Acton Commentary

On Wages, McDonald’s Gets It Right


In today’s culture of entitlement people believe that they deserve certain rewards simply because they exist -- not because of hard work, perseverance and wise choices. Entitlement is the only way to explain the lunacy behind recent demands that fast food chains like McDonald’s arbitrarily pay workers $15 per hour. Unlike many politicians, business leaders do not make decisions according to public opinion because they have fiduciary responsibilities to their boards and shareholders. As a result, McDonald’s Corp. Chief Executive Officer Don Thompson is doing the right thing by not cowing to ridiculous wage demands. In short, McDonald’s has become a scapegoat for a series of failed economic and public policies.

The protest narrative recorded in the news media goes something like this: “McDonald’s should pay more because life is hard for employees.” For example, in the New York Daily News a McDonald’s worker, Shaniqua Davis, said, “I’m not going to stay quiet … I’m going to continue to fight. . . I’ve got a daughter to take care of. I struggle to make ends meet.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells of LaShunda Moore, a 36-year-old mother of five children who, after 14 months at McDonald’s, earns $7.85 an hour. "I start work at 5 a.m., and by 5:05 a.m., I'm sweating," she said. "I work in the grill area, and people don't see all the work we do." Moore’s children live with their father. "I don't get paid enough to support everyone," she said. "He's a telemarketer and sits down all day but gets paid better than I do."

These stories raise important questions. For example, why it is that McDonald’s workers cannot make ends meet? Do we expect McDonald’s to make up the difference between challenging circumstances and poor personal choices? Is it McDonald’s fault that you are in your mid-30s, unmarried with several children, and have not acquired the requisite skill set to improve your employment opportunities? Is it McDonald’s fault politicians have over-regulated the market, inadvertently encouraging businesses to move out of low-income neighborhoods? Are we blaming McDonald’s for the fact that technological innovation and automation continue to eliminate low-skilled, entry-level jobs? It is beyond outrageous to think that fast food restaurants are going to reconcile these tensions.

Don Thompson is even being accused of being greedy and out of touch. Are the protestors aware that Thompson himself came out of poverty to become McDonald’s first black CEO? Thompson grew up just three blocks north of the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago before moving to Indianapolis in the sixth grade to be raised by his grandmother. He understands struggling to make ends meet. Thompson, however, protested the crime-ridden and low-wage earning future to which he seemed consigned by his circumstances by working hard in high-school, graduating from college, getting married, becoming active in his church and, after 22 years at McDonald’s, eventually rising to become CEO. Thompson’s advance is a clear illustration of the strong correlation between morally responsible decision-making and personal financial stability.

There was a time in America where taking responsibility for your long-term goals was neither the government’s job nor your company’s. It was yours and yours alone. You protested by improving your situation. If your current job was not sufficient to make ends meet you did not demand your salary be arbitrarily doubled, by force if necessary; you sought a better job by doing things like moving to a different city or learning a new trade. You saw the wage ceiling and moved on.

Today’s fast food protests are misplaced. Perhaps these protestors should protest in front of Congress for the following: the failed 70-year attempt by government to manage the economy, the failure of social welfare programs to get people out of poverty, creating policies that destroyed the urban family and undermined Judeo-Christian morals, the introduction of regulatory disincentives that pushed businesses out of low-income areas, and the subsidizing of substandard public education that leaves students incapable of competing with innovation in a global marketplace. Perhaps the protestors should also protest themselves for making poor decisions that placed them in difficult circumstances.

In the end, McDonald’s is already doing its fair share by employing and paying a market wage to hundreds of thousands of workers with minimal training and education. What is needed in the future is for employees to take advantage of their fast food entry point, work hard, make wise life choices, and for politicians to get out of the way of small businesses so that people can take responsibility for their futures -- and perhaps someday, like Don Thompson, become the head of one of the world’s largest companies.