If you don\’t understand the original reason

The of course your criticism is going to be false, isn\’t it?

Self-service checkouts were intended to bring an end to long supermarket queues, but research suggests some lines have lengthened since the technology was introduced.

There then follows lots of harrumphing from both sides about whether the self service checkouts have in fact reduced queueing times or not. The supermarkets against the union.

But self service checkouts haven\’t been brought in to reduce check out times. They\’ve been brought in to reduce labour costs: as with almost all automation, this is the reason.

You end up with one bird monitoring 6,8,10 checkouts, instead of needing one per check out.

So far so trivial, but it\’s an important lesson that a certain type of lefty needs to get. Raise wages and people will look at ways to employ less labour. And it\’s not just buying in from lower wage countries either: almost any job can be automated to some extent if the wages go high enough that it\’s worth doing so.

Those arguing, for example, for a \”living wage!\” would do well to remember this. At any one time there are some number of jobs which are just on the cusp of it being worth automating them. A 10%, 20%, rise in wages will be enough to tip the decision to automate rather than employ.

Which jobs those are is constantly changing of course as technology advances.

In the larger scheme of things of course this is wonderful: freed from check outs that labour is now available to go and do something else: wipe bottys or pour pints for example, meaning we get both checked out groceries and wiped botties or pulled pints. We\’ve two things instead of one to enjoy as a society and are thus richer.

But in that smaller sense it\’s worth remembering that raising the price of labour is going to reduce the number of people employed in current activities as raising the price of labour increases the motivation to automate.

As we can see in that humblest of scenes, the supermarket check out queue.

And as, in fact, that earlier burst of automation, bar codes, did when they came out.

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