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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 fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:32PM (#46579711) Journal

    Once again, I say we should determine prices by the human effort required to make a product. Once it becomes automated the price should be damn near zero.

  • by Kevin Fishburne ( 1296859 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:36PM (#46579739) Homepage
    While the inevitable loss of more "menial" jobs (take no offense; I've had many myself) will suck for those affected, at some point we're going to end up with a civilization like in Star Trek TNG where people choose to work, as the provision of the basic necessities of life will have become largely automated. Of course, something "really bad" could happen before then (nuclear holocaust, plague, asteroid strike, supervolcano, gamma ray burst, etc.), but I hope someday we reach the point where robots handle the ugly bits and we all get to do whatever the hell we please without fear.
  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:39PM (#46579761) Journal

    I think will find is the very bottom it will be the last to go. The guy standing over the grill of the burgle have a job, the guy actually scrubbed the toilet will have a job. The person taking orders will be replaced of the machine, the facilities manager at least have to do things like keep inventory of paper products and such will be replaced by automatic reorders and machines. Essentially the jobs will be further deskilled.

    The very bottom rung earning minimum wage probably has less to worry the next rung up who earns a couple dollars above minimum wage today. The guy making 725 will certainly be making 10, the guy making 10 is going to get the pink slip.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:39PM (#46579765) Journal

    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 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.

    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.

    Talking 'bout the good old days, when maybe you had to get up out of the recliner to change the TV channel, but there was none of that tiresome button-pushing in the elevator.

    If it gets really bad there will be pressure to illegalize automation of certain classes of jobs.

    I desperately hope they keep their humans at the massage parlor.

  • by saloomy ( 2817221 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:50PM (#46579871)
    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.
  • by anubi ( 640541 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:08PM (#46579999) Journal
    Although I think the helicopter drop would get money into the hands of people who would spend it instead of "investing" it in rent-seeking behaviour, I feel that changes in our Tax Law would have far greater implications.

    If it were simply finances that ran our Government, why in all blue blazes did we privatize the banking industry? The "creators of currency" ... I said "currency", not "wealth"... are empowered not only to draw from thin air that which they do not have, but are also empowered to exact usury for the use of that which never existed in the first place. Its a really nasty little paradigm which encourages extremely unproductive "investments".

    As we move forward with manufacturing and production technology, the economies of scale lead to an environment of material goods abundance. I feel any shortages at our present stages of this game are purposely created by those who are gaming the system

    I can't see where employees should cost the employer anything... the employer should simply write them off against taxes - as the employee they hired now has the burden of paying tax on his income. ( that's taxable income which would not exist if the employer hadn't created a job in the first place! ).

    In short, I personally feel 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 by "working with" our lawmakers to make sure those changes won't happen. If that is the case, I feel we are on the road to repeating the French experience.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:14PM (#46580061)

    What about the impending failure of capitalism? The writing's on the wall, and it will fail for the same reason communism failed: Greed.

    Get a handful of selfish sociopaths who rise to the top, change the rules, plunder everything, and ruin the system for everyone else. The only thing that keeps power in check is fear that they will be held accountable for their actions. This is why you see an agenda in the media and in government institutions to groom the public for control. The message is very clear:

    Don't question authority.
    Give up your means of defense and do not attempt to defend yourself against anyone, even if your life is at stake.
    Look to the State to find out what you are allowed to do and say.
    Corporations and profit are more important than the individual. You exist to serve them.

  • by stoploss ( 2842505 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:29PM (#46580213)

    Gonna be a long while till robots will be able to do all the shitty things nomadic, entry-level employees do.

    It will be a while before robots can do all of those jobs, but many of them will soon be automated. If you go into a McDonald's, half the employees are taking orders, and the other half are fulfilling them. The people taking the orders could easily be replaced: Just turn the touchscreens around so that customers can enter their own orders, and then swipe a card to pay. Grocery stores have already done this, and so have banks. Fast food is next.

    I don't understand why they haven't done so already -- I assume it's because they don't think their customers are ready for touch-screen ordering. Starbucks could do it too -- with their pushbutton espresso machines, they don't really need a human barista for most drinks.

    I can tell you why... I witnessed it firsthand. My mall food court had this system in the early 1990's. People would place orders via the touchscreen and then the food would be prepared. I saw the place get trolled (someone ordered 10 large fries at once and walked away). Obviously, this was before credit card swipes were allowed for payment so it was a cash business, and payment was collected when the food was presented. Yeah, that system didn't last long. Now the likely issue would be trolls ordering bizarre combinations and then claiming there was a mistake/demanding a refund.

    As for self-checkout, most places I saw experiment with those in the past two years (grocery stores and Costco) has ripped them out and gone back to using human cashiers. The reasons? Fraud/theft and speed (trained cashiers are faster, who would have thought?). Walmart and big box home improvement stores are the outliers still offering self-checkout in my area.

  • by buswolley ( 591500 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:44PM (#46580341) Journal

    Imagine a world where a computer can always do it cheaper than a human. In that case, no humans will be employed. In this scenario, what is the harm in providing people with income via fiat money creation? I don't see much harm as long as it does not spend past the point of rampant inflation, and I sure as hell can see the harm in letting people go hungry without hope of income.

  • by tranquilidad ( 1994300 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:57PM (#46580451)

    Funny, it seems that government interference is closing the markets by making it more and more difficult for new companies to enter markets.

    Is it not government interference that keeps new ISPs from entering many markets?

