, I agree. Many low-paid jobs are low-paid because many people that do them do not care about the quality of their work. It is incredible what mistakes are made, products damaged and destroyed, customers made to suffer damage. This costs a lot and decreases service quality to a degree that you may lose customers. And you cannot use people with a passion for these slots, they will just leave again after a short while because they are bored.

    Incidentally, a lot of outsourced programming suffers from the same symptoms: Code produced without understanding or interest in the matter. The few that care in outsourcing move rapidly to better jobs. The ones that stay are the dross and what they produce has negative worth.

    On the side of how these people can participate in the economy, quite frankly paying them a stipend they can live of reasonably to _not_ work would be economically beneficial. It may sound harsh, but not working is the point of maximum productivity for them. And while we are at it, all bureaucrats should go the same way, the very core of what they do is destroying the productivity of others.

  • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @05:43AM (#46582287)

    >People, like dogs, are not ideally suited to leisure and no obligations.
    And that's exactly why it will work - not why it would fail. See even such a nearly fully automated world would need new ideas, new technologies and maintenance of the existing ones to stay in existence.
    In such a world though - what could possibly be the incentive for anybody (particularly the very smart and highly skilled people who we still need working -the engineers and the doctors) to do anything at all ? The fact that humans are not suited to leisure - they seek out challenge, they seek out meaning and knowledge and this is more common among the smarter ones.
    As Buckminster-Fuller put it - the idea that we have to earn our right to live with labour is not just outdated but a ludicrously silly concept. It would take maybe 10% of us, given the initial resources, about 5 years to build the automation to provide abundance to all humanity, and maybe 10% of our future lives to maintain it. What we should be doing with the other 90% (and everybody else with 100%) is simple: learning stuff, solving the riddles of the universe, expanding our minds, spending time with our children again.
    There are a billion better ways we could spend our lives than trying to produce wealth (whether for ourselves as businessmen or for somebody else as wage-workers). Instead of wealth, we could be creating actual value - and actual meaning.
    The monetary system as a means of measuring value was incredibly useful to build the world we have today - but it is antiquated, the entire *concept* of *trying* to measure the unmeasurable no longer has any use to us -we don't *need* it anymore.

    There is, in fact, only one thing to overcome - and it's not a technical or physical obstacle - it's cultural inertia - but every other revolution in how humans lived had to overcome it, and they all did. Some of our ancestors convinced the others that farming was better than hunter-gatherering once, and gradually changed the entire way humans lived. We've made changes on the same scale on average every 300 years since then.
    Ironically - this kind of change to a technologically powered epicurean society would, in fact, be among the simplest in terms of what we need to *practically* do.

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @07:05AM (#46582561)

    Right, in a holistic sense, everything a company does is about maximising money in, and minimising money out.

    However, the point the OP is making is that this isn't a simple case of how much a computer/robot costs per hour or per unit vs the human cost of doing the same thing. Such that a change in the minimum wage would in some elastic way change the number of jobs that are automated.

    His point is that automation is typically a fundamental change in the way of doing business, and will be driven by considerations far bigger than cost per hour or per unit.

    In fact it may be that a business would automate even if staff would work for free. That may be the only way to compete. He gives the example of the inability of postal workers to compete with email for example, regardless of pay rates.

Trap full -- please empty.