Object Lessons in the Minimum Wage

 

Today is the sort of day that demands a quick and easy lunch. You see, I’m preparing for my company’s annual financial audit and I really just don’t have the time to wait around. (I usually try to get this audit done in February, but the birth of my anchor baby got in the way of that.) So, come 12:30 pm I hauled myself away from my desk and off to the nearest fast food establishment to grab a quick bite.

The restaurant is called CaliBurger, a not very subtle rip off of the great In-N-Out Burger, located near my office in Pasadena, CA. I’ve eaten there before but its usually not my first choice, the quality isn’t great and it’s a tad expensive compared to the real deal. What I like about it is that it’s close and they serve you quickly. The staff was always attentive and the service pretty good for a fast food joint. Lo and behold, when I arrived there today my experience was entirely different.

First, there was the person who greeted me and took my order:

Well, that’s new. Not that I’d never experienced an ordering kiosk at a fast food place before, it’s just that this place always had four employees at their various cash registers to take orders and keep up with the lunch rush. I looked around and saw one person milling about behind the cash registers, but he seemed to be doing other work. Ordering took about 30 seconds, a beep as my apple pay was charged and the machine spits out a receipt. There were no lines.

Ten seconds later the gentleman from behind the cash registers rushed over to me with a cup for my soda, which I filled at a self-serve station. He asked me if I wanted to watch my burger being made by “Flippy”. Well, I thought, that’s an odd and very specific nickname for the chef at a fast food burger joint, only to turn around and see:

Meet Flippy: the burger flipping robot. Equipped with a vast array of cameras and sensors Flippy can cook up to 300 burgers an hour to the exact same specifications every time. No more underdone or burnt burgers. He will even switch utensils for different jobs automatically and clean the grill in between each batch. Not only does he cook a pretty decent burger (it was the best one I’ve had at this restaurant) but he also is equipped with a sophisticated cloud-based AI that can learn from his surroundings and experiences and acquire new skills over time.

Well, damn.

Oh, that guy in the background? He’s Flippy’s assistant and puts cheese on the burgers when needed. I guess Flippy hasn’t acquired that skill yet. Other than the gentleman who brought me my cup and Flippy’s Sous Chef there was one other employee I could see, a nice lady who assembled the finished burger once Chef Flippy was done cooking the patty. The same gentleman from earlier brought my burger to my table.

All told, only three employees and a robot were there to serve me my lunch. Total time from order to first bite: about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. In a restaurant that used to employ four cashiers, nevermind the rest of the back kitchen staff required to make a burger.

Thank you, California’s $15 minimum wage.

There are 138 comments.

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  1. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor

    I, for one, welcome our robot burger-makers.

    • #1
    • May 9, 2018, at 1:33 PM PDT
    • 21 likes
  2. Mike H Coolidge

    It really helps income inequality when half the population is outlawed from work.

    • #2
    • May 9, 2018, at 1:38 PM PDT
    • 20 likes
  3. Hoyacon Member

    Here’s hoping Flippy is confined to burger duty and has a friend named Scrubby who handles the rest rooms.

    • #3
    • May 9, 2018, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • 22 likes
  4. Larry3435 Member

    The National Labor Relations Act does not cover robots or kiosks. That leaves California free to adopt its own legislation covering this area. I expect the state will either put an outright ban on the technology, or will require the restaurant to pay $15 per hour to a random illegal alien or homeless vagrant for each machine being used. California will never be satisfied until it drives every business out of the state.

    • #4
    • May 9, 2018, at 1:43 PM PDT
    • 22 likes
  5. George Townsend Inactive

    Excellent piece, Jamie!

    I live in Jersey, and haven’t been to a fast-food place in a while. Had not known that they have robots flipping the burghers. I guess they all will be doing that. Where do kids go these days to get work experience? Why aren’t the perils of the minimum clear, so clear to people who really think about it, enough to make people realize what we are doing to the kids?

    • #5
    • May 9, 2018, at 1:43 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  6. Hang On Member

    Thank you, indeed. This is exactly why I’m in favor of $15/hr minimum wage – increased productivity, zero demand for illegal immigrant labor.

    • #6
    • May 9, 2018, at 1:47 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Dave Sussman Contributor

    Great post Jamie.

    As this impacts low-wage teen workers, what’s the over/under when the first ‘ageism’ civil rights lawsuit will be filed against restaurants?

    • #7
    • May 9, 2018, at 2:54 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Randy Webster Member

    George Townsend (View Comment):
    robots flipping the burghers.

    I’ll bet those guys are pissed.

    • #8
    • May 9, 2018, at 2:57 PM PDT
    • 14 likes
  9. Quake Voter Inactive

    The minimum wage is $0.00. Always has been.

    Simplifies tipping. 20% of $0.00.

    Merit-based, high skills immigration reform please.

    Thanks for the on-the-ground reporting.

