Remember the Terminator movies and the evil electronic overlords of Skynet – the computer system that became self-aware and launched the war against humans? We aren’t there…yet. But we are fast approaching the point where people simply aren’t necessary to conduct a significant amount of business and life.
There won’t be a single day – a “Skynet Day” – we will point to when the low- and no-skilled workers became the Betamax of the workforce. It will happen gradually. But it will happen. And we’ll spend decades arguing over why.
It didn’t start with the formation of unions. They were an important and necessary movement at one time. Working conditions were awful, safety was an afterthought, and they forced employers to address both.
But once they won they didn’t accept victory; they redefined it.
Unions went from demanding humane treatment and a safe working environment to demanding an ever-growing slice of the economic pie. They wanted to consume more without producing more, and they wanted those rewards without any of the risks associated with it. When profits were up, they wanted a taste; when profits were down, or gone, they still wanted more.
Unions haven’t adapted their tactics or demands with the times. They have the same sense of entitlement to an ever-growing piece of someone else’s risk with none of the consequences of failure. Unions extracted so much it eventually became more profitable for companies to manufacture products overseas and ship them back here than to simply make them here.
Outsourcing meant no more pensions, automatic raises or paying through the nose to fire ineffective or incompetent employees, and the savings more than covered the cost of creating a logistical network to build and ship products thousands of miles. Now that people have the opportunity to flee unions, they are doing so in droves. But unions were repelling jobs before that.
But unions aren’t the only culprits when it comes to leading us down a path with robotic masters at its end; government played a major role too.
When President Franklin Roosevelt imposed wage controls during World War II, companies had to find new ways to compete for desired employees. The benefits package was born, and with it came a marriage between health insurance and employers. The cost of employing humans was set on a constantly increasing trajectory.
To solidify that union, the government incentivized it in the tax code – providing special tax treatment of insurance provided by an employer that someone who purchased their own insurance could not get. The marriage was consummated, and low-skilled workers were screwed.
Add to this market uncertainties from government mandates such as the minimum wage, the need to pay managers more than those they supervise and the costs of hiring and providing mandate-laden benefits, and it’s easy to see why conducting transactions with as few human beings as possible became an imperative.
These lessons, admittedly simplified for the sake of brevity, are lost on the very people with the most to lose as we inch toward an automated and robotic workplace.
That politicians and activist groups hoping to motivate uninformed voters would rally around an increased minimum wage is to be expected – they feed on ignorance, economic or otherwise. But their economically illiterate followers are sealing their own fate, advocating for their own replacement and a life of dependency.
The “Fight for $15,” the progressive union-backed push to raise the starting wage of fast-food employees to $15 per hour under the guise of economic independence and quality of life, will be the death of fast-food jobs. These jobs should be for kids’ first foray into the workforce, but with manufacturing jobs already chased out of the country, unskilled workers have gravitated to burger-flipping and raised the average age of burger jockeys.
The economic pressures that led to robotics replacing manufacturers of physical goods are being applied to food preparation in the name of compassion. These “strikers” are painted as victims by the media and heroes for standing up for themselves.
In reality, they are people who’ve made bad choices in their lives and now, as adults, work dead-end jobs that were designed for children. The person most responsible for the misery in their lives is not sitting in a boardroom anywhere; it’s the upside-down image looking back at them from their spoons.
There’s no money and no power in conveying that truth, so it isn’t told. But it’s a truth that bears repeating.
None of the “strikers” are saying they’re going to “earn” anything. They’re saying they “deserve” more. They don’t. If you can be replaced by a kiosk or the honor system, you are not in position to ask for a huge raise.
The kiosks are coming, and if robots can assemble a car, they sure as hell can assemble a hamburger or a pizza.
These people demanding more will end up with nothing but a government life preserver and a chip on their shoulder bigger than the lie-filled one currently crushing them.
Robots may or may not achieve self-awareness and wipe out humanity at some point in the future but not before the worst parts of humanity’s nature wipes away many of the much-needed jobs that do exist. It won’t be “corporate greed” that destroys lives; it will be human jealously and the entitlement mentality bred by economic ignorance and envy.
Who needs Skynet when you’ve got progressive politicians, activists and unions doing to jobs, economic growth and hope what no Terminator was able to do?