Learning the laws of economics the hard way
Tis the season of minimum wage hike demands and fast food protests again. Frankly I don’t have a problem with wage hikes … if they’re voluntary. I do have a problem with coerced wage hikes, however. And that’s precisely what any rise in the federal minimum wage amounts too. It is feel good legislation that uses the force of government to coerce businesses into paying employees more for jobs the businesses don’t deem worth the cost imposed. It is feel good legislation that religiously and studiously avoids the laws of economics.
For instance, what is one of the effects of raising the minimum wage? Job loss. How so? Well, here’s a real world example:
President Obama recently signed an executive order that will increase the minimum wage for employees of companies with new federal contracts beginning Jan. 1. At that time, the minimum wage for all federal contract workers — not just those working for fast food concessions — will increase to $10.10 from the current $7.25. It is not yet known how far-reaching the effects will be for contracts on military installations.
…new Labor Department rules issued last fall for fast food workers on federal contracts under the Service Contract Act require an increase in the minimum wage for such employees, varying by region. The rules also require payment of new, additional “health and welfare” fringe benefits at a rate of $3.81 per hour to those employees.
Four restaurants, including three McDonald’s outlets, will close within the next three weeks on Navy installations, according to Navy Exchange Service Command officials.
And two other contractors — a name-brand sandwich eatery and a name-brand pizza parlor — have asked to be released from their Army and Air Force Exchange Service contracts to operate fast food restaurants at two other installations, according to AAFES officials.
A source with knowledge of military on-base resale operations said the issue likely has to do with two new government regulations — one implemented, one pending — that will affect wages for contract workers in such on-base concessions.
Action/reaction. Who loses? Well what’s zero times the new minimum wage? That’s what the former workers of those restaurants can look forward too in the near future. Will other fast food outlets take their place? Possibly – but then as another law of economics points out, businesses do what they do for profit, consequently costs incurred are usually passed on to the consumer in the form of price increases for the product. So who will get screwed then. In this case sailors making about 23K a year. Probable result – business will be down because fewer of their customers will be able to afford their prices with the frequency they once did.
As usual Obama has done this by executive fiat. And, it appears the minimum wage hike may or may not have any life in Congress (even with dopy old Mitt Romney coming out for it). But the debate and the protests roll on. For instance we have today’s fast food protests which are alleged to be happening world wide (backed by about $15 million SEIU dollars here in the US).
Here’s an example of what they’re saying:
Naquasia LeGrand, 22, of Brooklyn, says this was her sixth protest since 2012. She has worked for three years as a cashier at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Park Slope, an affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn. She says makes $8 an hour and pays $1,300 a month for her apartment. “We live in New York City — a multibillion dollar city,” she says. “These corporations … are making all this money. It’s only right that we (workers) come together.”
The sense of entitlement is overwhelming.
So let’s break down what she does for her $8 an hour. She says “may I help you” to a customer, a customer gives her their order which she enters via a touchpad computer. The computer computes and totals the order. She enters the amount of cash tendered and it tells he how much change to give back. Or she swipes a credit card, waits for the receipt to print and hands both back to the customer. At some point after that, she hands the customer a tray with food on it or a bag containing it.
Guess what else can do most of that?
And what can the employer know will never happen with this? Well, it won’t be out in 6 protests in 3 years and won’t have an attitude every day it cranks up and goes to work. And other than initial cost and maintenance costs, it will likely be more accurate than a human, faster than a human and cost less than a human in the long run. The technology is already here and as it proliferates it will get cheaper and cheaper. And it is proliferating. Guess who just bought 7,000 of them?
The point of course is when costs go up businesses have to consider their options, especially if they’re in a very competitive industry – like fast food. They know that they can only pass on a certain percentage of higher costs to their customers. So they have to look for alternatives to doing that. One of the fastest and easiest ways to increase the bottom line is to reduce headcount. Another is to automate low skill jobs. What Ms. LeGrand is doing is inviting her employer to consider one of those options if higher wages are forced on them. And there are few jobs requiring less skill at a fast food joint than cashier/order taker. See picture above for confirmation.
Every time the minimum wage goes up, it prices some jobs out of the marketplace. Anyone – who usually fills those jobs that get eliminated? Low skill workers. The one’s who need jobs, any job, the worst. Instead of letting the market have the ability to set the worth of work, the government imposes a wage floor and essentially outlaws any wage below that floor.
Of course that doesn’t change the worth of the work to the potential employer. A $6 an hour job is still worth $6. Only a fool is going to pay $10.10 or $15 or whatever above that an hour. So the work goes undone and a person willing to do the work for that price goes unhired. Instead, other options and substitutes are considered, like automation or contracting it out overseas where labor costs are cheaper. Why do you think so much is “made in China?”
The do-gooders are our own worst enemies when it comes to this. Its all about them feeling good about helping the “little people”. They never look beyond that to the real consequences of their do-goodism. There are a couple of reasons they don’t: A) it is apparently beyond their understanding and B) it’s all about them feeling good about themselves, not what happens afterward.
The “market” is stuck with the consequences. And when it all goes tango uniform and what people like me predicted comes true, we’re treated to claims that the cause was “market failure” (btw, read this great rant on “market failure”). That’s about the time you see people like Ms. LeGrand, the SEIU, Harry Reid and the usual suspects start talking about hiking the minimum wage again.
And the cycle repeats.