The following is a work of fiction. I wrote it because it was in my head, and I needed to let it out.
I fundamentally changed America. Well, not me by myself, but I set in motion a chain of events that exposed the nation’s weakness, and destroyed what was left of the American economy. Let me tell you how.
The turn of a century is a time of foolishness. It was at the turn of the last century that we believed that industry, man’s cleverness, could overcome all obstacles. Man’s folly was in assuming that he had thought of everything. The sinking of the Titanic was the entire folly, wrapped in a single tragedy.
A single ship had been built, and it was declared unsinkable. When that ship went to the bottom, it was due to a basic ignorance of the limits of man’s power and ability to overcome obstacles.
The cycle repeated itself at the turn of the following century. We had entered an age where we thought we could legislate away all of the problems that had plagued mankind. We could ensure that everyone was prosperous by simply passing a law.
So we passed the Patriot Act to keep us all safe.
Then, we passed the Affordable Care Act, to keep us all healthy.
After that, we increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour, to keep us all prosperous.
And with that law, my story begins…
I had a bit of money and wanted to open a restaurant. A burger joint. The problem was that the costs of hiring an employee were astronomical. Between providing health insurance and a $15 an hour wage, there was no way for a restaurant owner to make money. I calculated that it cost about $28 an hour to hire a single worker for minimum wage. Factoring in other costs like food, taxes, buildings, etc., my per unit cost for hamburgers would have been about $7. No one wants to buy an $8 hamburger.
So I decided that I would be the first novelty restaurant that would have almost no labor costs. I would built an automated hamburger joint. So I bought some automated hamburger machines from a company in California, and opened the country’s first fully automated restaurant. Each location only had two employees: The day manager, and the night manager. They had to fill the machines, keep the eating area clean, and call an 800 number if anything broke.
The ordering and cashier stations? Automated. Cooking? Automated. Since the kitchen was automated, there was almost no cleaning needed.
That isn’t to say that I employed no one. There was regional maintenance teams, food delivery teams, and the like. The point is that I ran each location with only 20% of the staff of a conventional fast food place. The customers loved it. I was selling fast food at less than half the cost of my competitors, and the initial novelty of watching robots make your food hit America by storm.
It wasn’t long before other chains followed suit: McDonald’s, Checkers, Burger King, all of them. It seemed like overnight, tens of thousands of fast food workers lost their jobs. Soon the trend expanded to other industries. It was stunning, in less than three years, unemployment within the pool of unskilled labor jumped from 14% to over 70%.
That was when things began to go south. Workers demanded relief, and Congress gave it to them. In 2019, they passed the Employee Fairness Act, and President Clinton happily signed it. That law made it illegal for any business to fire any employee, or cut any employee’s compensation without the approval of the local employment office. The law also required that each “robot” performing a job that could affect the health or safety of the public be supervised by an employee. There could be no more than a 2:1 ratio of robots to humans in any business.
So the automated restaurants then had to pay a bunch of people $15 an hour to sit and watch the machines make hamburgers.
Prices skyrocketed. That caused the passage of the Fair Pricing in Commerce and Price Gouging Prevention Act of 2021. That law made it illegal for any business to raise prices without approval of the local State Commerce Board, and prices were rolled back to 2020 levels.
I was ruined. Every one of my business locations were bankrupt within 3 months. There just wasn’t the money to keep them open. I declared bankruptcy, and the government took over the running of my business. They gave me a good job, though. I have health insurance, and I get $15 an hour to watch this machine make hamburgers.