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Fast Food Nation
1st April, 2004
In February a report by George W Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) suggested that fast food workers might in the future be classified as manufacturing workers. A CEA report asked: ‘When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a “service”, or is it combining inputs to “manufacture’ a product?’Reclassifying fast-food restaurants as ‘factories’ would have a number of benefits for the Bush administration. It would, in a single stroke, add about 3.5 million manufacturing jobs to the US economy, at a time when such jobs are rapidly being exported overseas. From a statistical point of view, it would make the US seem like an industrial powerhouse once again, instead of an ageing superpower threatened by low-cost competitors. And it would allow the fast-food industry, a strong backer of the Republican Party, to enjoy the tax breaks provided to US manufacturers. The CEA’s chairman N Gregory Mankiw was derided and ridiculed in the press for making the proposal, and his plan is likely to go nowhere. Yet there was an underlying logic to it.
Fast food is indeed factory food, perhaps the most heavily processed food on the planet, and the low-paid workers who defrost, reheat and reconstitute it have jobs as boring, highly regimented and strictly supervised as the workers in a 19th century textile mill would have had. Moreover, the founding fathers of the industry probably wouldn’t have minded the manufacturing label at all. Bringing the philosophy of the assembly line to the commercial...
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