In a fit of self-loathing, I decided to walk to the Hardee’s near my office for dinner. I had heard some fast food restaurants were installing self-service registers, but this was my first time seeing them:
The really ingenious thing is that Hardee’s would knock 10% off the price if you used the screen. (The sign says that in the upper left of the picture.)
This trend is sweeping the country. The Post Office has machines that operate 24/7 to dispense postage, even for packages. The grocery store now gets by with one employee overseeing up to eight stations of customers bagging and paying for their groceries. Ostensibly “nice” restaurants like Panera rely on customers bussing their own tables. Car washes and (for a long time) gas stations operate largely through the customer’s labor.
Some of this reflects good old-fashioned capitalist innovation, and is a sign of progress. On the other hand, some of it also reflects the growing burden of labor regulations (of which the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, is the most notable example), plus actual and proposed hikes in the minimum wage.
In this post, I’m not going to pontificate on solutions. But over the coming decade, I think we are going to see a growing mass of unemployed and unemployable young people, who quite literally lack the skills to support themselves. If and when the economy crashes again, and especially if the federal government can’t or won’t continue with traditional welfare programs, things are going to get really ugly.