Why We Must Hire Robots, Not Minimum Wage Workers

I encourage you to watch the following video entirely before allowing me to present my point of view:

As you can see, almost the entire manufacturing process in this film is handled by sophisticated machinery: robots.

I have long argued that instead of exploiting cheap Third World labor and lenient environmental regulations abroad, and instead of importing low wage workers en masse, the European Union and North America should focus on developing robotic manufacturing techniques for all consumer goods. Japan, unwilling to open its borders to foreign workers, is making great strides in this direction and will probably dominate the robotics industry, which it expects to see huge growth over the next few decades.

Robots could free mankind from the burden of most cumbersome, dangerous and boring toils. This would permit a restructuring of society to grant each individual more time for intellectual pursuits and pleasure. This in turn will fuel the education, media, travel and entertainment sectors of our economy, all of which are extremely difficult to outsource to cheap-labor countries.

But as long as cheap human labor is in such great supply, investment in expensive, long term technologies will remain slow and limited to the manufacturing of high-value, sensitive products such as electronics and automobiles.

Some critics and labor unions will argue that an economy in which most manual labor is done by machines will lead to mass unemployment. But we could adjust, work fewer hours and enjoy longer vacations while machines work for us. We could devote more time to study, enjoy the arts, travel more and spend more time with loved ones — all of which would have stabilizing effect on society. Perhaps we could have parents raise their own children again, instead of delegating this task to schools and subsidized child care institutions. Given enough productivity from robots, we could even afford to pay parents who perform their own childcare a stipend, health care and a pension.

Not visible in the film above is the great number of engineers, technicians and highly skilled workers it takes to design, build and maintain this sophisticated production line. What one does see: relatively unskilled workers performing quality control and whatever remaining tasks remain. Eventually, some of these jobs can be replaced by machines as well. The rest can be filled by part timers and interim workers who do not necessarily view this kind of work as a vocation for life, but as a bridge to a better future — for example college students or others who need temporary employment for a few years.

Unfortunately, the U.S., particularly the high-tech state of California have been going the other way for decades. On the one hand, manufacturing of “things” designed in Silicon Valley has been outsourced to places where wages are ridiculously low by American standards. At the same time, millions of unskilled immigrants have been imported to do manual labor in conditions and for wages which no longer pay enough to earn the average cost of living in this state. Nor do the taxes paid by low-wage earners amount to enough to pay for the maintenance of the existing public infrastructure, let alone for badly needed improvements and investments. The result of this development is not in dispute: coupled with inflation, the buying power of the average American wage earner has been stagnating for decades, and real benefits — such as pensions and health care — have been eroding.

If we want to maintain the standard of living most of us are accustomed to, there is no other choice but to adopt Japan’s policy, and begin to hire robots instead of minimum wage earners.

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Journalist and media professional currently based in Los Angeles, California. Focusing on science and technology.