The Robots Are Here!

We are posting this article about McDonald’s replacing their human cashiers with machines because of our broad interest in the predicted gradual takeover of jobs at all levels, manual or managerial, by robots. It is inevitable (see Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford, listed in our bibliography). For the writer of this WSJ article to blame it on the minimum wage requirement is disingenuous and should fool no one. Yes, gradually robots will replace human workers at all levels of industry and business because they will be faster, commit fewer errors, and do not require bathroom breaks, sick leave or health insurance. We are very far from having a solution as how to handle all the laid-off employees, be they burger flippers or stock exchange traders, that will result but it is very likely to involve some form of wealth redistribution, much to the dismay of free market advocates.

McDonald’s is rolling out a new mobile ordering system today in dozens of restaurants around Spokane, Washington. This follows a similar launch last week in Monterey and Salinas, Calif., according to Reuters. If these experiments succeed, customers could be using the new McDonald’s mobile app this fall at nearly all of the company’s roughly 14,000 U.S. locations. Two billion smartphones worldwide tell us that consumers enjoy using mobile apps, but consumer preference isn’t the only reason McDonald’s is deploying technology to do what people used to do.

In the name of helping workers, union-backed activists groups and our various levels of government have given fast-food joints every reason to replace humans with machines. Back in October of 2014, besieged by demonstrators demanding that McDonald’s pay $15 per hour to unskilled workers and rising minimum wages in various jurisdictions, the company told investors about plans to bring more automation to its restaurants. A Journal editorial at the time wondered how “so many of our media brethren have been persuaded that suddenly it’s the job of America’s burger joints to provide everyone with good pay and benefits.” We predicted “the result of their agitation will be more jobs for machines and fewer for the least skilled workers.”

At a prototype restaurant in Chicago, McDonald’s has lately been refining self-service kiosks so that customers without a smartphone also can order without talking to anybody. It’s happening across the quick-service restaurant industry and fast-food cashiers aren’t the only ones who may need to find another way to make a living. Recently the Journal reported on the vibrant competition to develop self-driving delivery trucks, due in part to the fact that “regulations governing working hours are squeezing profits.”

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