The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


One of the core tenets of Hillary Clinton's upcoming run for the White House will be a set of favorite themes of the Left—income inequality and the minimum wage. These topics, combined with the canard that "the rich" somehow don't pay their "fair share" of taxes (even though the top 20 percent of taxpayers currently pay 84 percent of all income taxes collected) make a trifecta for class warfare.

Today, I'll discuss only one element of the trifecta—the minimum wage. In deep blue states and cities, the call for a $12.00 or $15.00 per hour minimum wage—a so-called "living wage"—has already begun. Now, Hillary and her supporters want to nationalize the issue because, they claim, it will help the lower tiers of the work force. No matter that most minimum wage workers are entry level, no matter that many are under the age of 20 and do not live on their own. No matter that small businesses work on tight margins (e.g., restaurants) and cannot afford significant increases in labor costs. It's all about Big Intrusive Government (B.I.G.) dictating what people should be paid, regardless of the labor market, regardless of the level education/skill required for the work, regardless of the profitability of a business, regardless of common sense. After all, the politics of envy trump sound policy decisions every time.

This morning The Wall Street Journal describes yet another robot that will displace workers at the bottom of the labor scale—in this case farm workers who pick strawberries. Strawberry picking has been a uniquely human activity. It requires color discernment (the berries must be ripe), dexterity (the berries hide below the leaves of the plant), and gentleness (the berries cannot be crushed or bruised). But now, there's an expensive robot that can do the job. From the WSJ:
Harnessing high-powered computing, color sensors and small metal baskets attached to the robotic arms, the machine gently plucked ripe strawberries from below deep-green leaves, while mostly ignoring unripe fruit nearby.

Such tasks have long required the trained discernment and backbreaking effort of tens of thousands of relatively low-paid workers. But technological advances are making it possible for robots to handle the job, just as a shrinking supply of available fruit pickers has made the technology more financially attractive.
The $100,000 machine has been introduced to remedy a labor shortage in the fields, but it's representative of the increasingly human activities that robots can accomplish. If wages for entry level work rise to a level where robots become cost competitive with entry-level human work (and they will), many small and moderate sized businesses that currently opt for relatively low cost human labor will be forced to take a hard look at the automatons, particularly as prices for such machines come down.

From their high moral perch where income inequality and living wage rule, Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and the rest of the Left seem oblivious to this simple reality. Of course, their solution—the B.I.G. solution—would undoubtedly be to ban the robots. But Luddites tried that 1779 and it didn't work. It won't work today either.

It's particularly galling to listen to politicians claim to be on the side of the poor and middle class while instituting policies that keep them dependent on B.I.G., and worse, threaten their ability to work and progress up the economic ladder. If entry level jobs are erased by automation because those jobs become cost ineffective, where will those who need them begin, where will they go, what will they do? Hillary and the rest of the crew don't care. All they really care about is the leverage they can gain by applying the politics of envy and resentment.