Andrew Puzder was last seen withdrawing himself from Trump’s nomination as Labor Secretary and retiring from his longtime job as CEO of Hardees and Carl’s Jr. But nothing can stop him from sharing his thoughts about how to make the lives of working people worse.
Considering how much public outrage accompanied every single Trump cabinet nomination, it must be noted that Puzder is the only one who pouted and took his ball and went home, rather than have people say mean things about him, like “Labor Department employees loathe the idea of working for this man” or “Andrew Puzder has dedicated his career to goals that are opposite of those of the US Labor Department.” Whatever, Andy. Hardees food will kill you, too. Anyhow. Now, Puzder can use the time on his hands to return to his true love: writing screeds about the dismal future of people who will never, in a million years, earn as much money as him.
In the Wall Street Journal today, Puzder warns of the terrible consequences of raising the minimum wage. Not because he’s greedy, you see, but because paying workers too much will hurt them, by encouraging THE ROBOTS.
By encouraging automation, cities that significantly raise the minimum wage destroy opportunities for the least-skilled workers. In 2015 a scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released a paper summarizing the available research on this effect. “The most credible conclusion,” he wrote, “is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers—with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.”
Actually, the exact effect of minimum wage increases on employment is a much-studied but unclear topic in economics, and plenty of research finds that minimum wage increases do not provoke major job losses. (Obviously, setting the minimum wage at a million dollars per hour would make it hard for the average business to hire many people. But determining exactly what minimum wage will produce the absolute maximum marginal utility is not something we can say for sure yet, so this argument usually tends to fall along ideological lines.) Puzder, who spent his career as a fast food company CEO (2012 salary: more than $4 million), is fond of warning that paying workers anything approaching a living wage will inevitably cause shitty low wage employers like... his own company to rush to replace workers with robots. The implication is that it’s better to keep wages as low as possible to avoid tempting companies to pursue automation of jobs that are currently held by humans.
Does this argument hold water? No! For one thing, every last company in America that can save money by automating jobs is already doing so as quickly as possible. This has been true for decades. Ask the laid-off factory workers. It is perverse to tell poor working people that it is in their interests to earn less money because the alternative is having a robot take their jobs. In fact, low wage workers can rest assured that fast food companies will turn their jobs over to robots as soon as possible no matter what their wage is. Robots are much easier to manage, after all.
If Andrew Puzder actually cared about working people—a crazy thought, for a Republican Labor Secretary nominee, but bear with me—he would not be asking himself how to goad corporations into maintaining jobs that pay poverty wages; instead, he would be asking how to provide decent jobs with a living wage to the maximum amount of workers in America. If he cared about that, he might be advocating a universal basic income, or a tax on robots, or an enormous federal jobs program paid for by higher taxes on people like himself. He would not be advocating permanently lower wages for the maximum number of workers. The reason you advocate that is because you are concerned with corporate profits, not with humans earning a living.
If Andrew Puzder was concerned with raising wages across the board and mitigating inequality, he would be advocating for all of his fast food employees to join unions. He is not, in fact, advocating for that. Quite the opposite!
In other words Andy Puzder, like all corporate CEOs purporting to explain why it is best for you that you earn less money, is concern trolling. “Avoiding significant increases in the minimum wage won’t solve all the problems that face today’s job-seeking youth,” he writes. I should say not! In fact the question is not whether the robots are coming for your job; the question is whether you will get paid a decent wage until the robot takes your job, and whether our government will have a decent safety net waiting for you after a robot takes your job.
(Not if Andy Puzder has anything to say about it.)