Thursday, May 19, 2016

Don’t Trash Market Forces

By Don Boudreaux

Driving to campus a few minutes ago I was behind a residential garbage truck.  This truck, though – unlike every other garbage truck that I’ve seen – had no crew of workers riding on the back of it to leap off to chuck the contents of people’s garbage cans into the back of the truck.  This truck instead pulled up beside each garbage can left on the street curb and a set of mechanical arms reached out from its passenger side to lift up each can dump the can’s contents into the truck’s rear bed.  The operation is surprisingly fast.

No job is more classically unskilled than that of “garbage man.”  Yet as wage rates rise, even for unskilled workers, it eventually pays firms to invest in labor-saving capital goods, such as mechanisms that dump the contents of individual garbage cans in to the backs of residential garbage trucks.
I’ve no idea if the impetus for the particular labor-saving device that I beheld this morning is a legislated minimum wage (either actual or expected) or simply the market forces that raise the market wages of even the lowest-skilled workers in wealthy area such as northern Virginia.  Either way, however, if garbage-disposal companies can implement effective labor-saving devices, no one should be doubt that legislated minimum wages will price some low-skilled workers out of jobs.
The above originally appeared at Cafe Hayek.


  1. These have been around for many many years now.

    The first one I saw was in the early 1990s being used by the Chicago park district. This early model grasped the drums used for trash cans along the lakefront trail. As I recall it was smaller truck that could go into the parks. I found it interesting because I had once had a summer job at a park district doing that work manually with a pickup truck.

    Later models I saw were full size residential service garbage trucks like the one pictured above that grasps bins designed for them. There are several designs and styles of trucks in use now. I haven't seen a garbage truck with a crew in years. Usually one guy per truck and he may have to get out now and then for stuff not in the standard bins.

    1. Yeah, we have had residential mech arm garbage trucks where I live for over thirty years. I wonder if unions in some states are the reason they have been so slow to adopt.

  2. In Australia we have relatively high minimum wage laws. Mechanical garbage trucks are the norm and almost all suburban supermarkets have automated check out lanes, although some manned check outs usually operate side-by-side. McDonalds has introduced do it yourself terminals for ordering burgers etc but they don't seem to have taken off in popularity.