...I had to get a hotel. My amazing online reservation website came up with a reservation in the city for a thing called Yotel. It seemed implausible. The hotel was being given a 4-star rating. The reviewers were raving about it. And the price was only $150, which is amazing for New York, and right there on Times Square.
Seemed like I had to try it.
My Lyft driver dropped me off – thank you again app economy! – at a space-age looking white building with purple spotlights shining on it. The sign said Yotel, and I looked forward to talking to the receptionist about the history and meaning of this strange place.
But instead of people, what I found was a completely empty lobby. On a side wall were a group of kiosks. I walked up to one, put in my credit card, and the machine recognized my reservation immediately. A key came out of the slot below.
And that was it. I was checked in, and in record time.
There were no employees anywhere on site, which was spooky at first, but then you get used to it and wonder why every hotel doesn’t do it this way.
And maybe this is indeed in our future. After all, a kiosk is a great way to avoid the coming $15-per-hour minimum wage that the governor signed into law. At the end of this year, it rises to $11 and then up $2 per year thereafter. But rather than causing wages to magically increase out of magically appearing resources, it could mean a huge subsidy to low-wage robots, such as were on display in this hotel. If you need to drop your luggage off quickly, there is even a mechanical claw that will grab it and place it in a locker for you.
My room was on the 13th floor, but the elevators from the lobby take you to the 4th floor, where you see your first sign of life. There is a wonderful restaurant and bar and an outdoor patio area where servers are bustling around serving expensive drinks.
Why are employees here and not downstairs? Perhaps that has something to do with the exemption in the law for tipped employees, who can be paid as little as $6.80 per hour. This is a more viable wage level in this city, where it is ridiculously expensive to do any business.
This is a situation anyone with economics knowledge would predict. The human assets move where they can be employed most inexpensively, and away from areas where they are made expensive as a matter of law.
From there, you find another set of elevators that take you to your room. It is small but neatly organized. The sofa becomes a bed with the click of a button. The bathroom is beautifully organized. Everything is white, which only underscores the impression I had that the whole place was mercifully clean, especially for a New York hotel.
And this surely accounts for the 4-star rating this place gets – this and how the absence of human interaction at check-in is actually a relief. There is, quite simply, less to go wrong.
(Of course people still need to be employed to clean rooms. This task is too complex for robots; it requires, for now, human intelligence.)
To be sure, this high-tech hotel might exist regardless of the minimum wage law. One can’t know for sure. But you still have to marvel at the brilliance of the entrepreneurs behind this contraption. They rethought the whole idea of how a hotel should operate, and they did it on behalf of the consumer, which means you and me.
The place only opened in New York in 2014, and this year announced plans to expand to Boston, Dubai, Singapore, Paris, Miami, San Francisco, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Even without strict laws on minimum wages, I appreciate the advance, which is a real tribute to the capacity of the human mind to rethink settled traditions and find better ways of serving you and me.
You can’t say the same for the political class that keeps signing legislation under the mistaken impression that laws alone can make the world a better place.
Finally, there is a strange feature to the New York law. The legislation allows the law to be suspended if it is found to be hurting productivity in the state. But how can we know for sure? So much of the damage of this kind of legislation is unseen. Plus, private enterprise has proven itself able to innovate even around laws that seem insurmountable.
After all, giant vending machines can show us love too.
Friday, September 30, 2016
My Delightful Hotel Stay in a Giant Vending Machine | Foundation for Economic Education