Hand-cranked penny-dispenser allows anyone to work for minimum wage

Blake Fall-Conroy's "Minimum Wage Machine" is a penny-dispensing Rube Goldberg machine that "allows anybody to work for minimum wage."
Custom electronics, change sorter, wood, plexiglas, motor, misc. hardware, pennies (approx. 15 x 19 x 72 inches)

The minimum wage machine allows anybody to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 5.04 seconds, for $7.15 an hour (NY state minimum wage). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money. The machine's mechanism and electronics are powered by the hand crank, and pennies are stored in a plexiglas box.

Minimum Wage Machine (Work in Progress) (via Make)



  1. Cool idea. Politicians should have to use this. In NZ our minimum wage went from around $8.50 to $12.50 over around five years. I wouldn’t work for that.

  2. Will it be installed publicly? I would turn a crank for 7:15 an hour…I could put on headphones, listen to music or spoken world.

    It wouldn’t be a horrible job.

    1. You do realize that working 40 hrs a week 52 weeks a year you would only make 14,872. If you could also live on that good luck. I live on 20,000 and it is a struggle and I have a BFA plus 30.

  3. This works until somebody invents a machine to do the cranking and a generation of penny-crankers will be out of a job.

    1. >This works until somebody invents a machine to do the cranking and a generation of penny-crankers will be out of a job.

      Too late.

      Someone already made the executive decision to outsource this venture and sent these machines overseas — the dispensers have been adjusted to spit out a penny every 10.08 seconds now. Of course, the executive in question gave himself a bonus of half the pennies in the machines.

  4. Y’know, two or three machines could be hooked up to a bicycle so one person could do two or three times as much crank turning.

    That’s durned near a living wage!

  5. Next up: the Executive Wage machine, filled with gold coins in a sealed system, that spits out coins at an appropriate rate.

    It won’t have a crank, of course; it’s powered by the other machine.

  6. Okay, it’s a cool machine, and (for some bizarre reason) I want one. But I’m not sure if I get the point of it all. It seems to serve no practical use; therefore I must assume that it’s intended either as a novelty item or as an object lesson about the minimum wage. But why would anyone give away free money just so people can get a kick out of a novelty item or learn a lesson about the minimum wage?

    And what lesson is it supposed to be teaching about the minimum wage, anyway? That it’s too low? It certainly is too low; but I’m not sure that this machine really makes that point all that well. Sure, it’s boring, repetitive work for little reward (like a typical minimum wage job); but, apart from that, it bears little resemblance to any real-world minimum wage job. I don’t think that someone who “plays with” this machine for a few minutes will suddenly have an epiphany that the minimum wage is too low and immediately go out and start lobbying congress to raise it. Instead, I have a feeling that most of them will just say: “Cool! Free money! This is fun!” Then they’ll get bored and stop, and won’t have learned a thing. (Also, I should point out that the “wage” that is “earned” by playing this machine is tax free! So it actually makes the minimum wage seem more attractive than it really is.)

    So, again I have to ask, what’s the point? If the machine had some practical use it might be worthwhile. Maybe hook the crank up to a generator or something so that the person who is “playing” the machine is actually producing something of value in exchange for the “wage” earned from the machine, rather than just doing pointless “busy work”. If you’re going to teach an object lesson about work and wages, the last thing you want to do is teach people that work is pointless, or that a job is nothing more than a machine for cranking out (lousy) wages in exchange for a minimal amount of effort.

    1. @ sapere_aude

      Look at the tags on this article, and I think you’ll understand the “point”. I for one, am impressed by the creativity.

      1. OK. ‘Art and Design • art • commentary • maker • minimum wage • scultpure ‘
        Huh? What is a ‘s cult?’ & why is it ‘pure?’

    2. “Instead, I have a feeling that most of them will just say: ‘Cool! Free money! This is fun!’ Then they’ll get bored and stop, and won’t have learned a thing.”

      Then they’ll get bored and won’t have learned a thing — yep, sounds like a minimum wage job to me.

      “Maybe hook the crank up to a generator or something so that the person who is ‘playing’ the machine is actually producing something of value in exchange for the ‘wage’ earned from the machine, rather than just doing pointless ‘busy work’.”

