“[T]here is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”
– H.L. Mencken
A growing movement in the United States seeks to dramatically increase unemployment by imposing ever higher price floors on salaries. The recent conversion in the US of millions of full time jobs to part time to evade new health insurance requirements for full time employees was apparently an insufficient increase in human misery – the elimination of most entry level work on even a part time basis is now also apparently a goal.
For example, see this New York Times article reporting on a recent on fast food workers strike”one day strike by workers at fast food restaurants.
Now, to be fair, most of the people clamoring for new impositions on employers like health insurance and increased minimum wages are in fact unaware that their efforts will simply throw people out of work rather than helping them. Their goal, and I take them at their word, is to attempt to help the poor, not to destroy all hope they have for the future. The fact that their proposals (and sadly, in many cases, actual laws) do exactly the opposite of what they intend is difficult to convey to them.
This seems to be for two reasons. The first is that they are often completely unacquainted with economic thinking, and are unashamed of it or at least believe this ignorance to be irrelevant as economics is not needed (in their view) to analyze their proposals. Second, and worse, they completely focus on their desires over the likely real world effects of what they propose.
Attempts to point out the actual effects of a proposal (and how they are the opposite of what was intended) are often met with one of two responses, and sadly sometimes both. The first is blind repetition of the original rationale (e.g., “but poor people can’t afford to raise their families on what they earn at a fast food restaurant!”) without any attempt to address the question of whether the proposed remedy will in any way fix the original problem. The second is the demand “well, what would you propose doing?”
(As an aside, I will describe one my more vicious tactics, which I’m mildly ashamed of and invoke only when particularly frustrated by combined cases of “well what do you propose?” and “but there is a problem!”
I sometimes mention that my father has been dead for years and I miss him terribly. When I propose to sacrifice the children of the minimum-wage advocate to Baal to propitiate the god and ensure my father’s resurrection, and mention that, if they don’t like the proposal they should give me an alternative, frequently they decline to offer one. Sadly, they rarely see the parallels to their own suggested fixes for the problems of the poor either.)
The desire to help by destroying extends everywhere these days — one can barely open a newspaper without encountering it. For example, there is now a “labor activist” jihad against unpaid internships, which has, sadly, seen some considerable success in US courts and regulatory agencies.
The result is already predictable. Internships are starting disappear entirely. People clamored for such internships not because they enjoyed working for free but because they desperately wanted to get real-world job experience onto their résumés so they could get a paying job later. Legions of college students, deeply in debt from loans pushed on them by the state and having majored in utterly useless topics like “Communications”, will soon find themselves unable repair the damage their education has done to them even by offering to work for free in exchange for experience, and will be even less employable. Victory for the self-proclaimed “advocates”, misery for the putative objects of their “assistance”.
A sort of minor victory for the market appears to be brewing, however.
It will not, sadly, provide jobs for the poor and unskilled. Jobs can only be provided by an employer who stands to make more by employing an individual than that individual costs to employ, and, in the case of workers at the bottom of the skills ladder, paying an employee less than they cost has been made illegal by the state.
These new developments will, however, at least lower the cost of goods that are sold to everyone, including the poor, and they may keep the economy from contracting under the dead weight of yet more labor regulation.
I am speaking, of course, of automation. More and more companies, faced by the “helpful people destroying others lives” lobby, are figuring out ways to replace their employees with machines.
I opened by mentioning the recent fast food restaurant strikes. Should the various “labor organizers” succeed at increasing the cost of restaurant labor, one result may be that such jobs could vanish altogether. A startup called Momentum Machines is already working on fast food restaurants with completely automated kitchens. They claim that they will be able to produce a better, tastier and more consistent product as well. Whether this particular firm succeeds or not is almost irrelevant — if they do not, the idea is out there, and others will follow in their footsteps.
Similarly, faced with increasing pressure to improve pay and benefits for semi-skilled assembly line workers, Foxconn, the Chinese contract electronics manufacturing giant, has decided to replace almost all of those workers with robots. Whether this was entirely because of the helpful assistance of “activists”, including some who simply made up stories about the company for lack of real problems to discuss, or is simply because the time is ripe, I cannot say. Regardless, Foxconn has already deployed its first 20,000 robots.
I find it hopeful that, even if we cannot prevent the legions of well-meaning destroyers from wreaking additional havoc on the lives of others, we can at least bypass their more egregiously foolish ideas. They may be able to eliminate jobs for millions, but they will not be able to eliminate the industries they target, which will simply operate without human employees.