Technology Is Making Fast Food Workers Obsolete

The supply and demand graph as it applies to the labor market. You can see what happens when supply and demand are not equal. Image credit (and pretty good explanation) at the W.A. Franke College of Business
The supply and demand graph as it applies to the labor market. You can see what happens when supply and demand are not equal. Image credit (and pretty good explanation) at the W.A. Franke College of Business

If you were an awake and aware American this past summer, you probably heard about fast food workers who staged one-day strikes demanding $15 an hour. It’s actually quite amusing until municipals start making that their minimum wage. These are people who are working at a job that would ideally be the realm of teenagers looking for a summer job and high school dropouts who never even bothered to compensate for their lack of a degree by going to trade school. Minimum wage jobs were never meant to support a family. If these people had stopped waving placards long enough to pay a little attention to the way that the world has evolved around them, they might have noticed that companies like Momentum Machines are developing automated devices that can replace them.

Fast Food Workers’ Strike

Yeah, these guys don’t seem to realize that they’re going to be obsolete before too much longer.

Momentum Machines is being completely honest about the fact that they are developing a machine that can basically do the typical minimum wage fast food worker’s job without calling in sick or spitting on your food because it is unhappy with the manager. You won’t even find the hair of a kitchen worker in your food anymore. The worst that will ever happen is that it might malfunction and burn burgers

Automation is already happening to some degree in several sit-down restaurants. If you want to go to Pizza Hut tonight, you can now order your pizza in advance on their website. Restaurants can handle the entire ordering and payment process, along with entertaining children who often get impatient while waiting for their food, with an iPad at each table. I will not be very surprised if I start seeing robots that sort of resemble R2D2 or Daleks delivering orders to diners in the near future.

Which means that, on the above graph, the demand for fast food workers is going to plummet while the supply stays pretty much the same. This creates a labor surplus, which means unemployment in the vernacular of people who aren’t economists. There may be greater demand for a technician who can maintain the new machine in the near future, so some of these workers might want to seriously consider brushing up on their technical skills so that the supply of Momentum Machines maintenance workers can be available when the demand starts to kick in.

Robot Replaces Workers At Fast Food Restaurant

That’s right, folks. This is something that’s really happening.


The results of machines like this will be a stark reminder of the free market system as it applies to employment. Pretty soon, minimum wage workers won’t be worrying about how they’re going to support a family without working two jobs and applying for food stamps. They’ll be happy if their unemployment benefits hold out long enough for them to get a GED and tackle sites like the Khan Academy where they can start learning new employable skills. The especially smart ones will have already done this by the time they start hearing that their former colleagues are being replaced by a machine that flips burgers. These are the people who recognize the economics of the situation. If they had remained in the fast food industry, they would have been surplus labor who would have inevitably been replaced by something similar to the Momentum Machines.

I’m not upset about all the jobs that are going to be replaced by automation for the same reason I didn’t bother boycotting Burger King because it was considering moving its corporate headquarters to Canada for tax reasons. It’s simple economics as it applies to businesses who want to keep their overhead costs under control. Which is going to be cheaper in the long run, buying and maintaining a machine that can flip burgers or hiring a minimum wage high school dropout to do the same job? When you add up paychecks, payroll taxes (and, yes, I lump Obamacare into “payroll taxes”), the time that employers spend doing paperwork related to their workforce and the potential lawsuits involved when a disgruntled employee does some dumb thing like pissing on the grill, the answer is inevitably going to be the machine once things get to the point where Momentum Machines are mass produced.

This doesn’t look very good for people who don’t think they’ll ever get out of that lame minimum wage job. Living on food stamps and welfare checks isn’t my idea of a fulfilling existence either, but that’s about what it’s going to amount to for people who don’t bother upgrading their skills for the new job market that includes robots. And people wonder why I’m a freelancer who also has a part-time job as a church secretary. There’s talk that articles could be spun out by computer and I imagine that there will be improvements in the software that does this in the not-too-distant future, but most of my clients still prefer articles that are written by a human who speaks fluent English for SEO reasons. Yeah, my two jobs could be automated too, so I’m perfectly well that there’s no such thing as job security for people on the bottom rung of the job market.

Not that I’m worried at all. I’ve thought of the benefits of opening my own business. It’s a risk, but if you’ve been paying attention to past articles on this blog at all, you know that I’m not afraid of risk if it’s one I think is worth taking. If this Mars One thing doesn’t work out for me, I might make a living by selling high-priced items in my blogstore. Basically, don’t feel bad for me if you never see me on TV and my job gets replaced by a bit of software. That’s basically economic principles like supply and demand getting crossed with technological marvels like the Momentum Machines products to make some jobs obsolete. That means you won’t find me wasting the time I could be using to learn new job skills by hitting the picket line.

The Economics of Labor Markets