My friend Peter recently posted this article on Facebook:
Peter commented on the article with the following opinion:
To all those progressives who embraced the push for a $15 minimum wage; congratulations, your idealism has cost thousands of jobs and destroyed many small businesses. But hey, continue to feel wonderful about the idealist, not grounded in reality, job killing and freedom destroying policies you embrace. One more reason Trump won the election.
It occurred to me that, although everything he said is wrong, his conclusion is accurate: this is exactly why Hillary lost the election.
Let’s take a closer look.
“Thanks To Minimum Wage, McDonald’s Unveils Job-Replacing Self-Service Kiosks Nationwide”
The article’s central thesis is that McDonald’s push towards self-service kiosks was driven by the “Fight for $15” movement. According to the article, that movement began roughly in 2013. So if the kiosks are a consequence of that movement, they must have started after it, right? And the people in charge of McDonald’s would be clear that’s why?
Articles about the self-service kiosks started appearing in 2011. The leadership of McDonald’s deny that the kiosks have anything to do with the minimum wage. Instead, they suggest that “while McDonald’s popularized the speedy service and unchanging, mass-produced menus that have become staples of the fast food business, their in-store sales figures are declining as build-your-own restaurants Chipotle and Potbelly.”
So the article is, not to mince words, complete bullshit.
“The minimum wage has cost thousands of jobs and destroyed many small businesses.”
Ignoring the insulting tone of Peter’s original comment, is he right? Has the minimum wage done any of that?
Myth: Increasing the minimum wage is bad for businesses.
Not true: Academic research has shown that higher wages sharply reduce employee turnover which can reduce employment and training costs.
Myth: Increasing the minimum wage is bad for the economy.
Not true: Since 1938, the federal minimum wage has been increased 22 times. For more than 75 years, real GDP per capita has steadily increased, even when the minimum wage has been raised.
More recently, Seattle’s wage hike took effect April 1, 2015. How are things going, a year later?
Most Seattle employers surveyed in a University of Washington-led study said in 2015 that they expected to raise prices on goods and services to compensate for the city’s move to a $15 per hour minimum wage. But a year after the law’s April 2015 implementation, the study indicates such increases don’t seem to be happening.
So the claim is, not to mince words, complete bullshit.
“But hey, continue to feel wonderful about the idealist, not grounded in reality, job killing and freedom destroying policies you embrace.”
Ah, at last we can directly discuss the patronizing and condescending insults. Peter clearly feels pretty strongly about this, and equally clearly thinks that opposing viewpoints deserve only derision.
But it turns out, passion doesn’t make you more right. Raising your voice doesn’t make you more right. The only thing that makes you right — is being right.
I’ve already established that the evidence shows that the minimum wage doesn’t kill jobs.
I’m not sure how to evaluate if the minimum wage “destroys freedom.” I’ll look to my friend Peter to define “freedom” rigorously enough that we can graph it, and draw a threshold below which it can be considered “dead,” and measure the impact of various economic policies on the velocity of freedom towards or away from that threshold. (Ever wondered how much freedom you’d had? The area under that curve would tell you!) I can’t wait for Peter to produce it. Or, perhaps, I can just dismiss that one as the empty rhetoric it obviously is.
So, let’s consider the claim that advocacy for the minimum wage is not “grounded in reality.” What does that mean? I think it’s fair to interpret the phrase “grounded in reality” as meaning “based on evidence.”
So — what about this article? Is this article “grounded in reality?”
It was published in Forbes magazine, which is a pretty reputable source. And the article is attributed to “Ed Rensi … the former president and CEO of McDonald’s USA.” So I suppose Peter can be forgiven for believing the claim. But as I’ve shown above, the article is complete bullshit.
So why did my friend Peter believe it?
I think there are two reasons. The first and most important is that he really, really wanted to. Confirmation Bias is a pernicious demon. We all suffer from it, but Peter has an extreme case. He delights in finding and posting articles (and memes, naturally) that confirm his view of the world. The second reason is more important. He doesn’t bother to check. He never checks the evidence. In this case, he believed the article based on the authority of the source. Because if you can’t trust an opinion piece by the former CEO of McDonald’s, as published in Forbes magazine, who can you trust?
And the answer is obvious: nobody. Nobody at all. An opinion piece is just that: one person’s opinion. It’s interesting only to help understand how the person who writes it thinks about the world. If you want to know if the claims about the world are true…
LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE.