      This is where you miss the point entirely. The *point* is that many minimum wages are menial labour. Though they may provide a service, is it necessarily of “value”? Many, many minimum wage jobs essentially *are* busy work, where you spend long stretches mindlessly performing a ridiculous/pointless/repetitive task or just standing around until you’re needed. While not necessarily physically all that difficult, it’s repetitive and wears on the soul.

      I think this machine makes the point quite adequately. Watching a penny drop as a direct result of your efforts should, in theory, cause you to realize *exactly* how much you are being paid for exactly how much time/labour.

      “I don’t think that someone who “plays with” this machine for a few minutes will suddenly have an epiphany that the minimum wage is too low and immediately go out and start lobbying congress to raise it.”

      The fact that people can walk away from this is another lesson — not everyone has that luxury. You can just *choose* to use the machine and stop whenever you want, but a lot of people are shackled to low-paying jobs because of difficult circumstances.

      “If you’re going to teach an object lesson about work and wages, the last thing you want to do is teach people that work is pointless”

      I’m not trying to personally insult you, just trying to make a point but … Have you ever HAD a job? Not everyone gets to enjoy the privilege of a fulfilling job, and even the ones that provide you with some sense of contribution often have pointless tasks.

      1. Gloria gets it. A lot of people do feel like they may as well be cranking and not producing. We do not do work efficiently, nor does everyone do really fulfilling work where they get to see the (positive) outcome.

    3. @sapere_aude: you missed the boat on this. Anyway, what do you suggest the minimum wage should be set at if it is currently too low in your opinion? And how would you objectively arrive at this number?

    4. Ummmmm……I think it’s kind of like, you know, ‘art’. The “point” is to make you think. How’s that working out for you?

      I find it clever as hell.

      1. @powermatic: Ah! Well, if it’s supposed to be an art installation, then that makes more sense. I withdraw my previous criticisms. Art can’t be judged by the same logic as … um … non-art (sorry, but that’s the best antonym for “art” that my mental thesaurus could come up with on short notice — I need more coffee). For some reason I didn’t get the impression from the write-up above that this was intended as a work of art. But, now that you mention it, I don’t really see how it could be anything else. Thank you! If this is a work of art then my criticisms were totally unjustified. Sorry.

        1. Sorry here if I sounded testy. Rationale-I live in a ‘smaller-not-small’ burg where if the public art is not a lifelike bronze of a fawn nuzzling her doe mommy, the wails & cries of ‘it’s just ugly’ fill the paper. Not that you are that person-it’s just a mindset that irritates. Thanks for your cordial reply.

          1. @powermatic: No problem. For some reason, when I first read the write-up about this contraption, I got it in my head that it was meant as some sort of novelty device or teaching tool, and it never occurred to me that it was supposed to be a work of art. If I had interpreted it as a work of art I wouldn’t have tried so hard to figure out what purpose it was supposed to serve, or how well it served that purpose. Art doesn’t have to be logical — it just has to cause people to stop and reflect for a moment, and maybe ask some questions, or start a conversation, or even a debate. So, judging from this comment thread, I’d say this piece of art is a resounding success.

            @Artimus: As the old joke goes: If you took all the economists in the world and lined them up end to end they still wouldn’t reach a consensus. :-) The problem of how to make sure that people have a decent standard of living is one of the most vexing issues in politics and economics; and I seriously doubt that we’re going to find a solution anytime soon. Certainly not one that everyone can agree on. Unfortunately, there’s always going to be a gap between what we would like to achieve and what we can realistically hope to achieve; and an even bigger gap between what we can realistically hope to achieve and what we actually manage to achieve once the politicians have gotten involved.

    5. The point of this machine to me is, If you want to be paid you have to do something, even if it is turning a crank. There is no Free Lunch, If you dont work you dont get paid.Something more people in this Country need to realize. it may not be the most exciting job, but it is a job.

  7. Heck, I’d stand there and crank a little in my off time and make some money.

    Working for minimum wage isn’t nearly as bad as people think. Sure, if you are a single mom with a couple kids it’s virtually impossible to get by, or if you have health problems.

    But for healthy people with fewer commitments, it’s not bad.

  8. @ Inkstain – unless you like living indoors… that’s hard to afford on minimum wage. : )

    I wonder idly if most people who comment on minimum wage have ever worked for minimum wage? (And no, I will not accept any comments along the lines of “when I was your age, the minimum wage was three dollars and you should be grateful to get seven!” As if the cost of living didn’t also rise.)
    I think the unfairness of minimum wage also raises the question of How much do we really need? Certainly making $400,000 a year is unnecessary, and probably causes as much indirect harm to society as a poverty does more directly. Better stop here before it gets Marxist. Oh snap! Too late!

