By Scott Milne
As law, it will be detrimental to workers and society.
Henry Ford, speaking of the automobile, mass production, and all that was changing because of his life and work, allegedly quipped, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.
The “fight for fifteen”—a precursor to Vermont’s fifteen dollar-law—popped up in the last presidential campaign, promoted by many political elites, special interests, and former presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. They promise this is a faster horse, and with her, we will prosper and progress.
It would be great if it were so easy, but this legislation can do real harm. If it becomes law, valuable Vermont employers and most of Vermont’s most vulnerable businesses—and thousands of families—will suffer.
The “fight for fifteen” is the opposite of innovation. Rather than charting a tough course, this “fight” is a slogan-abled political maneuver that ducks the hard work and risk of crafting complex public policy that will actually help Vermonters.
For three reasons, among many, the fifteen dollar law is a bad idea:
1. Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning: With higher labor costs, more workers will be replaced with AI powered machines and robots. Small businesses without capital or scale will lose business and market share to big businesses. Vermont jobs will vanish. Businesses will use AI and machine learning robots to beat competitors that are more reliant on people for labor. As employers who embrace AI win, more people will lose their jobs. Income gaps will stretch. Bigger businesses will become bigger and many smaller businesses will struggle.
The opportunity to know the dignity that comes with meaningful employment will disappear for many people and their families.
2. Costs will be passed on to consumers and taxpayers: Publicly funded organizations and regulated industries including utilities, hospitals and healthcare, schools, and governments will use the fifteen dollar law to justify larger budgets; living will become more expensive, especially for the poorest among us.
3. Blockchain Technology: Although it is sure to be a disruptor with lots of unknowns, blockchain has the real potential to re-order our society and economy in a way not seen since the times of Henry Ford. We need leaders and public policy focused on the future in order to nurture its great possibilities. We need innovative leadership—the sort that been sorely missing for American workers displaced by globalization—to craft smart policy as we become the future.
It is possible, and perhaps even inevitable, that blockchain and the new technologies being built on it will render many millions of American jobs obsolete.
Concurrently, blockchain has the potential to usher in a new era of unprecedented egalitarianism and freedom. We need government and its political leaders to focus attention and resources on where America is going.
Minimum wage legislation is an eighty year old horse. At best, the “fight for fifteen” is a distraction. Big business, regulated industries, and the special interests that prop them all up will win. Workers, small businesses, many entrepreneurs, and the weakest among us will lose.
We need to invent a new way to prosper and progress together, a way that will provide financial stability and incentive outside our labor markets, outside our welfare system, and apart from the philosophy behind the social safety net that’s evolved over the past eighty years.
The path to progress will be lost if we accept that the best our government can do is offer us a marginally faster horse fueled with stale hay. We have to expect more.