'The Real Minimum Wage is Zero': McDonald's Showcases Automation for Pickups and Orders

Earlier this month, McDonald's unveiled a test restaurant near Fort Worth, Texas that utilizes automation technology in place of several positions previously held by employees, eliciting a range of reactions from both conservatives and liberals.

McDonald's announced that customers at this test restaurant can use kiosks and a mobile app to retrieve their orders from a conveyor belt, rather than interacting with customer-facing staff. According to Keith Vanecek, the franchisee operating the restaurant, this concept is intended to allow the restaurant team to "concentrate more on order speed and accuracy, which makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone," as stated in a press release.

Conservative commentators have pointed out that this test restaurant concept comes after years of activist campaigns and calls from left-wing politicians for minimum wage increases. The test restaurant also arrives at a time when companies are facing historic labor shortages, leading to difficulties in filling payrolls and exacerbating inflationary pressures and supply chain bottlenecks.

"The real minimum wage is zero and you are always replaceable," said Hannah Cox, President of BASEDPolitics, alluding to a phrase often used by conservative economist Thomas Sowell. "If you want more money, find a way to add more value. Anyone telling you differently has no idea how to eradicate poverty," Cox added in a social media post.

On a serious note, will the ice cream machine actually work?

In recent years, McDonald's has made several efforts towards increased automation. The company partnered with IBM to automate drive-thrus, and last year introduced voice-ordering technology at multiple Chicago restaurants after acquiring several artificial intelligence startups. "Do I think in five years from now you'll see a voice in the drive-thru? I do, but I don't think that this is going to happen in the next year or so," said McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski at an investor conference.

Due to worker shortages and increased wage pressures, approximately 30% of small businesses have implemented new technology systems, according to a poll conducted last year by Morning Consult. This trend extends beyond large corporations.

Despite the trend towards automation in the restaurant industry, some policymakers continue to advocate for higher pay in this sector. Three months ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, establishing a Fast Food Council with the authority to increase minimum wages for the industry up to $22 per hour, which represents an increase of more than 40% from the $15.50 per hour minimum wage set to take effect in 2023.

According to a report published last year by the Congressional Budget Office, a nationwide minimum wage of $15 per hour would lead to 1.4 million job losses, while also lifting 900,000 workers out of poverty. This wage increase would impact 17 million workers whose pay would otherwise be below the threshold.

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