Political  Calculations

How at risk are you of having your job taken over by a robot or some other kind of automation technology?

One of the dangers that people who work in low wage-earning jobs face from politicians promising minimum wage or benefit increases is that they might get priced out of their jobs.

Here, as a result of government action, these workers might suddenly find themselves at extreme risk of either losing their jobs, or really, having the job itself disappear, if the cost of employing them rises above the cost of buying automation technology that can do the job more productively than can be done by people.

Mark Perry points to an example where that situation is increasingly playing out in America's wine country, starting with a video of the automation technology increasingly being used there to sort grapes in action:

The video above shows the Bucher Delta Vistalys R2 optical grape sorting system in operation. Modern Farmer featured the futuristic farming technology on its website this week in the article "How a Robot Can Sort 2 Tons of Grapes in 12 Minutes."

Head winemaker Steve Leveque is now using a $150,000 optical grape sorter at Hall Winery in Napa Valley, and he says "Most wineries can sort about two tons of grapes per hour, using 15 human sorters. We now processes the same amount of grapes in only twelve minutes, with zero human sorters."

We thought this example might make a great case study of the economics involved. First, let's look at the nature of the work itself. Wine Spectator describes the job of sorting grapes:

As freshly picked grapes enter the winery, they have to be sorted for quality, a process commonly known as triage in French. Traditionally, the bunches were dumped on a sorting table, where sorters would look over the clusters and separate the good from the inferior, removing unripe, diseased or damaged grapes, along with any leaves that snuck in. Today, the grapes usually travel down a conveyor belt past a line of sorters making the selections. The belt often vibrates to shake out bad grapes that might sneak in under cover of the good ones.

Political Calculations

Political Calculations is a site that develops, applies and presents both established and cutting edge theory to the topics of investing, business and economics.

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