The News & Observer has yet another column by UNC poverty center director Gene Nichol that promotes the idea that raising the minimum wage is the key to fighting poverty. It concludes with the scholarly delineation that’s worth $212K per year: “It’s the wages, stupid.”

When the poverty center was hastily assembled within the law school headed by Nichol, rather than the economics department, in order to keep John Edwards politically relevant till 2008, it promised to offer “innovative and practical” solutions to poverty. An endless campaign to raise the minimum wage is not innovative nor is it at all practical.

Having government force the wage floor well above the market level for fast-food work and other low-skill jobs will not magically fix the problem. It will, however, price many workers out of work completely — and price more machines into work.

McDonald’s, which already has automated tellers in Europe, is testing them here. Automated tellers don’t, after all, let themselves be tricked by partisan opportunists into walking off their jobs in protest, while their “compassionate” tricksters use their plight to promote themselves, leaving them worse off. Kiosks don’t fake illnesses or require “full-time” health coverage if they work just 30 hours (you will notice than none of the leftists who profess concern about the plight of low-wage workers will mention that Obamacare has made it very difficult for them to log a full week’s worth).

Automated tellers also lack the human touch, the smiling faces, the problem-solving abilities, the potential to grow in the job and move up the company ladder, and the many other intangibles that contribute to the ongoing business decision to keep real people taking customers’ orders. There is a price at which, however, the business model of serving low-priced food will require switching to kiosks.

You wouldn’t expect highly paid and lauded public advocates for the poor to seek to usher in that switchover to automated tellers — unless if they were going to be called “Nicholodeons”; there could be money in that!

Sarcasm aside, you would expect them to know, as job training charities do — i.e., charities with “boots on the ground” working at the individual level to help the poorest and least skilled among us not only to find jobs, but to develop the skills that keep them employable — that learning how to hold a job and respect the dignity of work have intrinsic value themselves.

You would expect them also to support, not oppose, free enterprise, the most potent fighter of poverty throughout human history.

P.S. There is an area in the country where you can get Wal-Mart cashier jobs start at $17.40 per hour and you can get a $300 signing bonus to work at McDonald’s. It’s North Dakota, and these wages and incentives aren’t driven by government fiat but by free enterprise; i.e., economic necessity owing to an energy boom.