Opinion: Why making a Chipotle burrito or a McDonald's Big Mac should be considered manufacturing
As part of a series exploring the reinvention of American manufacturing, online magazine Slate this week turns to the fast-food business.
Manufacturing characteristics should be acknowledged wherever they emerge, including in the much-derided realm of food services, argues Matthew Yglesias, Slate’s business and economics correspondent:
Food service has essentially become manufacturing, even though the North American Industrial Classification System of bureaucratic labeling doesn’t see it that way. Food manufacturing — slaughtering animals, canning beans, chopping up carrots into baby carrots, putting together Lean Cuisine boxes — is counted as a subcategory of overall manufacturing, accounting for 12 to 13 percent of total manufacturing employment.
A Chipotle burrito is a more sophisticated, higher value product than an Amy’s organic frozen burrito, but the government calls making the frozen burrito manufacturing and the Chipotle burrito service. To classify is necessarily to draw somewhat arbitrary boundaries, but this should be seen as what it is — a question of statistical procedure rather than metaphysical truth or a fact of great economic importance.
This matters, Yglesias writes, because then perhaps people would stop deriding food service employment as McJobs—particularly in a world where the sector actually stands out for unusually strong career ladders. He adds:
It would also be nice to acknowledge that regulatory curbs on chain restaurants, whether for putative public health reasons or “to preserve the uniqueness and small-town charm” of a municipality are a variant on the old Luddite concept of smashing machines to preserve artisanal jobs. Sometimes there’s a case for prioritizing aesthetic concerns over economic efficiency (it’d be a shame to put a T.G.I. Friday’s in the middle of the Grand Canyon), but it should be seen as what it is. In the manufacturing realm, we now take it for granted that scale, elaborate division of labor, centralized brand management and product development, and national or even global operations are positive developments that boost living standards.