Inside the Mind of the Fast Food Proprietor: An Exploration of Small Business

Posted on June 5, 2011

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By Larry Duvalier

Allow me to share a personal anecdote.  A few weeks ago, I was at the airport in Detroit.  I just so happened to overhear a conversion between two local businessmen, one of whom owned a few McDonald’s franchises in the city.  The two gentlemen spent the better part of a half hour patting each other on the back, certain that their businesses were “helping out the community.”  The franchisee even went so far as to launch into a moralizing speech about the many career opportunities that his fast food restaurants provided to inner city youth who didn’t have a chance to go to college.  Don’t have an education?  That’s okay because the McRib is back!  It’s an opportunity!  (Limited time only.)

Never did it occur to him to ask why his employees weren’t able to get an education in the first place, nor did he think to question whether or not a young denizen of Detroit might have goals in life other than to work his way toward that loftiest of fast-food professions: Assistant Manager.  Why would he concern himself with these minor details?  After all, as a businessman, he already has exactly what he needs: a vast reserve pool of potential minimum wage burger-flippers.  It is only the burger-flipper himself (or, more to the point, the currently unemployed potential burger-flipper) who might think that something is amiss in this situation.

Detroit: A “civilizational collapse” (of sorts) on a scale not seen since the final days of the Roman Empire.  How might one go about solving Detroit’s ongoing crisis?  According to the protagonist of our story, the solution is, naturally, more McDonald’s restaurants (preferably ones that he owns).  If only every poor young man or woman stuck in Detroit had the opportunity and privilege to flip burgers, then all of the problems would surely disappear, right?  Herein lies the twisted logic of the small business owner, and why he’s incapable of seeing the problem for what it truly is.  A chronic and worsening unemployment rate?  As a small business owner, He’s Lovin’ It!

But what happens when this great offer expires?  Only the mind of the fast-food franchisee could truly believe that the basis of an economic recovery package must be, of course, fast food.  The minimum-wage employee, on the other hand, sees that there’s a problem here: “If I can barely get a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke off what I make in an hour, then how the hell am I supposed to afford the Premium Grilled Chicken?”  An excellent question, indeed!  The franchise owner, of course, has no answer.  He dines on fresh salmon, not on the Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  More importantly, though, he doesn’t need an answer, because he’s the one who signs the paychecks: “Don’t like McDonald’s?  That’s okay: You have the freedom to quit, and the freedom to get fired.  There are a thousand more in line after you who would love the opportunity for gainful employment at McDonald’s.  Good luck getting a job at White Castle!”

Thus works the mind of the small business owner.  Small Business!  “The backbone of the American economy!”

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