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Freedom Fries: McDonald’s and the Fourteenth Amendment

Shawn Hamilton   March 26, 2015
It's everwhere. / Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser demonstrates the dominance of McDonald’s, not just in the context of the history of the fast food industry, but in the history of all industry. McDonald’s is the largest owner of retail property in the world. The company trains more Americans than the U.S. Army. The McDonald’s logo is more recognizable than the Christian cross. Ronald McDonald is second in popularity with children to only one figure—Santa Claus.

By any (and every) measure, McDonald’s is a juggernaut. And yet the prospect of a $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle has led this grand institution to turn, not to greater economies of scale or improvements in vertical integration, but to the Fourteenth Amendment—a law ratified in 1868, primarily to protect the rights of recently freed slaves.

The McDonald’s corporation’s efforts to avoid the mandate of Seattle’s minimum wage increase hinges on two claims. One is that the company’s individual franchisees are small businesses. The other is that, for legal purposes, the company itself is a person. This is not just a consequence of the recent Citizens United verdict, which some have suggested is the most “sweeping expansion of corporate personhood to date.” Nor is it just another innovation peculiar to the fast food industry, a legal version of a rib sandwich that contains no ribs. It’s an attempt by a corporate giant to use the language of freedom to promote the interests of capital.


No Sympathy for Poors from the Silver Hordes

Scott Beauchamp   March 26, 2015
Photo by David Hodgson

According to a new Brookings Institution study, the majority of America’s elderly don’t want the government to help poor people. And they sure as hell don’t want the government to provide them with health insurance. (Get our government hands off their Medicaid?)

The study’s results indicate that, since the late 1970s, support of government intervention in the lives of the needy has dropped by half among people ages 65 and older. This Brookings study pairs well with similar results from a YouGov/Economist poll that found 93 percent of old people believe that they do not receive government subsidies to help pay for their health insurance (PDF). (Get your government hands off my Medicare!)

Is it necessary to point out that that can’t possibly be true? What’s going on here?


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   March 26, 2015
Money talks...but its accent has changed over time. / Photo by Images Money.

• Franco Moretti and Dominique Pestre apply quantitative linguistic analysis to World Bank Reports over the decades, in a piece called “Bankspeak.” An excerpt: “the semantic cluster of governance includes a series of terms which express a sense of compassion, generosity, rectitude or empathy with the world’s problems. Virtually absent in previous decades, these ethical claims emerge in the mid-1980s, and become second nature by the early 1990s, when responsible, responsibility, effort, commitment, involvement, sharing, care are suddenly everywhere.” (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)

• When the presidential field is crowded with “uber-wealthy” donors, the merely filthy-wealthy are being left behind. The Washington Post plumbs the sad tale of the bundlers who just aren’t rich enough to play the game anymore. (“Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?”)

• The EU warns Europeans against using Facebook if they don’t want to be “snooped on,” reports the Guardian. Current “Safe Harbour” legislation that ensures private transmission of data across the Atlantic does not currently apply when citizens willingly hand over their personal information to American data-collecting companies like Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft. (Via Wolfgang Blau.)


Time Is Money Is Work Is Virtue

Colette Shade   March 25, 2015
An early mock-up of the Apple Watch by Justin14

“In addition to showing you the time, Apple Watch actually understands what time means to you,” Apple’s website declares about the company’s latest object of desire, which goes on sale next month. “It helps you be more productive and efficient. So you get more out of every moment.”

Apple’s assumption that people need to extract even more value out of each fleeting moment is a bit disturbing, but the device Apple is selling is doing the same thing watches have always done: helping people convert time into money, and altering consciousness in the process. The history of time, and how we have measured it, is inextricable from the history of labor.

In his seminal 1967 work “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” British historian E.P. Thompson explored how the Industrial Revolution changed the way people perceived time, and the way that time and money become one and the same (PDF).


