California’s Bay Area is is a technological capital of this country, where thousands of highly trained computer and engineering professions strive to created the latest digital and mechanized wonders.

In a move so rich with irony that the Russians are looking for mining rights, San Francisco politicians are mulling a ban on one of the most recent creations: Delivery robots.

A hi-tech start-up aiming to bust congestion and reduce pollution with wheeled delivery robots is facing a backlash from the very city it is aiming to help.

Order a delivery meal from a local restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission and Potrero Hills neighbourhoods using Yelp Eat24 and it might arrive at your door in a suitcase-sized wheeled robot.

The tech company Marble’s bots use lidar, camera and ultrasonic sensors to avoid pedestrians and navigate pavements, delivering small packages and takeaway food within a mile or two, at walking pace.

But if one San Francisco official has his way, every pizza the Marble robot delivers could come with a $1,000 fine and a jail sentence for its human controllers.

San Francisco supervisor Norman Yee recently proposed legislation that would prohibit autonomous delivery robots – which includes those with a remote human operator – on public streets in the city. He told technology news site Recode, “our streets and our sidewalks are made for people, not robots.” He also worries that many delivery jobs would disappear.

Yee’s motives sound so noble…until you consider the origin of this legislation. Legal Insurrection readers recall that Sacramento just mandated a $15/hour minimum wage throughout the state. One of the consequences is that that many restaurants are now having customers pay a “dining surcharge“.

The new eating “tax” isn’t the only aftereffect of this legislative inanity that Californians are now enduring, either. The robots that the tech companies are building are small businesses’ response to the wage hikes.

A new resource details just how badly small businesses (which make up the majority of American eateries) are struggling with the politicized wage levels. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI), a nonprofit which recently launched “Faces of $15,” chronicles the stories of small business owners throughout the United States who are struggling to keep up with all the minimum wage increases.

…The website contains 100 stories of small businesses that have been affected by the increased costs. “The real Faces of $15 are the business owners who’ve been forced to close their doors, and the employees who’ve lost their jobs,” says Michael Saltsman, managing director at EPI, “Policymakers shouldn’t be fooled by labor’s rose-colored rhetoric on a new wage mandate.”

…The EPI argues that while it might be easy for corporations to adopt the $15 minimum wage, it’s much more challenging for small businesses which form the backbone of the US economy.

In fact, a quick glimpse at “Faces of $15” reveals one of the San Francisco area victims:

So, a whole business worth of workers went from earning something to being unemployed. A sad end to what must have been a shop that produced tasty tamales for nine decades.

However, the Los Angeles Times would have you believe that only “businesses that stink” are succumbing under the new law. The “newspaper” featured an analysis by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Luca of Harvard Business School and Dara Lee Luca of Mathematica Policy Research that examines the closure rates of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area from 2008 through 2016.

The data, they say, “suggest that a one dollar increase in the minimum wage leads to a 14% increase in the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant…but has no discernible impact for a 5-star restaurant.” Lower-quality restaurants, which are “closer to the margin of exit, are disproportionately impacted” by the higher minimum wage. To put it another way, the higher minimum wage does drive restaurants out of business— but chiefly restaurants that weren’t very good to begin with.

So, two elite academics take a look at the results of a law passed by elite politicians and their work is essentially promoted by an elite news outlet to persuade the public that the businesses killed off by the mandate deserved it.

I wonder what excuse the Los Angeles Times will given in the end, as both its readership and revenues are plummeting?

Meanwhile, California’s politicians will continue to crank out new laws to fix the problems created form the old ones.


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