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How Can a Human Justify Asking to be Paid $15 to Work?

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Published : June 25th, 2017
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Category : Editorials

McDonald’s announced it will replace cashiers in 2,5000 stores with self-service kiosks.

The story buzzed across the internet but Business Insider reported McDonald’s shoots down fears it is planning to replace cashiers with kiosks.

Official Denial

“McDonald’s has repeatedly said that adding kiosks won’t result in mass layoffs, but will instead move some cashiers to other parts of the restaurant where it’s adding new jobs, such as table service. The burger chain reiterated that position again on Friday.”

Is McDonald’s denial believable? What would you expect the company to say?

McDonald’s has to deny the story or it might have a hiring problem, a morale problem, and other problems.

“Our CEO, Steve Easterbrook, has said on many occasions that self-order kiosks in McDonald’s restaurants are not a labor replacement,” a spokeswoman told Business Insider. “They provide an opportunity to transition back-of-the-house positions to more customer service roles such as concierges and table service where they are able to truly engage with guests and enhance the dining experience.”

Move cashiers to table service? Really?

Yeah, right.

An interesting political rule from the British sitcom “Yes, Minister” is to “never believe anything until it’s officially denied”.

Will Humans Be Necessary?

When someone can be replaced by a robot, how can the push for $15 be justified?

Psychology Today asks Will Humans Be Necessary?

Will automation kill as many jobs as is feared? A widely cited Oxford University study predicts that 47% of  jobs could be automated in the next decade of two. Price Waterhouse pegs the U.S. risk at 38%. McKinsey estimates that 45% of what people are paid for could be automated using existing technology!

No less than Tesla’s Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking fear the loss of jobs will cause world cataclysm.

Lower-level jobs at risk

Let’s start with jobs likely to be eliminated, starting with the present and with those lower-level jobs.

Already, don’t you prefer a ATM to a teller, self-checkout to the supermarket checker, drive-through tolls rather than stop for the toll-taker, automated airline check-in rather than waiting for a clerk, shopping on Amazon rather than fighting traffic, parking, and the check-out experience with a live clerk, assuming the store has what you want in your size? Indeed, malls are closing while online retailers led by Amazon are growing.

As minimum wage and mandated benefits rise, fast-food restaurants especially are accelerating use of, for example, order-taking kiosks, which McDonald’s is rolling out in 2,500 stores, robotic burger flippers and fry cooks, even pizza, ramen and sushi makers. Even that fail-safe job, barista, is at-risk, Bosch now makes an automated barista. Mid-range restaurants such as Olive Garden, Outback, and Applebee are replacing waiters with tabletop tablets. Will you really miss having your conversation interrupted by a waiter hawking hors de oeuvres and expecting a 15+% tip? If you owned a fast-food franchise, mighn’t you be looking to replace people with automated solutions? Can it really be long until there are completely automated fast-food and even mid-range restaurants?

Robots are already being used as security guards. There are humanoid robots that can move heavy boxes, walk in uneven snow, and get up, not annoyed when thrown to the ground. (And won’t sue for failure to supervise or an OSHA violation.)

Instead of hiring architects for tens of thousands of dollars, many people are opting to spend just a few hundred bucks to instantly get any of thousands of often award-winning house plans which, if needed, can be inexpensively customized to suit. Far fewer architects needed.

BlackRock, the world’s largest fund company has replaced seven of its 53 analysts with AI-driven stock-picking.

The remaining jobs

In such a world, how can a human justify asking to be paid to work?

Four scenarios

The range of scenarios would seem circumscribed by these. How likely do you think each of these are?

  • Continue on the current path: The world continues to slowly make progress, e.g., birth rates declining in developing nations, slowed global warming, more education and health care. Those positives would be mitigated by declining jobs, more concentration of wealth.
  •  World socialism.
  • Mass population reduction, for example, by nuclear war, pandemic, or, per  Clive Cussler, highly communicable biovirus simultaneously put into the water supply of a half-dozen cruise ships?
  • A world run by machines and the few people they deem worthy.

Here is a debate between an optimistic and a pessimist on the future of the world.

The truth may well be something we can’t even envision. After all, he who lives by the crystal ball usually eats broken glass.

Note that Psychology Today author Marty Nemko did not ask about $15. He wonders if pay for some jobs is worth anything at all.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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Mike Shedlock / Mish is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. He writes a global economics blog which has commentary 5-7 times a week. He also writes for the Daily Reckoning, Whiskey & Gunpowder, and has over 80 magazine and book cover credits. Visit
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