Teaching activity

The Minimum Wage Machine

Ben Cahill

20th July 2017

This sculpture by artist Blake Fall-Conroy was designed to show people what it is like to work for the minimum wage. When a participant turns a metal crank a penny will come out every five seconds or so. One hour of turning the crank will earn the participant the US federal minimum wage of US$7.25.

The machine can be reprogrammed to reflect different levels of minimum wages in different places. Not surprisingly, most people give up cranking after less than a minute - but why is this?

According to one commentator, the sculpture is a powerful argument for increasing the minimum wage - "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"

But is this actually the case? I think that the sculpture talks more to motivational theory than it does to the minimum wage. If FW Taylor's ideas were always applicable then there would be no shortage of people wanting to turn that crank. But notwithstanding the idea of opportunity cost when you go to an art gallery in your leisure time, it is likely that most people don't turn the crank for long periods of time as they want to do something that is significant, as opposed having no other purpose than earning pennies. While flipping burgers is not likely to ever be held up as the most fulfilling of jobs, there is at least some satisfaction perhaps in serving customers with food that they enjoy.

In any case, a useful lesson starter either on motivation or the minimum wage!

More information can be found at http://www.ouramazingworld.org...

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