Jack in the Box CEO Leonard Comma says that higher minimum wages might result in him replacing staff with robots, Business Insider reported.
“As we see the rising costs of labor, it just makes sense,” Comma told the ICR Conference in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday.
As Grub Street noted, 18 states are seeing minimum wage increases in 2018, including Jack in the Box’s home state of California—where it was raised to $11 as part of a plan to raise it to $15 by 2023. Jack in the Box has experimented with automated checkout kiosks since 2009. It found that replacing the new machines increased efficiency and revenue, but Comma decided they were too expensive to install.
Major chains like Wendy’s and McDonald’s have similarly implemented self-service kiosks, though they haven’t been quite so brazen about stating it’s a replacement for labor. Earlier this year, McDonald’s denied that machines which enabled customers to build custom orders and pay without interacting with staff would result in mass layoffs, saying it would instead reallocate staff to customer-service jobs like concierging and table service.
There’s really no reason to suspect that eventually, fast-food chains can’t automate frying burgers as well. It’s sort of like the replicators from Star Trek, except unlike the money-free economy of Star Trek the 21st-century people they replace will still need to pay rent.
This is not just a fast-food issue: Though the U.S. job market is (for now) still improving from lows that plagued it for years, much of the gain is in low-skill sectors potentially prone to replacement by machines in the long term and income inequality is still skyrocketing. Surveys in the past few years have found that every industrial robot introduced into the economy reduces employment and wages by alarming percentages, and technology threatens to wipe out scores of jobs in sectors as varied as retail and banking. But while automation is perhaps an inevitable trend, an economy that prioritizes rapidly aggregating more wealth into fewer hands via automation is not. It’s a choice.