It’s September 21, 2022. Here’s the rundown:
Retailers feel betrayed by the robots
Shutting out refugees costs us billions
Numbers and links
Retailers feel betrayed by the robots
Self-checkout tech allows you almost free reign to shoplift. So, one retailer is shelving them.
One thing that’s changed in recent years, among many business types, is the offloading of certain tasks or work onto customers. For instance, AirBnB owners often ask guests to do a bunch of chores, including cleaning, while also charging a cleaning fee. And another common example is the self-checkout line at the grocery or other retail stores.
As comedian Patton Oswalt says in the clip above: “My grocery store got all of my letters where I said ‘I want to be a checkout clerk!’”
And that’s really what these self-checkout apps and kiosks are: Cost-saving measures by retail stores where the customer does the work for them, as opposed to a cashier. For some people, this is great — no interaction with a flesh-and-blood being, and maybe you can get out of there faster. Unless something goes wrong, of course, then you’re waving around looking for someone to come help you.
For stores, these robots allow them to save money by hiring fewer people. It seems like a win-win. The issue, though, is that people will just steal stuff. People always steal stuff, cashier or not, but the kiosks make it REALLY easy to just pretend to wave something over the laser beam and then walk out.
It’s such a problem that one big grocery chain, Wegmans, has decided to cut the cord on its self-checkout app, according to CNN. I like Wegmans. I shop there somewhat frequently. I don’t think I’ve ever used the self-checkout lanes there (I do at some other places), though, for exactly the reason that Patton outlines. I don’t want to do all the work, man.
But it is interesting that a prospective cost-saving measure for retail stores is actually proving to be the opposite, at least in Wegmans’ case. Here’s what the company had to say, per CNN:
“Unfortunately, the losses we are experiencing prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state…We’ve made the decision to turn off the app until we can make improvements that will meet the needs of our customers and business.”
As many have lamented the potential job losses related to encroaching technology, like self-checkout apps and kiosks, the move by Wegmans shows that an actual cashier may still be superior to its robotic counterpart. Even if that cashier does demand a paycheck.
I’m not sure this translates to other areas where technology is replacing jobs, but given that it’s 2022, I just find it very surprising to see a major retail chain take a Ludditial (if that’s a word) approach to new technology — at least for now. Walmart actually did the same back in 2018, also due to theft. Studies also show that self-checkout kiosks and apps actually generate a loss rate of 4% for retailers, which is twice the average, and can actually make a store unprofitable.
With that in mind, going back to actual cashiers makes sense.
Let’s be honest: Stealing is easy. And once people figure out how easy it is, it’s hard to stop them. Most store employees can’t do anything to stop a shoplifter, and given that many of them are paid minimum wage or near minimum wage, why would they bother trying?
Another thing to keep in mind is that some stores are starting to crack down on shoplifters, and even people who may make a mistake when using self-checkout technology. Big store chains have armies of lawyers, and are not afraid to use them, in some instances. So, in that sense, it may be better to have a cashier scan your items — then it’s their fault if you get away with a free Milky Way.
Now, just because self-checkout tech has a ways to go before it’s perfected, it doesn’t mean you should plan on a lengthy career as a cashier. One day, they’ll figure it out. But it does go to show that sometimes, paying someone to do a job may still be superior to relying on Skynet to make sure customers aren’t sneaking away with an unscanned lemon.
Shutting out refugees costs us billions
Many people think that refugees or asylum-seekers are a drain on public resources. Data says otherwise.
The theatrical governors of Florida and Texas recently made headlines by sending migrants to places like New York City, Washington D.C., and Martha’s Vinyard — spending tens of millions, and making plenty of people upset along the way. Mission accomplished.
And since the topic is in the news, I thought it was worthwhile to discuss a new study published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, which finds that our unwillingness to take in refugees and asylum seekers has “substantial and ongoing economic consequences.”
