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The Replacement Continues

Walter Russell Mead

Minimum wage hikes are rippling across the economy, and corporations are responding just as you would expect them to. Investor’s Business Daily reports:

Wendy’s said that self-service ordering kiosks will be made available across its 6,000-plus restaurants in the second half of the year as minimum wage hikes and a tight labor market push up wages.

It will be up to franchisees whether to deploy the labor-saving technology, but Wendy’s President Todd Penegor did note that some franchise locations have been raising prices to offset wage hikes.

McDonald’s has been testing self-service kiosks. But Wendy’s, which has been vocal about embracing labor-saving technology, is launching the biggest potential expansion.

This was going to happen anyway, and the elimination of mindless, routine work thanks to automation is, in the long run, a great blessing for the human race. But at a time when we haven’t yet mastered the art of creating new jobs fast enough to ensure rising living standards and steady employment in the face of rising automation, it seems like a bad time to accelerate the job loss trend.

We don’t need laws against robots or progress, but we don’t need laws that hasten the elimination of low-skilled employment either. Intentionally or not, many Obama-era labor policies have amounted to an attack on the retailers and franchise food outlets that still offer jobs to those workers.

If we’re concerned about improving opportunity for those at the bottom, we should be looking at ways to supplement incomes for low-skilled workers (such as the EITC, or government matches for retirement, child care, and health savings accounts), or at policies that might help them acquire more skills. Passing radical minimum wage increases that risk condemning thousands to permanent joblessness is the wrong move.

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