    Anyway, this machine would be preferable to some minimum wage jobs I (briefly) had. At least you could read a book while you do this. BTW, who refills the reservoir when the pennies run out?

    1. “I wonder idly if most people who comment on minimum wage have ever worked for minimum wage?” — I did, for one day, under peculiar circumstances.

      I worked in Rome, Italy (at the then-new IBM Rome research center), and a heavy snowfall (in a city where it hardly ever snows) closed the city down. I didn’t know and went to work anyway, only to stand dumbly along as everything was closed.

      Another young colleague showed up and commented, “the office’s clearly not going to open, let’s see if they need help at the railway station” so we went. And boy did they ever need help — they were happily handing out shovels (the only snow removal equipment they had — took days for Rome to borrow decent snow removal machines from nearby mountains’ towns) to volunteers showing up.

      It wasn’t snowing any more, the sun shone brightly on the fresh white snow, we went to work alongside many other (mostly young men in their 20’s and early 30’s, as were we), enjoying the novelty of fresh-air hard work, singing work songs, etc. After a few hours (with occasional cigarette breaks) a bell rang and there was food (and a glass of good cheap red wine), then more work.

      After a day of that I was exhausted — the novelty had worn off and I looked forward to going back to the routine of designing hardware systems, haggling with suppliers, writing software to make them work, etc (at that time I was responsible for setting up a new image acquisition laboratory) — but I felt good as I had done socially useful work rather than lounging at home moping (that was before the internet;-).

      As we went back to give our shovels back for storage, I was surprised to get handed some money and asked to sign a receipt — I thought I had been doing volunteer work for free, but I was being paid the legal minimum wage (the free lunch and wine we had been given were also part of the legally mandated compensation for manual labor, though I think the wine wasn’t legally mandatory, just traditional in Rome for outdoors manual labor in cold weather) — a bit higher than here in the US if I recall correctly (hard to say as it was liras, so hundreds or thousands didn’t _mean_ much;-).

      So that’s the one time in my life I made money via manual labor (the part-time work I had done earlier as a student was mostly translating and typing engineering and scientific papers, at way higher than minimum wage… albeit without lunch as part of the deal;-).

      A bit unfair I guess, since (again a legal obligation) I was _also_ paid for the missed day of work at IBM (since the office was in fact closed due to snow, the missed day was not my fault)… in fact I think I made five times the money for not working that day at the office, as I did for the hard work of shoveling snow all day.

      It definitely reinforced the vague feeling I already had, that unskilled manual laborers get a pretty raw deal — but then my grampa had drilled that into me at an early age. Without any schooling, he nevertheless soon realized that laying down bricks was hard work and made much less than _coordinating_ other people laying down bricks — so that’s what he progressed to doing, even though what he LIKED was actually doing the construction work, he just *hated* paperwork and the accounting that he had to do as a supervisor, and then as independent contractor, but it paid much, MUCH better, and let him work far longer than purely manual labour would have…

      He pushed both my father and uncle to get their college and post-grad degrees even though he and his wife didn’t even have a high school one, and us grandkids too, saying “you’d better love egghead work whether you love it or hate it, because THAT is where the money is, kiddos!” throughout our impressionable childhoods…).

  9. This is where you miss the point entirely. The *point* is that many minimum wages are menial labour. Though they may provide a service, is it necessarily of “value”?

    Yes it is. Otherwise their employer wouldn’t *pay* them. Even Marxists get this — “surplus value” and all that. This machine misses the point — it should have some actual outcome to the work — generating electricity or something, which the owner of the machine then makes more money selling then he has spent on labor.

    1. I’m not entirely familiar with Marxist theory, but what I was trying to say that “value” is not necessarily always defined in the economical sense.

      The point here is the very fact the machine has no “actual outcome” (which you seem to define as something you can sell). The lack of outcome is a spiritual one because you have no investment in the work you are doing. You *could* be generating electricity or something, but if you don’t give a crap and you don’t feel it’s electricity that serves a good purpose — what if it’s just surplus electricity that goes to waste? what if nobody actually uses it? what if it goes to an evil purpose? what if somebody is in the next room cranking another handle that cancels out your production? — then it’s essentially all the same to you.