  • by Zargg ( 1596625 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:07PM (#46580523)

    As for self-checkout, most places I saw experiment with those in the past two years (grocery stores and Costco) has ripped them out and gone back to using human cashiers. The reasons? Fraud/theft and speed (trained cashiers are faster, who would have thought?). Walmart and big box home improvement stores are the outliers still offering self-checkout in my area.

    That's not automation though. Self checkout is just making the customer do the cashiers job for free before realizing that customers suck at doing these things correctly because it's not their job.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:19PM (#46580593) Homepage Journal

    just as I am not allowed to "demand" you purchase any particular good or servi... oh wait. I forgot we passed the ACA.

    Public indecency laws, which mandate purchase of clothing, predate the Affordable Care Act by decades.

  • by turp182 ( 1020263 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:19PM (#46580597) Journal

    FYI, that is referred to as a "Barrier to Entry". Starting an insurance company these days is basically impossible due to such (for said industry the requirements can vary widely by state, and screw New York).

    Another example of a "Barrier to Entry" is the pains the ride-sharing sites are experiencing (by state/local, livery is very regulated and fee-d).

    Those past the Barrier have a lot of regulations, but they don't have to worry about the barrier itself.

  • Re:Only in America (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:43PM (#46581179) Homepage

    A naive thought. When people don't work for what they have, they take it for granted. Very quickly, it goes from being something nice, to something that they expect, to something that they demand.

    This is just Cloward-Piven's strategy here at home. Cloward and Pivens were a married couple of radical sociology professors at Columbia University back in the '60's who advocated collapsing our economic system by overloading the welfare system. But wait, that could never happen. Hey come to think of it, didn't Obama go to Columbia in the early '80's? He was a poly sci guy. I wonder if he came across Cloward and Pivens?

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @01:43AM (#46581617)

    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)...

    Quite so. The spinning jenny did the work of 200 spinners (and other textile machines did likewise) - thus wiping out virtually the entire employment of the largest manufacturing sector in Britain. Factory textile mills created some jobs, but not for the vast majority of those left without livelihoods (and naturally, an oversupply of prospective workers allowed the factory owners to pay a pittance for deadly dangerous jobs.). Those horrific Dickensian slums didn't create themselves.

    By all means - let us recreate the slums of Charles Dickens in the 21st Century! Hurray for the job cremators!

  • by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <VortexCortex.project-retrograde@com> on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @02:01AM (#46581671)

    Note that the prime weapon against any populace is secrecy. Secrecy yields ignorance. Slaves were not allowed to read. Employees are forbidden from informing others of their earnings -- WTF? The governments all now have secret agencies. Actions can be dismissed as necessary for some other secret cause. Corruption requires power and secrecy, for without the secrecy the power soon fades.

    Thus, those with power should be forbade secrecy of action when they wield it. Accountability depends on awareness and is inherently anti-secrecy. We should be able to prove our rulers are not working against us. Education is key in this regard and that of dealing with automation.

    Let's face it: The more dangerous menial jobs are wasting entire human brains worth of potential. Eliminating the drudgery need not result in joblessness. Someone will be needed to design and maintain the automatons. Even simply expressing your humanity is rewarded by society in the arts. Teams of researchers will be needed to run experiments -- The problem is in underpaying researchers for their research. It takes the same effort to produce a success as to rule something out as a failure, and many discoveries have come by accident from mostly unrelated research.

    The copyright and patent system are futures markets for ideas. Instead of marketing that which is scarce -- the effort to crafting and testing ideas -- these systems leverage artificial scarcity against humanity and the creators themselves. Corporations are thus able to cherry pick the individual products of creators to reward them. This is the Information Age! Your are on The Internet! Where is the Wikipedia of freely accessible Scientific Studies that the web was created explicitly to facilitate?! Hidden behind paywalls of Journals, and duplication forbidden to create scarcity of otherwise infinitively reproducible bits.

    Instead of hobbling ourselves with artificial scarcity, we should market what is scarce and simply require the capitalists to pay the price that our efforts are truly worth. Enough secrecy in our salaries and governments; Enough artificial scarcity. As a cyberneticist I see secrecy and artificial scarcity as two sides of the same coin: Evil is Information Disparity.

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @02:58AM (#46581829)

    In the United states you can get away with not working at all. You can take advantage of homeless shelters and welfare.

    Oh the advantages of living on the street in America! I can't believe I am reading this.

    Oh, and about the "welfare" thing. Do you have any notion of what the facts are?

    TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)... requires that all recipients of welfare aid must find work within two years of receiving aid []. So no, welfare requires you to find work or you get cut off.

    The wealth of our society makes it possible for more and more people to be non-producers. I am not saying this in a fox news "moochers are the downfall of society" kind of way. I am saying it in a "look we *can* actually sustain a fairly large moocher population, and how many we can support is continuing to grow.

    Easy there. Don't dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back.

    So it *has* already come true to some extent, and it is continuing to become more true as time goes on. Right now only about 50% of adults work.

    If by "50%" you mean "63%" then yes, otherwise no. This "only 50% of adults work" meme, in addition to being actually incorrect, is a deliberately misleading misuse of economic statistics. The real meaningful metric is the labor force participation rate (all those working or actively looking for work), which is rarely above 70% in any economy, ever. The all time high in the U.S. was in 1997, with a rate of 67% which was temporarily inflated by the fact that none of the Baby Boom had yet retired. The current participation rate is only modestly lower.

    It's doesn't take a leap of faith to imagine a world where only 10% or 5% of people are working, and the rest of the jobs are done by robots and computers.

    And are the other 95% going to be living on $1200 a month welfare, or will that be cut off after two years?

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban