2015-08-19

Minimum Purpose Machine

My Facebook feed alerted me to the existence of an interesting, even if misguided, piece of art: The Minimum Wage Machine. Slowrobot.com has a synopsis of the piece:
This machine allows anyone to work for minimum wage for as long as they like. Turning the crank on the side releases one penny every 4.97 seconds, for a total of $7.25 per hour. This corresponds to minimum wage for a person in New York. 
This piece is brilliant on multiple levels, particularly as social commentary. Without a doubt, most people who started operating the machine for fun would quickly grow disheartened and stop when realizing just how little they’re earning by turning this mindless crank. A person would then conceivably realize that this is what nearly two million people in the United States do every day…at much harder jobs than turning a crank. This turns the piece into a simple, yet effective argument for raising the minimum wage.
Let's summarize the argument more succinctly:

  1. Turning a purposeless crank is easy.
  2. Turning a purposeless crank for minimum wage is unattractive to museum-goers.
  3. The average minimum-wage job is more difficult than turning a purposeless crank.
  4. Museum-goers are unlikely to be attracted to more difficult minimum-wage tasks, considering that they are already unattracted to turning a purposeless crank.
  5. The minimum wage should be increased.
If one wanted to quickly do away with the Machine's argument, one could simply point out that nobody wants to spend their museum time (i.e. leisure time) working for minimum wage. I don't know about you, but I go to museums on my days off. I wouldn't turn a purposeless crank for my current salary, much less for minimum wage, at least not on my day off. That's the whole point of getting a day off.

So there's that.

But leave that aside for a moment. How does the Machine's creator account for the fact that, while people quickly give up on turning the crank on the Machine, people keep their minimum-wage jobs for a long time? I don't know anyone who would describe minimum wage work as being unequivocally pleasant, but it must be at least marginally more pleasant than interacting with the Minimum Wage Machine, because fewer people give up on their jobs than give up on the Machine.

This is especially puzzling in light of the fact that the Machine is designed to be easier to operate than it is to work at a minimum-wage job.

Could it be that minimum-wage work offers more to the worker than a slow-but-steady trickle of pennies?