      Yeah, I’m working a retail job where I run around and answer customers’ inane questions all day. Someone’s got to run around and answer questions, so I’m paid to do it. But you know what? At the end of the day, for all it does for me, as a person, I might as well be cranking a handle that gives me pennies.

  10. i’m not sure this really qualifies as a Rube Goldberg… unless there is some craziness going on inside that box.

  11. hook it to an electric shock machine so if the user has to crank it for 8 hours or he/she gets a jolt

  12. Can the machine be rigged to generate electricity? If so, how many KWh could someone generate in an hour?

    Better yet, could it be rigged to use food pellets as a reward for a hamster to run in a wheel? How many KWh could that produce?

    Guys – I think I’ve solved our energy crisis.

    1. you do have to subtract the energy cost of producing and delivering the pellets from what the hamster generates… that might be a problem.

  13. If instead they just make it dispense a penny for every 5 cranks it would represent the world without a minimum wage. If you were motivated you could crank it really fast and make more, if lazy you’d crank it real slow and make less. Some industrious person might create a geared cranking machine that allowed him to crank it really fast with little effort. She could then start paying others a percentage to crank it for her, or she could sell it, or maybe she would hire others to build the machines so she could sell more of them, or …

    1. what world do you live in? in mine the lazy people are called managers..and they get more than they deserve at the expense of talented motivated people…

  14. You could achieve a certain amount of automation by restocking it from the output of a catch-penny engine.

  15. I came to ask the same thing as the other Sam above: as a back-of-the-envelope calculation, how much energy would this produce, and what would be the cost of that energy if made by a powerplant?

    I guess instead of asking lazyweb, I’ll work it out myself.

    From http://hf-ssb-transceiver.at-communication.com/en/at/at_military_hand_crank_generators.html, we could guess that we may be able to generate 65 Watts from this.

    Over 1 hour, we can generate 65 Wh. 65 Wh for $7.15 is 9.09 Wh/$ = $110/KWh.

    A powerplant sells us electricity for for somewhere around 6¢/KWh.

    So this would cost around 1,800 times what would normally be produced?

    Hmmm, sounds like it needs a government subsidy.

  16. Jonathan Badger (#13) is absolutely right. No employer is going to pay a worker to do something that doesn’t provide value to that employer. The worker may not see the value in the work; but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t valuable to the employer. In fact, on balance, the employer has to reap more value from the work than the employee does from the wage; otherwise the employer is better off firing the worker.

    If the goal is to teach people about how the economy really works, the design the machine so that when the “worker” cranks the handle it actually produces something of value, which will then be sold back to the worker, but at a marked-up price so that the worker can never earn enough money by cranking the handle to actually afford the product she just made with her own labor. THAT would get the point across!

    @Gloria (#10): So, it’s better to teach people that work is pointless, just because not everyone can find a fulfilling job? What’s the value in making people depressed about something they can’t change? Many people have to work unfulfilling, low wage jobs just to put food on the table. But just because a job is unfulfilling doesn’t mean that it’s pointless. In fact, the irony is that the jobs that our society depends on the most tend to be some of the least fulfilling, lowest wage jobs out there; while some of the highest paying, most fullfilling jobs in our society are truly pointless (e.g. professional athlete, talk radio pundit, day trader, whatever Donald Trump does).

    1. @sapare aude: “So, it’s better to teach people that work is pointless, just because not everyone can find a fulfilling job?”

      Fact: a lot of work (and jobs) is pointless. I’m not sure how this is “better” or “worse” a lesson to teach people, since it’s just true. Some work is pointless. It doesn’t mean that I think people should loaf around at home and do whatever they want. But I think it’s one way of recognizing a problem with how we’ve structured our economy. One of the questions asked here is: Why do we have jobs or work that are so meaningless or artificial that, ultimately, come to nothing but put some coins in your pocket?

      “But just because a job is unfulfilling doesn’t mean that it’s pointless.”

      Well, the point here is that the job is also low-paying. Being forced to work an unfulfilling AND low-paying job, I think, is pointless, because you’re giving away yourself — your time, your labour — for little compensation. (Hell, some people even think that they can’t be paid any amount to do jobs they hate, and take up jobs that fulfil but don’t pay.)

      Yes, in the end, you are managing to feed yourself (and perhaps others), which is a “point” to all of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the work you do may not have a “point” personally to you.

