McDonald’s Provides a Good Business Education

Paul Facella writes in his book, Everything I Know About Business I Learned At McDonald’s (p. 85):

As Bill Cosby said in his commencement address to Cheyney University’s Class of 2007, workers at McDonald’s pick up many skills.  “If I’m flipping burgers,” Cosby noted, “I’m not flipping burger for the rest of my life.  I’m learning to become a manager.  And I’m not the manager forever because I’m learning to become the regional manager.”  Cosby accurately depicted opportunities at McDonald’s–for those, it should be stressed, who adhere to McDonald’s rigorous standards.

That passage brought back more than a few discussions I’ve had over the years about “burger flipping jobs.”  Usually, the reference was made by discussion partners as if they were dead-end, low pay hopeless jobs.

One of the best managers I’ve had the opportunity to work for is a former McDonald’s burger flipper.

The author, Paul Facella, started working with McDonald’s at 16 and rose to become a regional vice-president for the company and judging from his writings, he enjoyed it and found it greatly fulfilling.

Just a few pages earlier (p. 77), Facella wrote about the pride of burger flipping:

I worked my way to grill person, the key position, after many months and had a pretty good knack for speed and dexterity, always striving to perform up to the standards expected of me.  Coworkers and I raced to see who was the fastest at flipping burgers and putting patties on the grill.  I could usually hold my own.  But the more important contests were sales.  We strove to break any record…hourly, daily, or weekly.  There was a bonus if you worked during that time period.  And we broke records. Our store became one of the top sales restaurants in the area, and we got quite good at keeping the lines down and increasing sales.   It was also important in the status of your crew if you worked the record hour on your station. We fought to be there when the big crowds gathered for a chance to break the record on our shift.


It sounds like a burger flippers learned to see the big picture.  They knew their efforts contributed to keeping lines moving quickly, which helped keep customers satisfied and their store break sales records.   As Cosby said, they’re learning to be the manager.  And they took pride in their work.  Imagine that.


Jobs and Unemployment Benefits

I highly recommend John Stossel’s excellent one-hour special from Saturday evening on the FoxNews Channel.

The focus of one of Stossel’s segments was the incentives around unemployment benefits.  He interviewed people who said they passed up jobs because the jobs paid less than they made on unemployment and they became more serious about looking at such jobs within a few weeks of their unemployment running out.

He also interviewed people who worked for the agency in charge of tracking the unemployed to ensure they were looking for work.  They said they could tell that some applicants didn’t take some jobs seriously.  They were interviewing in order to check the box to satisfy their requirement to keep receiving unemployment.

Stossel included footage of our President saying that he hasn’t met a single American that would rather collect an unemployment check  than have meaningful work to provide for their family.  Given Stossel’s evidence, it makes me wonder how hard the President looked or what questions he asked when he did look.

While watching the segment, the thought occurred to me that perhaps unemployment benefits should end once the person has been offered a job, even if the job pays less than the unemployment benefits.  Made me wonder what the true goals of unemployment are.  Is the goal to provide a safety net or to preserve a lifestyle that may not be preservable?

Responsibility to the Poor

Here’s a nice video of Milton Friedman explaining where the true responsibility lies.  Not the government.  People.

The student asserts that it might be the responsibility of the government to help out the poor.  Right about 50 seconds in Friedman responds:

First of all, the government doesn’t have any responsibility.  People have responsibility.  This building doesn’t have responsibility.  You and I have responsibility.  People have responsibility.

Make no mistake about it.

Jon Stewart on Oprah

I watched Jon Stewart on the Oprah show recently.  Here are some of my observations.

Stewart is a funny and reasonable guy and beyond that there’s not much there in the way of solving the world’s problems.  To his credit, he seems to know this and he had to keep reminding Oprah about it.

Oprah said once or twice he was “influential.”  He would reply that he makes jokes.

Oprah asked if Stewart would run for office.  The first thing he said is that he knows that he doesn’t have the answers. Oprah then said he’s probably more influential with his show and he said something to the effect that he makes jokes.

Oprah teed up a segment about where he was going to show pictures of people, and wanted Stewart to comment because “he’s one of the sharpest guys we know”.  I believe he responded again, “I’m funny.”

Oprah showed a picture of Glenn Beck.  I felt a pause in the audience as if Stewart was going to lay into him, I expected something like, “this guy is an…”  Yet, exceeding my expectations, I could detect no visible animosity in Stewart’s body language.  Quite the contrary.  There was a glimmer in his eyes.  He said that he considers Beck his moneymaker and his kid’s college fund.

I think Stewart knows he’s tapped an artery.  Many folks who have never listened to Beck beyond his sound bites dislike him enough to illicit strong emotional responses.  Stewart the shrewd joker and businessman sees a money-making opportunity.   He’s cashing in on those emotions.  In other words, very much like Beck, he’s riding the emotional waves for cash.

Stewart’s wife said “he’s not like this at home, he doesn’t talk about politics or anything like that”.  That’s not surprising.