To set the stage: Immigration is often a very hot topic in the political sphere. Thousands of people are constantly trying to cross the border — mostly the southern border — and our system isn’t very good at handling it. But we also have many people coming to the U.S. as refugees, or who are seeking asylum in one form or another.
Between the years 2017 and 2020, we drastically reduced the number of refugees we allowed into the country. While there may be some sound reasoning behind that, given the administration that was in charge at the time, I frankly doubt it. However, I do think it’s fair to say that many people who are unwilling or otherwise against letting refugees or asylum-seekers into the country may have concerns related to the costs. I believe that the main concern is that these people will depend on our social safety nets, and that American taxpayers effectively foot the bill for them. Some might also point to safety reasons, too, as a potential terrorist could end up getting in the country under the guise of an asylum-seeker.
I can’t say much as to the safety part, but when it comes to the financial costs of allowing in refugees, the study finds that refugees actually add a lot to the economy, and refusing to let them in has cost us. From the paper’s abstract:
This paper places conservative bounds on those effects by critically reviewing the research literature. It goes beyond prior estimates by including ripple effects beyond the wages earned or taxes paid directly by migrants. The sharp reduction in US refugee admissions starting in 2017 costs the overall US economy today over $9.1 billion per year ($30,962 per missing refugee per year, on average) and costs public coffers at all levels of government over $2.0 billion per year ($6,844 per missing refugee per year, on average) net of public expenses.
So, from this, we can take away that the average refugee adds almost $31,000 to the economy — and that’s something we shouldn’t ignore as businesses struggle to hire people, and domestic birth rates fall. From an economic standpoint, the U.S. needs more people to keep growing.
But particularly during the years 2017-2020, we cut way, way down on the number of refugees and overall migrants we allowed into the country. And again, from a purely economic standpoint, that appears to have been a mistake.
It comes down to this: Introducing new people into an economy spurs growth because those people have needs. They need to eat, find housing and clothing, put their kids in school, find transportation, etc. — all things that businesses can sell them. They can also work, and in the U.S., that often means taking hard, unglamorous jobs that many natives won’t do.
You can close off an economy and attempt to have it sustain itself simply through reproduction; people have babies to replace themselves. But babies take a long time to turn into functional, work-ready adults. Plus, if birth rates fall below a sustainable level, the economy will shrink as there are fewer people in it.
But with migrants (we’ll lump refugees and asylum-seekers in), you’re getting adults (who may have children) who have needs, and who can start contributing to the economy right away. Theoretically, they increase overall demand in the economy, and they increase an economy’s overall capacity for production.
So, in the end, immigration is a net positive — again, from an economic standpoint. There are obviously other issues related to immigration, but if we’re simply worried about growing the economy, keeping social programs like Social Security solvent, and increasing demand to keep consumers…consuming, then we should be much more welcoming to immigrants.
This is an oversimplification of a massively complex topic, however. But given that I saw the study, I thought it was worth looking into and breaking down. It doesn’t do any good to have thousands of people at our border, hoping to get in. It doesn’t do any good to trick those people into getting onto buses or planes in an effort to score political points. And it doesn’t do any good to perpetuate the erroneous thinking that immigrants are going to drain our resources.
The numbers show that we need more people to keep up with the economic growth rates that we’ve grown accustomed to.
Numbers, links, and more
273: The pounds of meat the average American consumes each year. (Vox)
97: The number of lawmakers who transacted securities during a three-year period that could’ve been affected by their legislating. Or, you know, cheating. (The New York Times)
$147 billion: The fortune held by Indian tycoon Gautam Adani, making him the second-richest person in the world, beating Bezos. (Bloomberg)
“Science needs sustainable, boring growth, but we just get flashy ill-formed initiatives”: An argument against “moon-shot” scientific advances. (Ars Technica)
Poverty plummets: Pandemic-era stimulus programs helped drive down poverty rates. (The Balance)
Becoming clearer: The Biden administration is beginning to show us what crypto regulation will look like. (CNBC)