      You point out a lot of these jobs may be low-paying, but they serve important functions. I agree.

      But half of the feeling of “pointlessness” that many such workers feel comes from the fact they are paid so little for their labour. If society knows their work is essential but unattractive, then why aren’t they compensated justly? They have none of that spiritual fodder that softens a hard job, yet also none of the money. The work, though it might be essential, *becomes* pointless that way, because there is no correlation between your sacrifice and your compensation.

      This doesn’t mean I look down on minimum wage workers or think all the work they do is useless (although I stand by my feeling that lots of minimum wage jobs also happen to be completely pointless). It just means I don’t think we should be trying to palm them off with the feeling that they’re doing society a service (“our society depends […]”) when society clearly doesn’t think so.

      I think the key point of all this is the cleverness of this concept lies in how it boils down a lot of jobs into its simplest form.

      1. You do something — e.g. turn a crank.
      2. As a result of that action, you get coins in your pocket — there is no meaningful or useful product that you make or contribute to, you’re not personally invested in the process, you’re not even sure what the point is … but now you get to put food on the table and that’s really the most important part of the process.

    2. Well, it turns out I was Anonymized without me realizing it, but sapere_aude, when the comment finally appears I think you’ll be able to tell it’s me responding to you as I quote you.

  17. In case it hasn’t already been suggested, let’s install one of these in every corporate headquarter(s) of every bank and insurance company in the world.

  18. @Gloria: I don’t see the anonymous comment you mentioned. I think the comment monster must have eaten it. (Happens to me all the time.) :-)

    @Artimus: I can’t give you a single figure (because of variations in the cost of living over time and from locality to locality); but I believe that all workers ought to be paid a living wage (i.e. a wage that will allow a full-time worker to afford basic necessities without government assistance). I understand the economic arguments against increasing the minimum wage; but many of those arguments are predicated on faulty assumptions, and have little empirical support.

    BTW, exactly where do you think I “missed the boat”? It was the Donald Trump comment, wasn’t it? I should’ve known not to mess with The Donald.

    1. Oops. Sorry, Gloria. Apparently your comment showed up while I was typing my earlier reply. (Saved from the insatiable maw of the comment monster! Yay!)

      And, on a more substantive matter, I do agree with much of what you have written. In fact, I think we probably agree more than we disagree. I believe that we as a society need to change the way we look at work, and at compensation. Everyone ought to be able to earn a living wage. But I think it’s a bad idea to teach people that a job is nothing more than a way of earning money. I realize that a lot of people have to work unfulfilling, and seemingly pointless jobs just to pay the bills. They can be excused for having a bad attitude about work. But it’s a shame that our society as a whole seems to have a bad attitude about work: It’s all about the Benjamins! It would be much better if we could redesign the work world so that all jobs (even the crappy ones) could be more fulfilling, and so that the workers could see the point and the social benefit of the work they were doing — while earning a living wage, of course. I just don’t see how the minimum-wage-crank-machine-thingy helps move us in that direction.

      1. Well, I think I agree that we agree more than we disagree (agree?) :P

        “But I think it’s a bad idea to teach people that a job is nothing more than a way of earning money.”

        I think there is a crucial point where we differ. I don’t think this machine is “teaching” us anything to *do* anything in particular — more that it provides an avenue for us to recognize what is already happening.

        I understand what you mean about moving in a direction that brings change or reform. But as I said, I don’t think this piece was meant that way. It’s an art piece — meant as commentary, albeit in object form.

        At least part of change is recognition and discussion, which provides the motivation or momentum for change. The fact that this machine provoked this discussion is a bit of change, even if it is miniscule in the big picture, no?

        “But it’s a shame that our society as a whole seems to have a bad attitude about work: It’s all about the Benjamins!”

        Actually, that’s what I believe this piece is commenting on — that many of our jobs have become about money only. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is really your interpretation, but I personally think it’s quite clear that it’s being painted as bad.

    2. @sapere_aude: touché – my name clearly gives away my robber baron status and, in fact, the Donald and I go way back. Just having some fun…

      You correctly pointed out elsewhere that the work of what others called ‘worthless’ paying jobs do in fact hold value to employers, otherwise they wouldn’t pay the employees. But that begs the question of how much it is worth to them. Some lower rate that ultimately leads to underground economies for labor as market forces skirt government imposition?

