You’ve heard the story. According to Kent Basson, it “is generally assumed that the word ‘sabotage’ [has] its origins in the French word sabot, which refers to a large, heavy wooden clog. … Possibly the most common theory … is that the first instances of sabotage were French Luddites who threw their wooden clogs into powered looms to clog the machinery during the Industrial Revolution.” Regardless of whether this colorful story is actually true, it illustrates a valid idea: The history of labor and automation is the history of the latter obsoleting the former.
Russian-born philosopher Ayn Rand once said, “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” This, too, is true of automation. Industrialization, mechanization, the replacement of raw human labor with devices that do the same, is both blessing and curse to the human beings who previously stood on that assembly line or who worked in those fields. The endeavor, the goal, is furthered more efficiently, whether that goal is separating cotton or placing components on circuit boards for iPhones. But the more machines and skilled labor a factory employs, the fewer unskilled laborers it requires. Therein is the dilemma.
A campaign to push the minimum wage to as much as $15 per hour in Seattle has produced a great deal of sympathetic sentiment in social media. The Obama administration recently seized on this idea as a means of distracting national attention from the utter failure that is the implementation of Obamacare (and its overpriced, shoddily coded website). Never has class warfare resonated with more strident righteousness than from the sibilant lips of Glorious Leader Obama.
The man who proclaimed, “You didn’t build that,” in dismissing individual effort (while glorifying collective achievement) went back to the venomous well of envy and resentment all libs seem to hold for those who produce. “I believe [income inequality] is the defining challenge of our time,” he told a liberal activist group. “It drives everything I do in this office.” This liberal bugaboo – the notion that income is inequitably distributed and that this inequity must be corrected – lies at the heart of all “progressive” economics. It is the reason right-thinking Americans resent the Democrats and their covetous desires for the product of others’ labors. It is also the reason that the liberals will drive American producers to liberate themselves from their fellow men – to choose automation over the greed of an entitled class of unskilled, useless eaters.
A Web cartoon currently making the rounds depicts one of the self-checkout stations now common in American grocery stores. “This is what a grocery store clerk looks like,” reads the caption, “when minimum wage is $15/hour.” The typical lib, who believes he or she is entitled to a job, will react to this in much the same way the French Luddites supposedly did. He will hurl the wooden shoes of his disdain for “big, evil corporations” into the ether of the Internet, condemning business and commerce for seeking to make a profit “at the expense” of the store’s former workers. This attitude is the mirror image of the liberal notion that all income, all effort, all money somehow belongs to the collective and must be “fairly” distributed among the populace. Liberals believe that businesses exist to employ people and that the refusal to employ a man is the same as taking something from him.
The problem is that there is no such thing as “income inequality.” Income is not a collective right. You are not owed an equal share of it. Income is earned through effort. By what right does any government seek to “equitably” distribute income when it has no claim to the effort that produced it – other than the power to take what it wants under penalty of imprisonment and death?
In the liberal mind, there is no recognition of the fact that it is government regulation and interference in the labor market – by artificially raising the cost of the workforce – that prompts businesses to respond by dropping workers in favor of capital investments in automation. Believers in the concept of the “living wage” seem to think that any job should provide income sufficient to raise a family of four. They do not recognize the concept of entry-level wages; they do not understand that a minimum-wage job is generally temporary employment held by young people and those who possess no desired work skills.
Fast-food employees and people who spend eight hours a day placing stickers on passing compressor components are not paid 15 dollars an hour because they are not worth 15 dollars an hour. If you make them cost more than they are worth, employers will respond by investing in machinery that eliminates their presence entirely.
The old story goes that when the popularity of the automobile put out of business the producers of buggy whips, this was sad for those employed by buggy whip makers, but a necessary adjustment for advances in technology and society. No doubt a service economy devoid of human contact, in which you check out your own groceries and order your fast-food hamburger from a touch screen in a vacant foyer, will be touted as the same. The men and women who might have worked part time, the young people who could have entered the workforce, the senior citizens who otherwise should have been able to supplement their incomes, will have no jobs instead of minimum wage jobs.
Technology inexorably supersedes human labor, but only when it becomes cost effective to make the trade. The libs will reap the unintended consequences of their envy in pushing for a “living wage.” They will, in their ignorance and their greed, continue to push human beings out of the labor market – unless and until American voters liberate themselves from the Democrats.