The High Cost of Employing People has some replacing People with Technology

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 8th, 2014

Week in Review

Self-serve checkouts at stores are reducing the number of cashiers in the economy.  As bar codes and credit cards make it easier to live in a world that isn’t served by people.  You can even pay with cash at these self-serve checkouts.  And people love them.  Why?  Shorter lines.  You can have 10 or more self-checkout lanes managed by one employee to fix problems and approve alcohol sales.  Whereas 10 checkout lanes with cashiers require 10 cashiers.  And these days full-time employees are expensive.  Especially in low-margin industries.  Like retail sales and grocery stores.

So stores don’t like to have a lot of checkout lanes with no lines with some cashiers getting paid for working part of the time.  They’d rather have 3 checkout lanes with long lines with 3 cashiers working all of the time.  Or one cashier overlooking 10 self-serve checkout lanes.  Because fewer people cost less.  Making it easier to survive in a world of thin margins.  And this concept may soon be coming to a restaurant near you (see Pizza Hut table lets you touch-screen your toppings by Amanda Kooser posted 3/4/2014 on cnet).

Touch-screen tables already exist. Pizza Hut restaurants already exist. Put the two together and you end up with a touch-screen table concept for ordering pizzas using your fingers…

The interactive table idea isn’t far-fetched at all. The technology to make it happen is already available. If this were to be rolled out, however, it would require a pretty hefty investment for the hardware, which would need to be rugged enough to stand up to countless greasy fingerprints, soda spills, and other abuse.

People love their gadgets.  There’re apps for everything these days.  To make our lives more efficient.  To speed things up in our lives.  In large part by removing those slow and time-consuming people.  This is the brave new world we live in.  A world where we even use that technology to communicate with each other.  Instead of meeting face-to-face.  It is clear we’re addicted to technology.  And losing our desire to interface with people.

Which is why it’s sad that costly government regulations (such as Obamacare) and higher taxes are squeezing margins so much for businesses that they prefer to invest in technology instead of hiring people.  Because with technology you don’t need to pay for unemployment insurance.  Workers’ compensation insurance.  Health insurance.  Mandated paid-leave.  Holidays.  Vacation days.  Drug testing.  Sexual harassment training.  Sexual harassment lawsuits.  A higher minimum wage.  Etc.  All of those things our liberal Democrats have burden our businesses with to make it better for employees.  But the costs are so great to comply with these regulations and taxes that businesses are now replacing employees with technology wherever they can.  Just so they can remain in business.

What’s next?  Restaurants where you sit down and select something from your touch-screen table?  And a pre-cooked dinner (appetizer, entrée and dessert) is warmed in an automated kitchen?  Only to be delivered to your table by an automated conveyance system?  Eliminating cooks, waitresses and even food-runners?  If you keep raising the cost of employing people this may be our brave new world in our not so distant future.  If you doubt this just think of the last time you went to the post office.  Did your banking face-to-face with a bank teller.  Dropped your film off to be developed into photographs.  Used a newspaper to find a movie to see.

Our love of technology, our impatience to wait for anything and the high cost of hiring people (especially low-skilled workers) has taken us far down the road to that people-less future.  You can’t stop the march of technology.  But you can stop making it so costly to hire people.  If we focused on this we wouldn’t have to worry about a people-less future.  Something we should think about the next time we enter a voting booth.

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