Unintended Consequences
War on McDonald’s Harms the Poor

The Guardian has a fascinating report, worth reading in full, on the way that McDonald’s, for all the ridicule and condescension it faces from bien pensants, actually serves a vital function in low-income American communities, serving as a gathering place and a source of community at a time of social dislocation and anomie:

Few understand celebrating at a McDonald’s, but for Omar and Betty it made sense. They don’t have a lot of money, and McDonald’s is part of their life. It is that way in many poor and middle-income neighborhoods, where McDonald’s have become de-facto community centers and reflections of the surrounding neighborhood.

When many lower-income Americans are feeling isolated by the deadening uniformity of things, by the emptiness of many jobs, by the media, they still yearn for physical social networks. They are not doing this by going to government-run community service centers. They are not always doing this by utilizing the endless array of well-intentioned not-for-profit outreach programs. They are doing this on their own, organically across the country, in McDonald’s.

Much has been written about how new liberal economic initiatives targeting fast-food companies—from the $15 minimum wage crusade, to the Obama administration’s new overtime rules, to the National Labor Relation Board’s unprecedented regulations on franchises—will harm low-skilled workers, by replacing their jobs with robots and shutting them out of the labor market, blocking their chance to develop the skills they need to earn a better living. And all of that is probably true.

But it’s also the case that such measures will likely force companies like McDonald’s, which operate on a razor-thin profit margin, and which are already facing serious headwinds, to cut back on their businesses altogether, in addition to raising prices and laying off employees. The Democratic Party’s offensive against franchises won’t just destroy opportunities for workers—it will hollow out the communities where these restaurants are actually an important source of social capital.

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