Google: Too Big to Derail

Jacob Silverman   March 25, 2015
It's in everything now, there's no getting it out. / Photo by Danny Sullivan

It seems handily coincidental that one week after we learned that Google survived an FTC anti-trust investigation without much consequence, the search company announced the hiring of a new CFO, this one plucked from Morgan Stanley.

The finance industry, after all, is the pacesetter when it comes to evading government regulation and maintaining a chummy relationship with Washington. Ruth Porat, who will shift from being Morgan Stanley’s CFO to Google’s, was once considered for a top Treasury Department position and, according to the New York Times, “advise[d] the government on its dealings with A.I.G. and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac” during the financial crisis. Sounds like a good person to have around the table next time there’s a conference call with the FTC. (Not that Google is doing badly on its own: company representatives have been to the White House 230 times under this administration.)

But the Google/finance industry synergies extend farther than a single marquee hire. In many important respects, Google now resembles a major investment bank. Having practically monopolized its initial product areas—search, online advertising, email—Google is now spreading its tentacles to other parts of the economy, including transportation, telecommunications, television, energy, and robotics. In some cases, it’s introducing genuine innovations, but in others, its role (like that of a big bank packaging someone’s mortgage into a complex security) is parasitic. Google is latching onto anything that smells like information, the new currency of this post-industrial economy.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   March 25, 2015
Now here is a person with real magnet skills. / Photo by Jennifer Morrow.

• Following the Forbes bracket for startup jargon, Re/code now has a guide to VC jargon, from “magnet skills” to “power alley” to “too native.” Woof. (Via Kyle Chayka.)

• “Stung by recent polling that showed only a third of Boston residents want the city to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, the group organizing the bid has reversed itself and now supports a voter referendum on the proposal, an inauspicious development for an already shaky bid,” reports the New York Times. Yes!

• Today in Billionaires: Hillary Clinton says she wants a clean slate with the press. How nice! Here, we’ll do our part, by giving some free press for a Kickstarter that’s trying to raise money to make a Clinton action figure (and to get her to run).


Cinderella Is Dead

Sady Doyle   March 24, 2015
Sorry. / Photo by Josh Hallett

In Disney’s newest Cinderella—a live-action reboot of its 1950 animated movie—not much has changed, but the ticket sales and potential for new merchandise are fresh. This latest iteration of the famous fable raises an important question: is it possible to kill the princess myth?

The stories Disney sells for piles of cash are largely drawn from folk tales, shaped and re-shaped and passed down by poor and working-class women through generations. The story of “Cinderella,” for example, is so old that we actually don’t know where it came from. One mythographer managed to track down over 300 different versions.

One of the oldest is from ancient China, in which Ye Xian, a girl persecuted by her stepmother and sisters, attends a festival with the aid of a talking fish and leaves behind her golden shoe. But even in antiquity, the story was seemingly so well-known that it popped up halfway across the world: the Roman historian Strabo tells the story of the slave Rhodopis, who has one of her sandals stolen by an eagle, who gives it to the King of Egypt; he sets out to find the woman behind the magical shoe and marries her. The story appeared in West Africa, in Germany, and finally, in 17th-century France, where Charles Perrault embellished the traditional structure with a few of his own devices (pumpkin coach, glass slippers) and turned it into the story we know.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   March 24, 2015
No, I don't think I'll go into the office today." / Photo by Steven Depolo

• Brokelyn continues to report on Brooklyn’s “preschool for adults,” for folks who are so oppressed by the ills of adult life that they are willing to spend several hundred dollars to join other similarly oppressed adults in games of musical chairs and finger-painting. What’s next, Camille Lawhead asks? “Maybe someone will set up a warm, womb-like pod where distressed adults can float in comforting goo and be fed intravenous for a couple hours?

• A group of scientists from the American Chemical Society in Denver are interested in mining Americans’ poop for gold. (Via Jacob Silverman.)

• In similar news, this bit today from Talking Points Memo: “George Zimmerman Compares Himself to Anne Frank, Says Obama Victimized Him.”

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