Overall I got that sense that Stewart is grounded and he knows he’s thankful that he has a good act.  It was refreshing to see that  Stewart seems to know his strengths and limitations. Which is good because when he talked about some real issues, he was awful.  He threw out straw men (e.g. “those on the right say there are school shootings because we don’t read the bible in school”) and weak, caricatured arguments that include just enough of the buzz of the issue delivered in a well-honed comedic/authoritative manner to get head nods and applause for folks that don’t often think beyond the surface of the issues.

Early in the segment he said that 70% to 80% of the people in the country are “reasonable”  and that 15% – 20% are not and the problem is that we are run by the latter.  He went on to attempt to discuss a real issue.  He talked about the mosque at Ground Zero.  He presented several straw men of the opposing positions and presented the supporting position as the reasonable one.  Yet, according to this poll from Time magazine, 70% of Americans polled agreed that “continuing with the plan would be an insult to the victims of the attacks of the World Trade Center,” which doesn’t match up with his belief that he falls into the reasonable 70% crowd.

Stewart seems to know his strength is in making fun and I enjoy his comedy.  He’s good at it.  But, I think some of his viewers, including Oprah, mistake his act for reality and accept his commentary as well reasoned positions on par with folks such as Thomas Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Walter Williams, when he’s probably not quite on part with Glenn Beck.

Stewart also gave great career advice.  Talking about his stand-up comedian days, he said some nights you bomb and some nights you crush, with the same material.  The audience response isn’t necessarily an accurate gauge on the quality of the content.  He drops the high and low scores and thinks his actual performance is somewhere in between and doesn’t let it get him down.

Those years as a stand-up, he developed a skill set.  Telling jokes, commanding an audience, developing a breadth of material to draw on while he’s in his act.  He’s experimented with several different things and happened upon a black swan in the form of a news parody show.  He’s happened along another in the form of tapping into the Glenn Beck opposition.

He’s participating in capitalism and doing quite well.  Others should recognize that and root for the system that allows his success.

School District Survey

Earlier this week, I filled out a stakeholder survey for the strategic planning committee of my local school district and sent it back in my kid’s backpack.

I was put off by the survey.

In one question it asked how I evaluate the performance of the school district.  I could choose from things like test score rankings and building maintenance.  Unfortunately, I had to write-in the answers I thought were obvious:

  • What I think of my kid’s teachers – their experience level, what other parents have to say about them and what I think based on my meetings and how well my kid is learning and what my kid had to say about them.
  • The reputation of the school district among parents.  When you say, “my kid goes to [blank] [blank] schools”, what response do you generally get?  I generally get, “oh, that’s a great district.”  This is the same method many of us use to find a good doctor, dentist, lawyer, lawn service, real estate agent and so on.  It works there, why wouldn’t it work in education?
  • How I perceive my kid to be progressing.

I was then disappointed when the survey asked if I think the school district should be actively involved in attracting businesses to the district in order to increase its tax base.

My answer:  No. I want the school district focused on educating my child.  If they provide good education, the district won’t have to worry about tax base.  It’s the role of the Chamber of Commerce to try to bring in new business.

I also believe that when a school district’s tax base, or funds, come from businesses that do not have strong incentives to keep the school district performing well, this contributes to a decline in the quality of the district.

Needless to say, I was a bit concerned by the directions of the questions on the survey.

I’ll give them credit for asking.  I hope others feel the way I do.  Unfortunately, I know the results of such surveys can be used to be gleamed to support the strategic vision of the folks on the committee.  I’m eagerly awaiting the results of the survey.

“Delight in Losing Arguments”

In his book The Big Questions, Steven Landsburg offers valuable advice (p. 235):

Argue passionately for your beliefs; listen intently to your adversaries, and root for yourself to lose.  When you lose, you’ve learned something.

Rooting for yourself to lose runs counter to your instincts.  I consider it a sign of wisdom.

If you find yourself saying things like, “I know I’m right” or “I just know that’s the way it works because I feel it,” stop and ask yourself what’s so bad if it happens that you’re wrong?  Consider that you might be wrong.

When I did that, I started learning.

Yes. I’m human and not always wise.  I occasionally get caught up in being right.  But, it’s awfully disarming to a volatile discussion to say, “You know what.  I could be wrong.  Help me see what I’m missing.

Remember ALL part of Landsburg’s advice:

  1. Argue passionately.
  2. Listen intently (which we forget to do).
  3. Learn.

Even if you don’t learn that you are wrong, you may learn why it is that you are not agreeing and find a more productive way of reaching agreement.

Impressive Podcast

The guest on this week’s EconTalk podcast is Richard Epstein of New York University and Stanford’s Hoover Institution and he discusses regulation.

I highly recommend listening to the whole podcast.  Epstein does an excellent job of discussing the intricacies and problems with things like the health care legislation, the financial reform and the FDA.

With about 16 minutes in the podcast, Epstein launches a criticism of Keynesian economics that I haven’t heard before.  In case you don’t know, Keynesian economics underpins government expansionary efforts like stimulus spending.