      I would agree that minimum wage should ideally provide for the basic necessities without government assistance, but as with the question on setting minimum wage, how do you arrive at estimations of the cost of basic necessities? It falls largely to arbitrary political decision, in my opinion. With that said, I appreciate your point of view; it’s not an easy topic to dive into in this format.

  19. “@ Inkstain – unless you like living indoors… that’s hard to afford on minimum wage. : )
    I wonder idly if most people who comment on minimum wage have ever worked for minimum wage? (And no, I will not accept any comments along the lines of “when I was your age, the minimum wage was three dollars and you should be grateful to get seven!” As if the cost of living didn’t also rise.)

    I wonder idly if the people who insist it can’t be done have ever tried it. I don’t make minimum wage, but I’m within spitting distance of it, and my wife and I’s yearly living expenses are below the take-home pay of minimum wage for two people working fulltime, with room to spare, with a new baby.

    Yes, you have to give up some things. And you don’t get to live in a flashy urban area. But it’s really not that bad. We taught ourselves simple cooking, we don’t eat out, we don’t have a TV, and we share one car and one cell phone. That’s really all it takes.

    Not everyone can do it, I agree, and there needs to be plenty of help available for those who can’t. But a lot more people could do it if they were taught how to manage money and live frugally.

    Take home pay of two people working full-time minimum wage: $26,100, or about $2,150/month.

    Our expenses:
    Rent $550
    Utilities $70
    Cable internet: $40
    Car payment: $175 (actually recently paid off, but I thought I’d include to be fair)
    Car insurance: $40
    Food: $350
    Baby stuff (diapers, formula): $200
    Cell phone: $60
    Total: $1485

    That leaves almost $700/month below the minimum wage to save up for emergencies and other miscellaneous expenses. Plenty to get by. And we haven’t even touched WIC or other government aid.

    Yes, I have an advantage in having a wife (who is willing to work third shift so that we never have to pay for daycare). But if I were on my own, I’d sell the car and ride my bike everywhere, drop down to an efficiency apartment and cut my food budget in half and still come in pretty comfortably.

    Yes, people with other responsibilities (sick relatives, for example) probably couldn’t do it. Yes, people with multiple kids would have a much tougher time. Yes, we need to have universal health care so that nobody is one health disaster away from being ruined. We need government programs to directly address those situations, and we need to do a better job of making sure people who can be helped by those programs take advantage of them.

    But the blanket belief that it’s impossible to live in on minimum wage is a symptom of America’s severely deficient culture of personal finance, in which we live on the edge of our means and buy a lot of crap we don’t need.

    1. Heck, most grad students survive at what amounts to *below* minimum wage (I’m talking about science/engineering grad students who get stipends; I’ve heard that many humanities students don’t even get stipends at all). Of course most grad students are young single adults who can live with roommates and live off of cereal and ramen without apparent ill effect.

      1. I pay $500 for a one-bedroom condo with three private patios, my own washer/drier, fireplace, dedicated parking and access to four pools and four jacuzzis shared by ~50 units. Water, hot water and cable are included. And it’s a five-minute walk to downtown Palm Springs. Five years ago it would have rented for $1,000.

        Does nobody think to renegotiate their rent when the economy tanks? I have friends paying $2,000 a month to rent a house when they could move next door and pay $1,000 for the same thing in the current rental market.

          1. I lived in SF for 25 years. I moved down here 9 years ago. I’m about one nosebleed away from throwing my clothes in the car and moving anyplace that has a relative humidity higher than 2%.

  20. As has been mentioned…Rube Goldberg?…

    Isn’t this perhaps stretching the definition of a Goldberg machine just a tad? (and by ‘tad’ I mean ‘a gratuitous amount’)

  21. This is art that addresses something fundamental to the way we live, but it does it in an oblique way, which makes it art and not just heavy-handed political satire (an actor dressed as a Wall Street trader cracking a whip over people pretending to be Third world peasants would be what I mean by the latter).

    Art takes a little more time to digest, and can lead to interesting insights when approached from several different angles. My first association was with The Crank; operating these machines (without getting the pennies) used to be a punishment in English prisons http://www.uttertrivia.com/prisonofficersscrews.php.

    That got me thinking about the many minimum wage jobs I’ve had back in the day, and about how some of them were easily as unsatisfying as simply turning a crank, jobs that a robot would be too bored to do, and a monkey would have too much dignity to do (handing out flyers, charity telemarketing, collecting glasses etc).

