You Don’t Want to Buy Groceries From a Robot – by Stacy Torres – NYT

“The next time you check out at Whole Foods, you might meet my friend Esther at the register. In a few years, you might meet a robot. Or no one at all.Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods is expected to revolutionize the grocery business, accelerating a trend toward increasing automation and the elimination of cashiers and other human workers. The Amazon Go store in Seattle, devoid of sales clerks and checkout lines, offers a glimpse of what this “just walk out” grocery shopping experience might look like.

I’m not looking forward to it. While interactions with cashiers may seem insignificant, or at times even a nuisance, they also foster sociability between strangers.I first met Esther 10 years ago when she worked as a cashier at a mom-and-pop bakery in Manhattan, where I’d come to study how adults over 65 used neighborhood spaces to develop social connections that helped them avoid social isolation and live independently.”

I’m with this lovely op-ed by Stacy Torres. I can’t stand it that the supermarkets I shop in are trying to force us into the robot check out machines. Stop It, Stop and Shop. Do Right, ShopRite! Let our neigbors keep their jobs.
Under employment is a giant problem. As I’ve written before, I propose a new, national, full employment tax on all business and business people. The proceeds of this 1-2% tax would go to support make work progams so that all Americans who wish to can work. It would go down, as the employment rate went down, and up, when the unemployment rate went up. This would penalize those retailers who think they can replace all working Americans with robots.

There are many good comments. Here are some that caught my attention:

CV Danes

Upstate NY 6 hours ago

Will these robot workers pay taxes?

If you want a view into what our society will look like when the robots are doing all the jobs, look no further than the hopelessness behind the opiate crisis that is currently unfolding in many of our rural areas. And if you think the government will come to the rescue, note that many of these same people voted for an administration that is poised to redirect a trillion dollars to tax cuts for the rich that before that would have went to health care for many of these addicts.

Father Eric

Ohio 6 hours ago

The Amazon takeover of Whole Foods is a harbinger of yet another withdrawal from our ever-decreasing store of social capital. There’s a direct link between this development and our political leaders’ willingness to deprive large chunks of the populace of health care; both betoken lack of kindness, a failure of human interaction, the loss and destruction of a sense of community and commonality. “Love your neighbor” and “doing unto the least” lose their meaning and moral force when there is no contact with the neighbor and the least; giving us fewer and fewer opportunities for such contact will be the inevitable result of retail automation. Shredding the social network will lead to more shredding of the social safety net.

Maybe it is  more complicated than I think. Here is what might be a contrarian point of view.


Mill Valley 4 minutes ago

I was a cashier at Whole Foods for 5 or 6 years and it was miserable. My feet hurt so much at the end of each day that I could barely walk home after work without bursting into tears and my eyes took several hours to stop blurring at the end of each shift which made it difficult to do what I enjoy most (reading & writing) during my evenings away from the store. So, I often listened to music by candlelight just to calm my nerves after being stuck under the fluorescent bulbs at the registers for too long. Even so, the high pitched beeps of my workplace seemed to keep ringing in my ears. So, I became even more deeply depressed after work than I had been at the store, where I was often putting up with unwelcome sexual advances from customers and mean spirited demands from my bosses. “Smile more!” is the refrain that comes to mind, but even once I acted like a phoney just to get a meager raise, then I’d be given my next instruction, which was usually “sell more”. I hope Amazon figures out a way to make customers & employees happy at the grocery store, because it’s not as easy as it sounds lately…