It [Keynesian economics] never tells you where it is that you’re supposed to quit. Take something like unemployment benefits. If 52 weeks are better than 26 weeks and 99 weeks are better than 52 weeks, are we going to say 200 weeks are better than 99 weeks?

If I were an enterprising reporter, I might be inclined to start asking politicians when will we know to pull government out?  When will we know that we should move unemployment back to 26 weeks?  When will we know that we don’t “need” stimulus spending?  When will we know when the health care bill is making things better?

Of course, the easy answer would be, we will know it when we see it.  When the economy is back in shape.

Next question: So, if the economy gets back in shape, say when unemployment reduces to 6%, can we count on you to sponsor legislation to shorten the duration of unemployment benefits?

Thanks for GPS

Yesterday morning, as I was running a 5k race with my handy Garmin Forerunner strapped to my wrist, I thought it was very nice that those global positioning system satellites are up in space orbiting our planet and enterprising people folks made things like the Forerunner to be able to read the signals put out by those satellites to be able to tell me something as trivial as my minutes per mile pace in a fall festival 5k.

Potpourri Saturday

This morning while chatting after a 5k race, my father-in-law told me a story about a guy he knows who came to the U.S. from Cuba years ago.  During this gentleman’s first Christmas get-together in the states he cried when he saw all the food on the table because he knew his mother was back in Cuba eating measly rations.

While listening to Dennis Miller interview podcasts from this week a few gems brought a smile to my face.  First, Carly Fiorini said of Barbara Boxer:

Let me tell you after having debated Barbara Boxer, this is a woman unencumbered by the facts. She is unencumbered by the facts of her own record.  She is unencumbered by the devastating unemployment that is in California today.

Second, Ken Blackwell said:

We have become a culture where earning money doesn’t entitle you to it, but wanting it does.

Blackwell also said:

Our [Republicans] problem in the 90s, once we got the brilliant opportunity to be the dominant and governing party, we campaigned like Ronald Reagan and we governed like Jimmy Carter.

On leadership, if you aren’t spending a good amount of time surrounding yourself with honest and sharp people and doing your best to take care of them, it will very likely backfire on you someday.

Stagnant Wages! Really?

A commenter on Cafe Hayek this week lamented about stagnant wages.  While it’s unclear whether the comment was based on fact or the commenter’s gut feel, it did remind me of this passage from Steven Landsburg’s book More Sex is Safer Sex (p. 29).

In the 1930s, we had a Great Depression, when income levels fell back to where they’d been about twenty years earlier.  For a few years, people had to live the way their parents had always lived–and they considered it almost intolerable.  The underlying expectation–that the present is supposed to be better than the past–is a new phenomenon in history.  No eighteenth-century politician would have dreamed of asking “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” because it never would have occurred to anyone that they ought to be better off than they were four years ago.

Rising income is only part of the story.  Not only are we richer than ever before, we also work less and have better-quality products.  One hundred years ago, the average American workweek was over sixty hours, today it’s thirty-five.  One hundred years ago, only 6 percent of manufacturing workers took vacation; today it’s 90 percent.  One hundred years ago, men entered the full-time labor-force in the early teens; today labor-force participation by young teenagers is essentially zero.  One hundred years ago, only 26 percent of male workers retire by age 65; today over 80 percent of 65-year-old males have retired.  One hundred years ago, the average housekeeper spent twelve hours a day on laundry, cooking, cleaning, and sewing; today it’s about three hours.

If wages are stagnant for a little bit, so what?

Don’t get me wrong, I like standard of living improvements as much as the next guy, but I also recognize and am thankful for how good we have it.  Now that we’ve set the bar high for improvements because they have come so consistently during our lifetimes, we’re disappointed when those high expectations are not met.

Oh no! Stagnant wages!  That means we have to live approximately like we lived last year, which happens to be the best standard of living that humans have ever experienced?

Landsburg continues by giving us more specifics about the daily life a hundred years ago.

Here’s a typical laundry day for a housewife in 1900: First she ports the water to the stove, and heats it by burning wood or coal. Then she cleans the clothes by hand, rinses them, wrings them out (either by hand or with a mechanical wringer), then hangs them out to dry and moves on to the oppressive task of ironing, using heavy flatirons that are heated continuously on the stove. The whole process takes about eight-and-a-half hours and she walks over a mile in the process.  We know all of this because the United State government use to hire researchers to follow housewives and record every step they took.

Very well written.  For some reason, I imagine Louis CK’s voice as I read that.

Landsburg didn’t mention that this process wasn’t done very frequently since it was laborious, expensive and there was much other laborious work to get done.  The idea of wearing clothes once and washing would seem insane to those living around 1900.  So now, since it’s much easier and cheaper to wash clothes, we do it more often and that improves our lives by spreading fewer germs and being less smelly.  Such mundane, yet exponential, leaps in quality of our lives are nearly invisible to us.

Update: Another thought occurred to me.  I imagined the folks who recognized how laborious doing laundry was and invented ways to make it easier.  That’s innovation.  With less innovation our standard of living doesn’t advance as quickly.  I wonder if the commenter complaining about stagnant wages realizes that the cause of that, if true, could be stagnant innovation.