Hello Robots! They Work While Humans Have Fun with No Shame

Dan-Bot cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Experts say that the biggest threat to working Americans will be robots, not immigrants. Very soon, practically everybody will be replaced by a robot and out of a job. That is terrible. What are we to do?

What are we to do? Enjoy it.

Let me tell you about a fellow who is now out of a job. He’s been out of a job for 15 years. His name is Michael Weirsky and he lives in Alpha, New Jersey. He has described himself as a househusband who traveled to new places with his wife when she’d been transferred for her job. But now, as a matter of fact, he and she have been divorced since October, and he is living with his mother—but still not working.

In lieu of working, he goes twice a week and buys $20 worth of lottery tickets. He did that last Thursday at the QuickChek convenience store in Phillipsburg, NJ As he tells it in The New York Times, he lost the tickets just moments after buying them. It was a “typical cell phone deal,” he said. “I was paying more attention to my cell phone. I put the tickets down to put my money away, then I did something with my phone and just walked away.”

When he got home, he realized his tickets were lost but was convinced he lost them after he got home, so he and his mom conducted a search. The state was drawing its $273 million winning ticket the following night. They found nothing. After that, he called the store, and indeed, a clerk told him someone had found two tickets on the checkout counter and turned them in. The clerk asked him what kind of lottery tickets he had bought. There are different kinds. He said they were two quick-pick lottery tickets. And so, since that is what they were, the clerk gave them to him when he went back to the store.

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Weirsky didn’t pay any attention to the TV that night. But two days later, during a snowstorm, a friend of his mother’s called and said she thought a person they all knew had hit the jackpot. He had bought the tickets at the QuickChek at almost the same time as Weirsky did. Indeed, Weirsky knew the fellow. He had seen him on the checkout line just before he got to the register.

It would be pretty amazing if that were true and Weirsky had almost bought the winning ticket, so he called up the guy and asked him if it had been him. The man told Weirsky it was not, the Times reported. Weirsky then used the lottery app on his phone to check the tickets he had. One of them matched the numbers of the winning ticket.

“I put the phone down, I put the ticket down, I sat there for a second—I said to my mother, ‘Hey, that just said I was the jackpot winner,’ and she was like, ‘What does that mean?’

“I said, ‘I won $273 million.’ And she was like, ‘Get the hell out of here.’”

Weirsky was having trouble wrapping his mind about this, and so continued to watch TV for the next half-hour. Then he went upstairs, got dressed, put on a heavy coat and went out into the snowstorm to a store nearby. He scanned his ticket. Yup, it was the winner.

All of this was reported in The New York Times because they’d sent a writer and photographer to the New Jersey Lottery press conference where Weirsky spoke. There’s a photo of him in the Times. He looks about 40, perhaps a bit overweight, and wears glasses. He hadn’t dressed up for this. He’s wearing a sweatshirt that says YANKEES on it. He’s wearing a camouflage baseball cap.

What’s he going to do with the money? He’s going to buy a new pickup truck. He’s going to visit a lawyer. “After that,” he said, “I am basically locked into what my lawyer and other people that I got working for me tell me I can do. But after they tell me I can go crazy, I am going to take a family vacation and take everybody with us.” I would guess his mother, his kids—if any—and I wouldn’t be surprised if he even asked his ex. Seems like that kind of guy.

He also said he wanted to track down the person who returned the tickets and reward him, too. But he was not telling how much. My guess is it’s half a million.

Now, what is the point of telling you all this?

Well, my point is, why do we lust after jobs, anyway? Let the robots come. We will all be out of work, but— answer me this—do we really love working 40 hours a week on assembly lines, screwing bottle tops onto peanut butter jars? What is wrong with us?

Here’s our chance to do everything we’ve always wanted to do—take vacations, travel the world, go to concerts, plays, sports events, play golf and tennis, learn to cook, work out at spas, help others, educate ourselves and enjoy some downtime leisure—all without having a job. And all—if we all get given the money, and all do it—with no shame.

Let’s look at the peanut butter jarring company. Let’s say it’s a big factory sprawling over 10 acres that used to provide 10,000 jobs. Now there’s practically none. It’s expensive to run a company. But half the expenses go to wage earners. Robots get no wages. So all the saved money goes to…the owners? I am a great believer in the American Dream. I believe in getting rich by starting a business. I did pretty good with Dan’s Papers all these years. So that’s not it.

I say some of it goes to the owners. And the rest, well, it should be divided up among the let-go employees—or, better yet, put in a great big pot to be shared with every American citizen.

Think about it. Robots will be everywhere. So this will be a national program. We are talking tens of trillions of dollars of new money here. You want to give that all to the owners? What are they going to do with it? They can only put on one pair of pants at a time every morning. And the rich are very rich right now. There’s already a huge gap between rich and poor. Does anybody personally need more than a billion dollars?

Should we use the money to grow the businesses? Some of it. But if every business owner is saving these massive labor costs, every business in America will be awash in cash, trying to compete with one another. And it won’t work. There won’t be enough consumers. So the money will just pile up, laying there. Use some to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. (Robots will build it.) Create parks and museums. Or just give it away. Bill Gates did that. He’s worth more than $90 billion and his foundation has more than half that. Here would be a whole revolution in finance.

How to give it away? Well, I suppose it could be with taxes. Let the winners of American enterprise keep everything up to $200 million a year. Ask that they give the rest to nonprofits. Another way would be to use mechanisms already in place. It’s the state lotteries. Let folks like Mr. Weirsky, and all other citizens, come in and twice a week, maximum, buy two $10 tickets. Have all tickets be winners. And make the prizes huge. Make even the smallest prize be $1,000. It would be fun, like a game.

Everyone wins. The robots don’t care. And life goes on. Isn’t that what this is all about?

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