    It doesn’t matter whether a boss thinks its worth giving you money for a crap job; you can still call it ultimately pointless, because handing out flyers and turning cranks add the same amount to human prosperity. When governments manipulate the economy with stimulus packages and the like, they primarily do it to ensure that jobs are not slashed. Now if the jobs would be slashed without this public action, can you still be so sure that the jobs are needed? And if “earnings” really do correlate with benefits produced, doesn’t that mean that Warren Buffett produces more benefit to society than several milion doctors?

    Maybe there are better ways to distribute the surplus in the age of abundance, better methods than simply making joke jobs and handing out derisory welfare cheques. The installation is a genius idea for getting the question raised.

  22. This is an excellent exhibit… why? Because:

    A) Many people who work for minimum wage aren’t really getting anything useful accomplished, and
    B) People who work for minimum wage get free money

    So there you go – an obviously-unintended side comment of this exhibit, and government meddling in general. Nobody is entitled to make a lifetime career out of stocking shelves, washing dishes, or mopping floors.

  23. This is a good idea, both in the penny cranking model and the executive model. But it seems to have no real purpose. So what if it were improved to have a generator or dynamo in it and all the cranking would create power that could be distributed on the grid. Now that would be a feasible idea. Talk about alternative energy.

  24. I gotta say, I think being a BB moderator would be a moderately excruciating job. Do you guys drink heavily, or what? Do you get paid. Sometimes the comment threads make me seek death.

  25. Hook it up so that turning the crank creates electricity (a mini-generator) and put our unemployed to work making bits of electricity! Awesome! Problems solved.

  26. “where do you live that you can rent (a very small room w/ shared bath??) for $550 a month?”

    Rural America.

    It’s a one-bedroom with a full bathroom and large living room/kitchen combo. I actually consider it pricey, but it was all I could get in this oil boom town.

  27. i happen to be working for minimum wage by choice because i have no need to make more, i can eat healthy and don’t mind living in abandoned houses, its a fun life, everyone is worried about cars and gas and credit cards. there’s no need for all of that, if i can afford to eat, drink and can find shelter, then i have lived a successful life

  28. When it runs out of pennies, the manufacturer declares bankruptcy and gets a government bailout to restock. The ‘company’ restructures by removing 1/2 their machines on the market, rebrand it with a chinese made one (painted with lead paint) and continue on. They then send a representative to China to work on tourism.

  29. Maybe it is to teach people to appreciate the work that goes into earning the minimum wage. Most people would walk away from the machine quickly not thinking it was worth the money to turn a handle yet minimum wage jobs are considerably harder than just turning a handle.

  30. Inkstain, we can’t all live in rural America. Besides you wouldn’t be able to find that rent if we all moved there.

    Yeah, I lived on 6.00 an hour and under 40 a week with no insurance. Yes it can be done. I lived alone though, no dependents. And I could barely set back anything to try to go to school. I didn’t have a tv, used dial up, ate rice most days, and lived in Dallas which is not by anyone’s standards a glamorous city. I couldn’t leave though. I couldn’t afford to.

    It sucked in general. I got sick and couldn’t get my teeth fixed. Lost my job because my abscess pussed over and I started puking at work. Sunk myself into debt fixing it and decided to go back to school whether I could finance it or not. Got another job paying about the same, but school provides you with a lot of basic things you didn’t think about. Like as in you can cancel internet and use the labs, take showers there in the gym, cut your living expenses more than you think at first with it. Best decision in my life probably. So yes and no. It depends. I can say for certain that you can’t really survive on 6.00 an hour in Dallas TX, or rather it will catch up with you soon. One x-ray, one car wreck, one tiny bump in the road and you’re done with. For the most part you will need supplemental income, however you get it.

    I was able to go back to modeling. Lucky me.

  31. “This works until somebody invents a machine to do the cranking and a generation of penny-crankers will be out of a job.”

    That’s ok, they would have to higher another generation of people to monitor the machine turning the crank.

  32. its not working for money unless turning the crank has a purpose other than getting the money. thats like prison mind torture – break the stones into smaller stone….just coz….

  33. This looks like a brilliant way to get able bodied, able minded people off welfare. Give them the option of finding their own job, or crank the handle at the welfare office. I understand that most people on welfare truly do need it, and use it appropriately, but for the fraction of the population who abuse it (if you can separate them); they can crank the handle for the handout.

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