The Imagined Effects of a $15 Minimum Wage

minimum wage

coins“A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” 

– William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

Always be ready to speak your mind and a base man will avoid you.”

– William BlakeThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell

I’m smart enough to know there are plenty of things I don’t know. I’m certainly no economist, but historical precedents and similar datasets that lead to conclusions similar to comparable hypotheses do not automatically guarantee similar conclusions. So, let this article serve as a bit of criticism for anyone who warns about all the job losses that will occur if and when the minimum wage goes to $15 and businesses automate the duties of low-skilled workers.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

– William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

I’m as skeptical as the next libertarian when it comes to data and what we are told by the media and our political and civil institutions. When confronted with an assertion that doesn’t pass the smell test, I research the topic as extensively as possible. I’m not the best researcher in the world; I’ll never be mistaken for Jacques H. van Boom (if you don’t know who that is, do some research). But, I’d like to think I am at least willing to educate myself, either through academic research, real life experience, and/or that cesspool called the Internet.

Will all minimum wage type jobs be replaced someday by automated kiosks? You need look no further than your local supermarket. They all have self-checkout aisles now. The Shop-Rite I go to has a few aisles of them, for a total of six self-checkouts. But, there has never been less than two employees attending these aisles, and on a Sunday night when the store closes early, the self-checkout registers are manned by employees scanning your items for you. They are faster, and it helps keep these lines of stragglers relatively short. I’m very quick in a self-checkout, but everyday there are customers that for some inexplicable reason decide to check themselves out, but who are slower than a kid with Down Syndrome sitting in a canoe with no paddle drifting in the middle of a lake. So, there are times when automation does not save a company money, like during a rush when cashiers are needed to help facilitate the use of self-checkouts, nor provide more convenience for its customers.

It’s the same thing at big chain movie theaters. There are more and more ticket kiosks, whole walls and counters of them. But I have not noticed any great difference in the amount of high schoolers working at the ticketing area. The real difference I notice is that there are fewer kids behind the counter, and more standing in front. If you want to pay cash, or not use a kiosk, you can make your purchase from a real, live human being. How quaint! For some reason, there is an employee standing at the end of the line, pointing to the next customer in the queue which kiosk is now available for use. I guess the suits at AMC believe the average theater-goer can competently operate a ticketing kiosk, but would never be able to figure out when it is his turn to actually use the goddamn thing.

There are always several employees roaming from kiosk to kiosk, helping customers navigate movie schedules apparently so byzantine that these customers are dazzled into obliviousness, unable to remember neither what movie they want to watch, nor when, and then must be gently instructed by the employee to flip their credit card over so the magnetic strip is on the opposite side after the customer has unsuccessfully swiped it three times, four times, five times…the definition of insanity is when you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result; often, in the lobby of a theater, I feel as though I’m an island in an ocean of James Holmes’s.

When I was at the airport a few weeks ago, I noticed in front of every chair and barstool at every restaurant and bar was a little digital menu from which customers could place their orders. My wife and I wanted some boozeahol before we got on our plane, so we plunked ourselves down on some barstools. The bartender came over and asked if we were ready to order. We said sure, and I told her I didn’t want to use the gizmo and she said, “No problem, I can take your order!” As we gave her our order, she picked up the gizmo and said, “But I still have to enter it into this.”

The gizmo also had games you could play, to kill time while you’re drinking and waiting for your plane. I find this unfortunate because airplanes are second only to horse racing venues for great places to people-watch. Plus, there are these antiquated things called books. I mean, I know Candy Crush or whatever is really stimulating for the mind and all, but the only thing these little gizmos are accomplishing is to further cut ourselves off from human interaction. The gizmos aren’t helping these bars save money on payroll since someone still has to bring the drink to you, and ask how you’re doing, and bring you the bill, and wipe the tables when you leave.

“…And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity; Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects…”

– William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

It is lamentable the $15 minimum wage crowd is more concerned with imposing their vision than on allowing markets to sort the issue out. Perhaps they don’t like markets because they deliver order from chaos. One of the most persistent fallacies afflicting economics and politics is that if only the right people were in charge, the economy would hum like a well-oiled machine. But the economy is not an orchestra that can be conducted; it is more like a Rube Goldberg Machine. Commodities and serves are supplied following countless bits of stimuli, acting in a seemingly anarchic manner. Predictability is in short supply in the private sector; there are customers, supply chains and employees to deal with, and each one can be affected by some hiccup, some of which can grow exponentially and overwhelm a company, and some can be readily absorbed.

 “Without contraries there is no progression.”

– William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

We can’t predict with any certainty what will happen once the $15 minimum wage is completely phased in. We can make educated guesses about how many existing minimum wage workers will be laid off, but there are so many variables that to announce with any serious conviction what will definitely happen is to be delusional.

We don’t know what will happen, but here is what might: The number of job losses that occur for those who have fought for $15 will be low, at least at first. Businesses will have several years to find ways other than from their payroll from which to cut operating costs to absorb the inflated minimum wage. Someday, humans won’t be needed to perform menial tasks like running a register or taking orders, but that will be far in the future. At most, half of current minimum wage workers will be laid off, in the next decade. Businesses will need employees to assist with the automated kiosks, to help the elderly, technophobes and luddites.

When it comes to economics, the Left portray themselves as the smartest ones in the room, but refuse to entertain any evidence that conflicts with their pre-determined beliefs. Let’s not join them.

* Special thanks to Baland Rabayah for answering my “what might happen if…” questions.

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Dillon Eliassen is a former Managing Editor of Being Libertarian. Dillon works in the sales department of a privately owned small company. He holds a BA in Journalism & Creative Writing from Lyndon State College, and needs only to complete his thesis for his Master’s of English from Montclair State University (something which his accomplished and beautiful wife, Alice, is continually pestering him about). He is the author of The Apathetic, available at He is a self-described Thoreauvian Minarchist.

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