The Fight For $15, Automated Kiosks, And The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Coburn Palmer

The fight for higher wages is nothing new and neither is the corporate desire to increase profits by cutting costs, including labor, but the Fight for $15 movement has thrown the issue of income equality into sharp focus.

This week, fast-food workers across the nation rallied for higher wages as part of the Fight for $15 protest movement and McDonald's responded by introducing a new self-serve kiosk that promises to cut jobs.

As the American economy prepares to lose millions of jobs to machines in the coming years, the subject of income equality and the growing gap between the rich and poor promises to become a major issue.

This week's fast-food workers protest drew hundreds of supporters from across the country. Activists came from the ranks of baggage handlers, janitors, health care workers, and other non-unionized workers, as KFC employee Alvin Major told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"When we started demanding $15 … people thought we were crazy, but we were just demanding the basic minimum to survive. Right now I can barely pay my bills."

Their solution is to protest for higher wages, but not everyone agrees with that approach. Opponents to the increased minimum wage, like former McDonald's CEO Ed Rensi, argue increasing business costs would force corporations to cut jobs to maintain profits, according to an op-ed in Forbes.

"In 2013, when the Fight for $15 was still in its growth stage, I and others warned that union demands for a much higher minimum wage would force businesses with small profit margins to replace full-service employees with costly investments in self-service alternatives."
"Income disparities have become so pronounced that America's top 10 percent now average nearly nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent."

Industrial machines are replacing manufacturing jobs, computers are phasing out routine white-collar workers, the military is investing in automated weapons, and even astronauts may soon be replaced with androids.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming and with it a societal change that could mean a net loss for humankind in favor of the machines they helped create. When machines start replacing humans in the labor pool, it won't be enough to simply retrain the American workforce. More will be needed.

Science fiction offers one solution and it's called Universal Basic Income, the idea that every citizen receive some kind of stipend to pay their living costs.

Those on the left see it as a way to end poverty while those on the right view it as a more libertarian way to end social-welfare programs. With machines poised to displace more workers than ever before, it might be an idea whose time has finally come.

With humans no longer constrained by the need to chase the almighty dollar to support themselves, they would be free to turn to art, science, and research to fill their time. With humanity poised to leave the Earth in interplanetary spaceships, it might be time to re-evaluate our society and the way we deal with money.

What do you think the future of the world's economy will look like?

[Featured Image by Montri Nipitvittaya/Shutterstock]