The latest news on the CNBC Disruptor50 companies upending the status quo in the markets:
This past week, President Obama made a plea on behalf of minimum wage workers and against income inequality, saying that anyone who works hard should be paid a decent wage. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos of Amazon was giving 60 Minutes a peek at drones—one of the most disruptive technologies from industries including agriculture to journalism—that Bezos said will one day deliver Amazon goods all across the land and—not to be outdone by Bezos—Google gave an exclusive to the New York Times on all the cool stuff it's working on related to robotics, including robots that could challenge Amazon in online retail sales and delivery dominance. Robots, though not the ones being made by Google, are also starting to patrol our nights—at less than minimum wage, or $6.25 an hour, according to a Times report this past week.
It was a nice thought from President Obama, but it would be fair to argue that when it comes to economic theory, his Point A to Point B about hard work meriting decent pay is about as thin as a blade of grass feeding cows in Warren Buffett's Nebraska prairie. After all, coal workers work hard, but the coal industry isn't exactly in an economic position to be adding lots of jobs in the future. I've been to a silver mine in Bolivia—saw lots of hard work there, too; didn't seem much in the way of prosperity. And Silicon Valley—while it creates lots of jobs for skilled workers and computer geniuses—isn't exactly in the business of preserving low wage jobs, no matter how hard those workers work. In fact, there are some people who believe technology will be responsible for the death of the middle class in this country.
Some skeptics say Bezos's carefully timed appearance about drones was a Cyber Monday PR stunt. And you can also make a solid argument that a decent wage is a win for the entire economy, not just the workers—that inequality, at its roots, will ultimately hold the larger economy down.
Maybe so, but as fast food workers protest low wages and the president of the United States equates hard work with the right to decent pay, the rise of technology once again proves to be no stunt, or laughing matter. McDonald's, where food production is already about as mechanized as food science allows, stopped updating the famous number "served" figure at its restaurants back in 1994—just short of 100 billion—but how long will it be before trillions are served their burgers and fries by a drone, after being cooked by a droid? Those machines work for cheap, and the best thing is, they have no concept of hard work, or dignity, or the foresight to consider whether or not the "cool" things they can do ultimately contribute, or detract, from a strong, consumer-dependent economy.