Here’s a reality that politicians on both sides of the aisle are steadfastly refusing to acknowledge: the world requires less brute human physical human force to function than ever before, and that has significant, far reaching, and irreversible consequences for the labor market. There is absolutely no amount of government action that is going to undo that.
It’s not politically correct to say this, but if you’re making minimum wage, you’re probably doing a job that could be pretty easily replaced by a modern technological innovation. The only thing that prevents your employer for doing this is the one time sunk cost of buying that technology. Your employer most likely has figured out the exact tipping point, salary-wise, that makes buying that robot or computer terminal or whatever worth it – and the more the government forces him to pay you, the more likely your job is to cease to exist.
And thus we see that Wendy’s has announced a massive program to install automated terminals in 6,000 of their restaurants – terminals that won’t walk out of work on random days demanding to be paid $15 an hour.
On the whole, this is a net benefit for society. The invention of the automatic ditch digger means better ditches can be dug faster and cheaper, and isn’t it great that we don’t have to dig ditches in the hot sun every day? But if you’re a person who’s never learned to do anything for a living but dig a ditch, it’s a problem.
The problem is only made worse by fundamentally dishonest politicians who are peddling false dreams to people who need to come to grips with economic reality. Donald Trump stands in front of huge rallies in West Virginia and promises laid off coal workers that he’s going to get them back to work again, but he can’t. Fracking has made natural gas cheap enough that coal simply can’t compete on price, so unless Trump plans to outlaw it and drive up energy costs, there simply aren’t enough people who want coal for that to happen. And even if they did, mountaintop removal processes have made it so much quicker (and less human labor intensive) to mine coal that there simply isn’t a massive demand for human coal miners anymore, even if the whole world ran on coal.
Believe me, I can relate to the frustration of folks about jobs disappearing. I incurred six figures worth of student loan debt and spent seven years in college for a law degree that promptly became almost worthless when the entire field crashed in 2008 and suddenly found itself flooded with excess labor. Everybody hates lawyers (with good reason) so there were no politicians out there loudly proclaiming that after they got elected, they were going to make sure all the lawyers went back to work, but it sure would have sounded tempting if one had.
But it still would have been a false promise and the politicians on both sides who are doing it right now to workers who are in desperate need of retraining should be ashamed of themselves.