Mike Rowe gave his own unique answer to low-skill, low-wage workers protesting and demonstrating for a higher minimum wage in the face of rapidly approaching robotic replacements for those jobs. He spoke about it with Tucker Carlson Friday on Fox News.
Carlson asked Rowe how soon McDonald's employees would be replaced with robots.
"I don't have a crystal ball but I mean everybody I've talked to is going back and again and again," Rowe responded, "well they call it the threat of automation. The headlines that I'm seeing are how computers are going to steal our jobs. And I don't know that it really makes sense to anthropomorphize it, I don't think that computers are going around twirling their mustache and laughing maniacally."
"But it's gonna happen," he explained, "it's gonna happen just as surely as the internet messed up the TV, and the TV messed up cinema, and cinema disrupted radio, and radio messed up the newspapers, and Kindle messed up the booksellers, and so it goes. But I don't think it's anything to panic over, it's gonna happen."
"But as it relates to the minimum wage conversation and as it relates to labor and management," Rowe continued, "the only think I can add to it is, with my foundation we try to remind people that learning a skill that's actually in demand negates the whole conversation. If you can weld, if you're a plumber, if you're an electrician, if you're willing to learn a skill that has a pre-existing demand then you don't have to constantly negotiate and talk about a few extra dollars in order to stay in a position that frankly I don't know how you advance in that kind of thinking."
"So our philosophy is pretty simple," he concluded. "If you have a skill and that skill is in demand, you can work where you want, and you can write your own ticket. If you don't, you're gonna have to hope the next negotiation works out and the next minimum wage position falls favorably in your direction. Which strikes me as fatalistic."
"So why aren't our schools encouraging some percentage of kids to do the same thing?" Carlson asked.
"As we've discussed before," Rowe responded, "I think we've got it in our heads that there's a category of good jobs and bad jobs, that there's a category of good education and bad education. We don't call it that, we call it 'higher education' and 'alternative education.' But look, it's fun with the language right, and the minute you categorize an entire vertical of education as alternative, you might as well call it subordinate."
"So the message starts early on," he continued, "if you go to a trade school you're gonna have to settle for a second class job, or some kind of vocational consolation prize, and so parents don't want that for their kids, guidance counselors don't want that for their schools. So all these opportunities that today constitutes 5.6 million available jobs - open jobs, that are sitting there. They don't get any press and they don't get any love because somewhere in the back of our reptilian part of our brain we believe they're substandard. That's dumb."
Rowe is a great advocate for hard work and identifying jobs that many Americans just don't consider because we undermine and underestimate the value of vocational education and employment.
Economists and other experts have been widely discussing the coming wave of robotic replacements for the lower-paying, low-skilled jobs that they say will leave millions more unemployed and unemployable. Some have advocated for higher minimum wages to combat this pattern, while others say government will need to prepare for massive welfare and redistribution of wealth to accommodate a new class of unemployed people.