- - Wednesday, October 29, 2014

President Obama is a robot’s best friend. But it’s a friendship that comes at the expense of real people’s jobs.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s has joined the trend of going to automation: Robots and computers can take and serve orders, but don’t get minimum-wage hikes. They don’t need Obamacare. They don’t join union-organized protesters clamoring for $15 an hour. They don’t argue with the boss. They don’t come in late or miss work. And they make fewer mistakes.

Unlike some human workers at the counter, computers are guaranteed to know English, as well as other languages, if need be.

Machines will work more than 29 hours a week without incurring the $2,000- to $5,000-per-worker cost of Obamacare (plus rate hikes on the way that go up to 80 percent). The expenses of occasional maintenance and repairs are cheaper.

Automation was trending up already, but now it’s skyrocketing from the nudges provided by Mr. Obama and his fellow liberals. The trend is hastened by Obamacare, by union-sponsored protests for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, by the left’s success in enacting minimum-wage laws at the local level, and by the avalanche of regulations with their red tape, fines and penalties.

Seattle has adopted the $15-an-hour minimum standard, more than doubling the federal $7.25 minimum wage. A study done for the city found worker pay on average is increased by 41 percent when these local laws are fully phased in. Other communities enacting such laws include Washington, D.C.; Albuquerque, New Mexico; San Francisco; and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland. Many more such statutes are in the pipeline.

Now, McDonald’s officials announce that they’re going to use machines, not people, to take orders at thousands of locations. The trend toward order-taking computer tablets and kiosks is also underway at White Castle, Taco Bell, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Panera Bread, Burger King, Subway, Arby’s and other major chains. Human workers are also bypassed by smartphone apps that take advance or delivery orders at Taco Bell, Chipotle, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and plenty more. Jimmy John’s has launched a major national ad campaign to promote its sandwich-ordering app.

Lowe’s Home Improvement hardware stores just announced the installation of robot store workers. The whole inventory is in the robots’ database. If you need a certain size and thread of screw, just hold it up to the robot’s scanner, and it will find the match. Then it escorts you to the aisle and bin where you can find it.

Every time government “protects” workers, it makes labor more expensive. That’s music to the ears of companies that sell the machines and the software.

Those protesting for higher pay without higher productivity should get off the picket lines and use the time to improve their job skills. Perhaps they should prepare for jobs in automation services.

It’s not just taking orders. Tasks like flipping burgers are being automated, too. Warehouses are filled with robots that retrieve and fill orders, replacing stock clerks.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution began, the trend has been to replace human (and animal) labor with machine labor. Horses gave way to horseless carriages, which in turn may give way to robot-controlled automobiles. ATMs replaced many bank clerks. Machines are replacing clerks at store checkout lines.

But today’s change is not simply based on technology. It’s based on government policies that make human labor ever more expensive. In addition to Obamacare and minimum wages, there are thick volumes of regulations on worker safety through OSHA; wage, hour and overtime dictates from the Labor Department; and other mandates such as the Americans with Disability Act.

Automation not only holds down consumer prices by restraining costs, but also bypasses regulations and bureaucracy. That’s valuable to any business that faces a tangled thicket of regulations from federal, state and local bureaucrats.

Why the rise of the machines? Because government is putting humans at a disadvantage. The policies of Barack Obama are the robots’ best friend.

⦁ Ernest Istook is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Get Ernest’s free email newsletter by signing up at eepurl.com/JPojD. Listen to his podcast on automation here.

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