Hey, Bernie, the robots are coming
Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders thinks he can wave a magic government wand, impose lots of new taxes and government programs and change the world.
Reality has another notion.
Take the minimum wage. Old Bernie says he’ll raise it to $15 an hour, more than doubling it. If I worked at a fast-food restaurant for minimum wage, Bernie would get my vote.
But the problem is, I’d never see $15 an hour as a fast-food employee because my entry-level job would be taken over by a robot.
According to the Brisbane Times, robots are expected to replace half of the world’s jobs — burger flippers, truck drivers, bank tellers, telephone operators and many other low-skill professions — within the next 20 years.
“University of Oxford Associate Professor in machine learning Michael Osborne has examined the characteristics of 702 occupations in the U.S., predicting 47 percent will be overtaken by computers in the next decade or two,” reports the Times.
In the fast-food business, labor costs account for 30 percent of the overall budget. If the minimum wage is doubled, labor costs would double — but there isn’t enough profit margin in the typical operating structure of a low-margin fast-food restaurant to absorb the increased costs. That will incentivize these businesses to invest in automation technologies.
“The higher the minimum wage goes, the lower the threshold will go for robots to replace humans in many minimum-wage roles,” reports The Week.
It’s also why kiosks and table-based ordering systems are popping up at restaurants all over the country.
For the time being, however, machines aren’t ready to replace many low-skill jobs just yet.
“Professor Osborne said machines and computers still struggled with creativity, social intelligence and the manipulation of complex objects, making jobs with high requirements in these areas less vulnerable to robotization,” reports the Times.
Which brings us back to Bernie Sanders.
His website says this: “Despite huge advancements in technology and productivity, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages.”
According to Bernie, it’s because the wealthy have rigged the system to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the rich.
One of his “solutions” is to double the minimum wage, which, ironically, will drive more advancements in the technology and productivity that will put the people Bernie is trying to help out of work.
In this regard, Bernie doesn’t understand economics so well. But neither does President Obama.
A few years back, Obama criticized self-serve banking technology for eliminating jobs, but he was only half right about that. Though the technology does eliminate bank teller positions, it creates much better jobs for software engineers and other people who design, build, install and maintain the high-tech banking machines.
Bernie and Obama don’t seem to understand that huge advancements in technology and productivity mean there are fewer low-skill jobs that pay well. The jobs that pay well require education and skills.
There are many good jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions — but to get them, you have to study, sacrifice, go to school, work hard.
In fact, Bernie, if you want to champion an issue, how about education reform — how about preparing all of our children, including those in many poor-performing government schools, for the great jobs of the future?
Your website lists 13 actions you will take to reduce income and wealth inequality — lots of new taxes and government programs — but not one of them mentions education reform.
It’s a lot easier to wave a “free college for all” magic wand than to bring real reform to our government-run elementary schools and high schools.
Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com.