You should always ask a simple question of any article you read: “Really?” If you share the article, you should always be prepared to answer that question with evidence.
So does the Forbes article present any evidence? The answer is no — or at least, not in any way that supports his agenda. Mr. Rensi, former CEO of McDonald’s, makes a lot of claims, but that’s not the same thing as presenting evidence.
Here’s an example.
Claim: “The push for a $15 starter wage has negatively impacted the career prospects of employees who were just getting started in the workforce while extinguishing the businesses that employed them.”
That one word eviscerates it. The claim baseless and there’s no evidence to support it in the article. Is there evidence for it anywhere? I’ve looked, and I can’t find it. Do you have any?
Claim: “In 2013 [I predicted] businesses [would] replace full-service employees with self-service alternatives.”
Yes! He really did! He has a citation to prove it. Claim, click, check, and done. Easy.
Claim: “A much higher minimum wage force[s] businesses with small profit margins to replace full-service employees with costly investments in self-service alternatives.”
He cites a handful of examples of businesses who have invested in automation. That’s kinda evidence, but it’s hardly strong evidence. Many businesses in many industries are automating. Are a lot of restaurants doing it? Has the trend of automation increased since the minium wage? Is there any evidence that the minimum wage caused those restaurants to automate? There’s no way to tell, at least not from this article.
And as I’ve shown above, no reputable study (that I’ve been able to find) supports the claim.
So I’ll go with: nope.
Claim: “Earlier this month, McDonald’s announced the nationwide roll-out of touchscreen self-service kiosks.”
Yes! They really did.
And that’s about it for substantive claims in this article. If you boil away the self-aggrandizing prose, and then remove the claims for which there is no evidence, this article says the following:
“In 2013 [I predicted] businesses [would] replace full-service employees with self-service alternatives. Earlier this month, McDonald’s announced the nationwide roll-out of touchscreen self-service kiosks.”
Congratulations. You have successfully predicted an obvious and inevitable technology trend.
(Ed Rensi, it turns out, has an agenda. Rich people, even successful rich people, aren’t necessarily truthful. Money is a powerful motivator.)
“One more reason Trump won the election.”
All of which said, I agree with Peter’s conclusion. This article, and my friend’s reaction to it, really are examples of why Trump won the election.
Peter bought the bullshit — hook, line, and sinker. He paraded his misinformation as though it was important, and delivered this shit sandwich wrapped up in condescension, on a plate of fierce dismissal of opposing viewpoints. And he’s not alone.
That’s a trend on the right wing. NPR tracked down a guy who made a particularly scurrilous claim, that an “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide.” When they interviewed him, they found among other things that he’s making somewhere between $120k and $360k doing this. But he claims at least originally his motivation wasn’t financial:
[We wanted to] build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction … [I] was amazed at how quickly fake news could spread and how easily people believe it.
Why do I belabor this? Because here’s a capitalist, trying to make money by spreading fake stories, and he has an opinion about the “idealist, not grounded in reality” liberals.
“[My] writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait.”
So. Not grounded in reality? Yeah… not so much.
So if you are on the right, and you want to understand why so many Liberals are horrified by the outcome of this election, that’s a big part of it. This election turned on a lot of people believing lies, and those people were almost entirely on the right. Lies from Trump; lies about Hillary. Until people learn to ask the really important, obvious question, we will not be able to protect ourselves from misinformation, mistruths, and lies.
You need to ask yourself that every time, before you post, before you act. If you see someone make a claim, even if you agree and believe it, ask that question.
By the way, the answer to that question is not “Yes, really.” That response concedes that the speaker has no answer. The only response to that is, “No, you are misinformed.” Or, not to mince words, “that’s complete bullshit.”
I don’t want to give the impression that I believe only right wingers believe misinformation. We are all prone to confirmation bias, and there have been plenty of unsubstantiated claims circulating on the left as well.
But it’s well documented that conservatives are more gullible than liberals. From comparing how uninformed Fox news watchers are compared to other media consumers, to the relative level of false/misleading information on the right vs. the left: “A BuzzFeed analysis found that 38 percent of posts from three large right-wing politics pages featured ‘false or misleading information,’ compared to 20 percent from three large left-wing pages.”
But we are all prone to accepting things we want to believe. And there’s only one way to defend against it.
So — yes, really. And I have the evidence to back it up. Do you?