Mike Rowe isn’t one to mince words. The blue-collar philosopher and television personality has built a massive following by telling it like it is. So how does he feel about the ongoing push for a higher wage for low-skilled workers? He spoke to Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Friday, and shared some thoughts.
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Carlson’s concern, like many, is that the push for higher wages will simply speed up automation of low skilled jobs. Some McDonald’s restaurants already have front counter kiosks that take orders. So how soon will automation replace all low-skill jobs?
“I don’t have a crystal ball but I mean everybody I’ve talked to is going back and again and again,” Rowe answered, “well they call it the threat of automation. The headlines that I’m seeing are how computers are going to steal our jobs. And I don’t know that it really makes sense to anthropomorphize it, I don’t think that computers are going around twirling their mustache and laughing maniacally.”
“But it’s gonna happen,” he said. “It’s gonna happen just as surely as the internet messed up the TV, and the TV messed up cinema, and cinema disrupted radio, and radio messed up the newspapers, and Kindle messed up the booksellers, and so it goes. But I don’t think it’s anything to panic over, it’s gonna happen.”
“But as it relates to the minimum wage conversation and as it relates to labor and management, the only think I can add to it is, with my foundation we try to remind people that learning a skill that’s actually in demand negates the whole conversation. If you can weld, if you’re a plumber, if you’re an electrician, if you’re willing to learn a skill that has a pre-existing demand then you don’t have to constantly negotiate and talk about a few extra dollars in order to stay in a position that frankly I don’t know how you advance in that kind of thinking.”
“So our philosophy is pretty simple. If you have a skill and that skill is in demand, you can work where you want, and you can write your own ticket. If you don’t, you’re gonna have to hope the next negotiation works out and the next minimum wage position falls favorably in your direction. Which strikes me as fatalistic.”
There’s an obvious wisdom here. Perhaps more wil listen to it when it comes from Mike Rowe. Instead of just looking for any-old-job, people should look to jobs that can’t be automated, and develop skills to thrive in those fields.
“So why aren’t our schools encouraging some percentage of kids to do the same thing?” Carlson pondered.
“As we’ve discussed before,” Rowe said, “I think we’ve got it in our heads that there’s a category of good jobs and bad jobs, that there’s a category of good education and bad education. We don’t call it that, we call it ‘higher education’ and ‘alternative education.’ But look, it’s fun with the language, right? And the minute you categorize an entire vertical of education as alternative, you might as well call it subordinate.”
“So the message starts early on; if you go to a trade school you’re gonna have to settle for a second class job, or some kind of vocational consolation prize, and so parents don’t want that for their kids, guidance counselors don’t want that for their schools. So all these opportunities that today constitutes 5.6 million available jobs – open jobs, that are sitting there. They don’t get any press and they don’t get any love because somewhere in the back of our reptilian part of our brain we believe they’re substandard. That’s dumb.”
Blaming the robots is a bit of a stretch, and it is a way to keep from blaming yourself. The robots are maintained by well trained techs. And they’re programed by well trained techies. And they’re owned by fat-cats that could care less about their lowest paid employees. The almighty dollar will guide their decisions. Work with them and you’ll be fine. Work against them, though, and you’ll find out just how fast a robot can do your job. Just look at Rowe; he has made a career out of representing the working class on television. Hard to find a robot that will do that.