Fast Food and Human Rights
Enter, Corporate America
The story of Fast Food’s transition from middle-to-upper class suburbia to urban locales and communities of color is taken straight out of the corporate America playbook —
It’s 1968 and Martin Luther King Jr. was just assassinated. There is huge social upheaval, property damage, violence, and riots. And then the dust settles.
Civil Rights is in tatters, so the country asks itself — What do we do now?
Enter McDonalds and it’s promise of economic prosperity. As Winston Churchill said – “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Nestled between the cost of that pocket-sized apple pie and it’s externalities are the root issues behind consumption, External Costs. These are costs avoided by a producer or consumer and instead externalized onto someone — or thing — else.
It looks like this: Internal Costs + External Costs = True Social Cost
• Internal Costs would be things like labor, utilities, and equipment
• External Costs would be things like additional training, equal pay, opportunities for advancement
Imagine it costs a restaurant $1,000 for programs that empower it’s workers to learn new trades and move up the ladder. If they sold 1,000 burgers, a burger costing just $1 more would be enough to train a new generation of confident and skilled workers.
External Costs -> Externalities
When these costs are externalized, we see the resulting externality. That looks like this:
Internal Costs = Price at Register
↳ Externalized Cost → Externality
This $1 cost could have paid for a management training program. It could have been used to pay its employees a living wage, which in turn allowed them to save for college.
Instead, the workers were placed in a box; you flip burgers, you take orders, you clean-up. They lived paycheck to paycheck in a perpetual cycle of poverty.
The burger may have looked $1 cheaper on the menu as these costs were initially “covered” by the individual workers, but eventually society pays for these costs in things like taxes (for government programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid) and perpetual poverty (with the good jobs going to the more educated areas).
*This is where the “Don’t tread on me” philosophy breaks down. Nearly everything we buy has an unpaid external cost that “treads on” someone — or thing — else.
Here are some common External Costs avoided in Fast Food and their resulting Externalities
CIVIL RIGHTS APPROPRIATION
• Community Outreach
• Donations to Affected Peoples
• Funding for Movements
• Equal Lending
• Leadership Positions
• Revamping Cultural Standards
• Food Stamps
• Earned Income Tax Credit
If you’d like to learn more about Externalities and External Costs, check out the following linkthe theory of externalities
The day before Martin Luther King Jr. was assasinated, he called for a boycott on the corporations using their economic power to bring pain to our communities.
18 years later, McDonalds sponsored the first MLK day celebration. Complete with a parade, exhibit at the ATL airport, and a commercial with MLKs face and the Golden Arches.
How can we spot marketing appropriation and use the theory of externalities to affect a system run by the almighty dollar?
Tying It All Together
So how can someone with little money or politcal influnce make an impact on a system run by the almighty dollar?
Let’s tie it all together.
In today’s purpose-driven society, it’s hard to tell what’s legit and what’s marketing hooplah.
What is for certain is that the massive growth and use of these “for purpose” terms means that our conscious consumption and “voting with our dollar” works.
Here are a few of the more legit labels.
• Fair Trade
• B Corp
• Minority-Owned Business
When a marketing campaign is nothing more than gimmick, you’d expect someone to step in and fight for what’s right.
Here are some of the organizations holding our government accountable for making quick and meaningful change.
• Alliance for Justice
It’s in a corporation’s best interest to avoid all the external costs they can. More money for them, and more “affordable” products for us.
But as we’ve just learned, these costs don’t just disappear, rather, they are externalized onto someone (or thing) else.
That’s where it’s our government’s job to step in. With proper regulation, they can encourage these companies to pay for the externalities they produce.
Here are a few ways our government does that.
• Pigouvian Tax
• The Rehabilitation Act
• Civil Rights Act
• Education Amendments
Imagine a world in which you send your spare change from that minority-owned business to the NAACP
The NAACP then uses your spare change to advocate in government to increase the number of minority-owned business grants.
The government then creates new grant programs for people of color.
Now, the next time you shop at that business, you can be sure they have the best opportunity of survival as possible. You are purchasing a product in which the external costs are paid for and the externalities you care about most are mitigated.