The photo above is from this article on pando.com. It shows a billboard campaign of American lobbyists against initiatives promoting a higher minimum wage. A topic that currently enjoys lots of political and media spotlight both in the U.S. and Europe.
The message of the billboard is that the higher the minimum wage, the more likely it is that jobs will be automated.
This is both right and wrong. Naturally, the more expensive it is for a company to employ a worker, the more incentive the company has for cutting down jobs to reduce costs.
So from this perspective, the claim that higher salaries will lead to less jobs might be true.
But the initiators of this billboard are also (and probably intentionally) wrong: Because they imply that with no increased minimum wage, jobs won’t be automated. But that is a fairy tale.
In a scenario where a computer/machine is fully capable and suitable to replace a $15/hour worker, it would also be capable and suitable to replace a $10/hour worker. Or a $5/hour worker. As long as the quality of the output of the work is comparable and the total cost/hour for purchasing and running the machine is lower than paying a human worker, this worker will eventually be replaced by a machine. And the costs for acquiring and running machines are constantly shrinking, thanks to technological advancements and economies of scale.
Here is the thing: Replacing human workers with machines makes total sense: If you for one second ignore the challenges for our current economic and social system, what reason would there be left to keep “using” a human for a job that a machine could do with the same quality of output? I do not find any (also because for me, this situation is an indicator for a likely lack of fulfillment and stimulation this job offers to a human being).
Thus, I believe this whole minimum wage thing is a short sighted discussion and solution. In the long run, these jobs that are supposed to be protected by minimum wages will disappear, no matter what. And thus, in my opinion a more dramatic change is needed. Like the basic income for example, which I hardly see any alternative to for the future.
Turning back to the billboard from above: It is a pretty good illustration for the contradiction that is at the core of today’s system: We cannot or do not want to pay workers an income that enables them to cover all the costs that modern life (housing, food, entertainment, education, health) comes with. At the same time we somehow actively or at least morally support the idea that – even if machines would be able to do the job – we need to keep employing humans to do these (badly paid, low stimulating, low fulfilling) jobs.
It really does not make any sense. Which is why, however flawed the idea of the basic income might be, it hardly can be more flawed than the current approach.
Fortunately, the idea of and discussion about a basic income is spreading more and more. Even some die-hard capitalists are warming up for it.
This post on Hacker News
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