    • #9
    • May 9, 2018, at 3:14 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Thank you, indeed. This is exactly why I’m in favor of $15/hr minimum wage – increased productivity, zero demand for illegal immigrant labor.

    Illegals don’t normally get paid minimum wage. They’re paid under the table. Higher minimum wages only incentivizes employers to go that route to keep costs under control. 

    • #10
    • May 9, 2018, at 3:43 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  11. dnewlander Member

    Can Flippy learn to cook my Mongolian grill order without losing half my noodles and replacing them with the previous guy’s onions (allergic) and broccoli (hate it)? 

    If so, he’s HIRED. 

    • #11
    • May 9, 2018, at 3:43 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  12. PHCheese Member

    MrsCheese has a golf outing this evening so for the first time in about a year I went to McDonalds. I went to the drive through . 25 minutes for the five cars ahead of me to be served. 

    • #12
    • May 9, 2018, at 4:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Stina Member

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Thank you, indeed. This is exactly why I’m in favor of $15/hr minimum wage – increased productivity, zero demand for illegal immigrant labor.

    Illegals don’t normally get paid minimum wage. They’re paid under the table. Higher minimum wages only incentivizes employers to go that route to keep costs under control.

    Which makes the amnesty movement curious. If they are here legally, they can petition for proper wages which would cost them their jobs…

    • #13
    • May 9, 2018, at 4:43 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. She Thatcher
    She

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Here’s hoping Flippy is confined to burger duty and has a friend named Scrubby who handles the rest rooms.

    Indeed. Reminds me of the billboard:

    Septic Tanks Emptied!
    Swimming Pools Filled!
    Not Same Truck!

    • #14
    • May 9, 2018, at 5:59 PM PDT
    • 20 likes
  15. Hoyacon Member

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    Can Flippy learn to cook my Mongolian grill order without losing half my noodles and replacing them with the previous guy’s onions (allergic) and broccoli (hate it)?

    If so, he’s HIRED.

    Likely Flippy v. 2.6. But soon.

     

    • #15
    • May 9, 2018, at 6:05 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Franco Member

    And Flippy will NEVER do anything immoral!

     

    • #16
    • May 9, 2018, at 6:29 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. SkipSul Moderator

    Franco (View Comment):

    And Flippy will NEVER do anything immoral!

     

    Sez you. Never underestimate the possibilities of a really ticked off programmer. One could make Flippy quite evil indeed. Not Terminator level (probably, maybe), but at least a low grade sort of evil.

    • #17
    • May 9, 2018, at 8:49 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Django Member

    There is a connection between this post and a clip I recently viewed of Jordan Petersons’ discussion of the US DoD work on IQ. I hope I’m literate enough to illustrate the connection. According to Peterson, the DoD research revealed that a person with an IQ of less than 83 is incapable of being trained to do anything of use to the US military. He rightly regarded this as a “scary” statistic because it means that if one takes the complexity of the US military’s environment to be roughly equivalent to the complexity of society as a whole, there is no place for one of every 10 people. The connection, I believe, is this. One doesn’t have to be a mental giant to flip burgers. It is honest work and provides an income for those who either lack ambition or maybe lack the training and, more important, the intelligence to do much more complex and demanding work. There is however, an upper limit to how much one can expect to be paid to flip burgers. People will pay only so much for fast food.

    When a union or politicians demand that burger flippers be paid more than the market will support, those people are out of any work. And there may be no other work for them. That is a real problem. Jordan Peterson said in the conclusion of his talk that no one knows how to address this situation. I have nothing useful to add because I am among those who do not know how to address the situation. 

    • #18
    • May 9, 2018, at 8:59 PM PDT
    • 18 likes
  19. Hang On Member

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Thank you, indeed. This is exactly why I’m in favor of $15/hr minimum wage – increased productivity, zero demand for illegal immigrant labor.

    Illegals don’t normally get paid minimum wage. They’re paid under the table. Higher minimum wages only incentivizes employers to go that route to keep costs under control.

    Easily solved with some high-profile prosecutions and multiple-year jail time for former shop owners.

    • #19
    • May 10, 2018, at 5:08 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. The Whether Man Inactive

    I just read about something similar in Boston. And of course, we’ve been ordering by screen at Sheetz forever, though they can be a little slow on the human back end.

    Side note – congratulations on the little one! Our first just arrived in February as well, and she is an adventure.

    • #20
    • May 10, 2018, at 5:25 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Stad Thatcher

    The real victims are the people who need the job, whether they are teenagers trying to grab that first rung of the ladder, or the elderly who need to supplement their income. The greed of politicians (We’re helping the poor! Vote for us!) outweighs the need of the young or poor.

    As for the businesses, they’re simply trying to stay in business, and high minimum wages greatly reduces the chance of survival . . .

    • #21
    • May 10, 2018, at 5:33 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  22. RufusRJones Member

    Robots and globalized labor = wage deflation. 

    We need to switch to a much freer, purchasing power-oriented economy. They will never do it until the bond market collapses. Inflationist government is going to die the hard way.

