Monday, April 15, 2013

The Penny Machine

You may have seen this on Facebook.
It is an incomplete picture.






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.


Why is this an incomplete picture?  Because one must imagine a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand of these machines all chained together.  Each operator cranks away at the machine earning a penny almost every 5 seconds.  What you don't see is that as the operator cranks away, each machine is also spitting out a penny every so often, which is funneled into one bucket not shown. That bucket fills up a lot faster than the pocket of the operator at the crank.  While the penny machine above has not gotten any faster, the speed of the pennies going into the big bucket has gotten much faster over time. 

It is not that the minimum wage is low, but that minimum wage workers create vast wealth.  We all snicker at someone like Paris Hilton, a young woman who doesn't work, but is ridiculously wealthy.  Her wealth comes, in part, from minimum wage workers, cranking out a penny every five seconds.           

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