As policy wonks, we spend a lot of our energy trying to educate on free markets and limited government as they apply to insurance, taxes, education, and the like. But we can also find lessons in the realm of beer. Or derecho beer. Or even burgers.

My friends at the Illinois Policy Institute turned me on to Momentum Machines, a company based in San Francisco that has developed a robot that can cook and serve up to 360 hamburgers per hour. It grinds the meat fresh – with custom grinds coming soon – and grills the burger to the customer’s preference. Once the burger is placed on the bun, it proceeds down the line where toppings such as tomatoes and pickles are sliced fresh and placed on top before being wrapped and ready for the customer. 

But why change the burger-making process? According to the company, “the labor savings allow a restaurant to spend approximately twice as much on high quality ingredients and the gourmet cooking techniques make the ingredients taste that much better.” And the current version of the technology reported pays for itself in less than a year.

Let me suggest another factor why this technology, assuming it can consistently produce a tasty burger, might transform the fast-food industry faster than you might think: unskilled labor is becoming more expensive.

Consider S.460, legislation pending in the U.S. Senate which would increase the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over two years and automatically increase each year afterwards; or the recent strikes by fast-food workers in support of a $15.00 minimum wage and union rights. 

Also the employer mandate of ObamaCare, which re-defines full-time employment as 30 hours per week and then requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide them with health insurance (that has been made sharply more expensive by other provisions of the law) or pay a tax of $2,000 per employee. There are at least anecdotal indications – and quite possibly statistical ones – that large employers are cutting back the hours of their full-time employees or restricting new hires to part-time schedules.

Momentum hints at this trend in its marketing materials. “An average quick service restaurant spends $135k every year on labor for the production of hamburgers. Not only does our machine eliminate nearly all of that cost, it also obviates the associated management headaches.”

The moral of the story: When Big Government intervenes in the free market to prop up the proverbial little guy, it’s often that little guy who gets chewed up.