    • #22
    • May 10, 2018, at 6:25 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Kozak Member

    Jamie Lockett:

    Not only does he cook a pretty decent burger (it was the best one I’ve had at this restaurant) but he also is equipped with a sophisticated cloud-based AI that can learn from his surroundings and experiences and acquire new skills over time.

     

    And you are unlikely to get Hepatitis or Salmonella from him….

    • #23
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:06 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Mike H Coolidge

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Robots and globalized labor = wage deflation.

    They don’t only mean wage deflation, they mean cost of living deflation. When people worry about the robots and start bringing up things like UBI, they seem to neglect that even if you’re not making much money (assuming you’re allowed to work in a non-minimum wage environment) the amount that you will need to make to meet your basic needs will be so low as to swamp any reductions in your absolute wage.

    Now, people might bring up human nature and income inequality leading to pitchforks, but that’s a different issue than the plain economics of the situation.

    Django (View Comment):
    There is a connection between this post and a clip I recently viewed of Jordan Petersons’ discussion of the US DoD work on IQ. I hope I’m literate enough to illustrate the connection. According to Peterson, the DoD research revealed that a person with an IQ of less than 83 is incapable of being trained to do anything of use to the US military. He rightly regarded this as a “scary” statistic because it means that if one takes the complexity of the US military’s environment to be roughly equivalent to the complexity of society as a whole, there is no place for one of every 10 people.

    I’ve seen that clip. I think the big slight of hand he does is in the “if one takes the complexity of the US military’s environment to be roughly equivalent to the complexity of society as a whole…”

    This seems a little like when articles compare minimum wage to median house prices as a way to deceptively argue that you can’t afford to live on a minimum wage. You don’t need to be able to function in the highly ordered military or even be able to navigate the “complexity of society as a whole” (whatever that means) to be able to function enough to eek out a living.

    • #24
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:18 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  25. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Django (View Comment):
    He rightly regarded this as a “scary” statistic because it means that if one takes the complexity of the US military’s environment to be roughly equivalent to the complexity of society as a whole, there is no place for one of every 10 people.

    [My bold.] I think that’s not a fair assumption. There are many low-skill tasks consumed in a service economy that aren’t applicable to the military, because the military expects its personnel to handle those tasks for themselves as part of the mission. Employability of low-skill / low-IQ people is hammered by the minimum wage, yes, but also hammered by the impact of the regulatory state on the complexity of work environments. (See The Bell Curve, Part III.)

    • #25
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:27 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. RufusRJones Member

    Mike H (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Robots and globalized labor = wage deflation.

    They don’t only mean wage deflation, they mean cost of living deflation.

    That’s what I meant with the rest of my post. If we had the brains to switch back to a pre-Fed deflationary economy, a million things would take care of themselves. 

    • #26
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:28 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Mike H Coolidge

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Robots and globalized labor = wage deflation.

    They don’t only mean wage deflation, they mean cost of living deflation.

    That’s what I meant with the rest of my post. If we had the brains to switch back to a pre-Fed deflationary economy, a million things would take care of themselves.

    I had a feeling that’s what you were going for, which is why I liked your post and just wanted to spell out your point in different words.

    • #27
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:33 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett Post author

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Robots and globalized labor = wage deflation.

    They don’t only mean wage deflation, they mean cost of living deflation.

    That’s what I meant with the rest of my post. If we had the brains to switch back to a pre-Fed deflationary economy, a million things would take care of themselves.

    I’ve read and listened to some of the sources you provided previously in support of deflationary economics and I’m not convinced. Deflation is a far greater threat to the economy than low level inflation. What matters is growth and deflation is a cancer that destroys growth. 

    • #28
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  29. RufusRJones Member

    Mike H (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Robots and globalized labor = wage deflation.

    They don’t only mean wage deflation, they mean cost of living deflation.

    That’s what I meant with the rest of my post. If we had the brains to switch back to a pre-Fed deflationary economy, a million things would take care of themselves.

    I had a feeling that’s what you were going for, which is why I liked your post and just wanted to spell out your point in different words.

    I need all the help I can get. 

    • #29
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:37 AM PDT
    • Like
  30. RufusRJones Member

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):
    I’ve read and listened to some of the sources you provided previously in support of deflationary economics and I’m not convinced. Deflation is a far greater threat to the economy than low level inflation. What matters is growth and deflation is a cancer that destroys growth.

    You can have deflationary growth. It happened all of the time prior to 1914. 

    People are rightly scared of uncontrolled deflation. I’m talking about the natural increase in purchasing power from progress and trade. Our financial system, government, and political system can’t hack it right now, though. It all has to be overhauled. The old debt based inflationism system can’t cope with robots and globalized labor. 

    Get rid of the cartels, inflationist Fed, and big government.

    In the mean time you get Trump, socialism, social problems and UBI paid by robot taxes. GOSPLAN. 

    • #30
    • May 10, 2018, at 7:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
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