Owning Pays Far Too Well

Fast FoodIt is Sunday, and so Thomas Frank has an article that is well worth reading, Chain Restaurants Are Killing Us: Billionaire Bankers, Minimum-Wage Toilers and the Nasty Truth About Fast-Food Nation. He focused on workers and the corporate elite because none of the franchise owners would talk to him. But he asked, “I wonder how many chain-store bosses can truthfully say they make an ‘honest living.'” I think I have a little insight into that.

Do franchise owners work hard? In my experience, yes. But they don’t work harder than their employees. They will, of course, sometimes get behind the counter or in the kitchen and kick a little ass — like they are the best workers around. But this kind of work represents the exception: maybe a couple of hours a week at most. Their primary function is as “manager.” I put the scare quotes on there because the truth of the matter is that the corporations don’t allow much in terms of management. The franchises are meant to be idiot proof — and that is as true for the worker at the register as it is for the owner managing the place. And this is generally only at the start of the franchise. The whole idea is for the owner to leave the whole thing to others who are less well paid.

The main thing is that the franchise owners get paid far more for whatever it is that they do. Of course, the idea in a capitalism is that people ought to be paid just for owning something. I’m not against this idea in theory. In practice, in the United States, it’s a travesty. It is why we hear this lie about the entrepreneur — the woman who “took a chance.” But that’s not what I consider an entrepreneur. This definition of entrepreneur just highlights the fact that business success is mostly a matter of luck. Borrow a bunch of money, start a business, go bankrupt. Repeat that process until you don’t go bankrupt. I’m all for bankruptcy laws — and I think it should be a lot easier for individuals to go bankrupt — but there is no denying that it is a form of socialism. In fact, for the right class of people, business is all about socialism: using the common resources to help you make it big.

So what we really see in the comparison of franchise owners versus franchise workers is which ones have the opportunities to buy a franchise. Is it the case that a minimum wage worker would ever make enough money that she too could take the risk and buy a McDonald’s franchise with $750,000 in non-borrowed cash? Where is the equality of opportunity there? So of course this isn’t about the brave entrepreneur who is willing to take risks. Everyone takes risks every day. I love this quote from Melissa Harris-Perry:

What is riskier than living poor in America? Seriously! What in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America? I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner. I live in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kid into school because maybe it will be a good school and maybe it won’t. I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No. There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you! Being poor is what is risky!

I come back to this idea again and again that conservatives (and many “liberals”) are deluded in thinking that if outcomes are dictated by the “free” market, they are “natural” — and therefore correct. The truth is that there aren’t any markets that are free. Markets themselves are communal constructs. The idea that I’ve been grappling with the last couple of year is how it makes any kind of sense that the nature of a society should dictate the rewards. For example, before movies, actors had to work every day — often multiple performances per day. The most successful ones became rich. But they were nowhere near as rich as the most successful actors today who might only work a month out of the year. The difference has nothing to do with the actor; it is entirely due to the technology that the actors had no part in creating. The same thing can be said about every other industry. Just look at the effects container ships have had on the narrowing of manufacturing industries.

The bottom line to all of this is that capitalism is not a just way to allocate resources. And even if it were, those with the most resources would use them to tilt the playing field in their favor. Instead of the government molding capitalism to work better, it has been molded to work worse. There are programs to mitigate the worst poverty, because the power elite know that starving children with bare feet begging in the streets causes a backlash that they can’t control. But other than this, the government mostly works to take money from the poor and give it to the rich. And the richer one is, the bigger the handouts.

Afterword

If you click over to the Melissa Harris-Perry video, you will hear Monica Mehta claim that 5% of the people pay 40% of the taxes. I’m pretty sure that would be 40% of the federal income taxes — a common conservative deception. But regardless, the number means nothing, given that the 5% makes a whole lot more than 5% of the income. People like Mehta disgust me.


See also: I Was a Middle Class Food Stamp Kid

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Owning Pays Far Too Well

  1. Harris-Perry is just fantastic. Eat shit, “risk takers,” and navigate my apartment building for one day. It’s not that dangerous but it would send them into paroxysms of shrieking in terror. What a bunch of wimps.

    This Frank article couldn’t help but make me remember the great John Oliver bit when he subbed for Stewart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8wiudhAhaA

    “Last Week”‘s YouTube success has caused “Daily Show” to step up their game: http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/the_year_in_review_in_daily_show_clips_20140101

    It’ll be interesting to see how those programs go forward. Liberalism is good for anger and currently low on happy outcomes. Thomas Frank is always brilliant and always eventually fired.

    • Thanks, I will check that out. But I’m not sure that Frank will be fired. Salon is a good fit for him. He had to know that The Wall Street Journal gig was temporary. Of course, he really is at his best in books. But I do look forward to him every Sunday!

  2. Whenever I encounter one of the 5% who think they pay all the taxes, my usual response is: 1) taxes are the price of civilization, or 2) if I’m in a cranky mood, STFU and move to Somalia where there are zero taxes, you whiny asshole.

    As for MH-P’s remarks on being poor in the US of A, I’ve lived there and done that myself and don’t plan on going back, so her remarks are a bit off-putting considering her positions in academia and at MSNBC where I’m positive she doesn’t presently live in poverty.

    • What amazes me is just how little rich people generally know about business. It just highlights the fact that they are no kind of trailblazer. They generally started rich and stayed rich. That’s a feat billions of poor people manage without comment.

      I suspect that Harris-Perry is correct. She isn’t saying that she is poor — just that she lives in a neighborhood with a lot of poor people. I know in the Mission district in SF of 20 years ago, there was an amazing mix of rich and poor. So I think that’s what she was referring to. Regardless, anyone who yells at the vile Monica Mehta is okay in my book.

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