Acton Institute Powerblog

Peace and Prosperity at McDonald’s

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The other day I had to bring my wife to the airport for an early-bird flight. Thus, I chose to work for a few hours at a nearby McDonald’s before going into the office.

Now, I know that what I’m about to say is out of fashion these days, particularly if “fast food” has anything to do with it, but permit me to share one small sliver of what a glorious thing business can be.

There I was, at 5:00 a.m., and behold, a quiet, clean, and air-conditioned environment waved its big golden arches at me, offering me free Wi-Fi, little disturbance, and, of course, an array of greasy goodies. All I had to do was buy a coffee (which was delicious, by the way) and they were happy to have me around. The calories abounded, but there were no schemes and no tricks. Just one guy getting some basic needs met — if I may dare to call them “needs” — superbly, cheaply, and without hassle.

Did I mention there were free re-fills on the coffee?

For all of our decrying of the various temptations of a quick-and-easy consumer economy and the isolating effects of a Drive-Thru Culture — plenty of it well warranted — there’s something good and true and beautiful about not having to sweat the basic necessities of life.

Peace and prosperity are under-appreciated.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.


  • “What is it about McDonald’s that creates peace? The simple answer is that a country that has stabilized to the point where someone is willing to invest close to a million dollars per store in a franchise operation is very unlikely to be a threat to its neighbors, or have neighbors who are a threat to it. McDonald’s restaurants are owned by the mother corporation, or by individual franchisees. Neither one is interested in seeing riots, corruption nor banditry destroy their investment. American towns and other countries have to earn their McDonald’s.”

    • A variation on what the Middle East needs is McDonald’s not democracy.

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  • Curt Day

    For too many times, we are content to not ask questions as long as we get what we want. But just because we don’t ask them does not mean that they do not exist. For example, what price do the other stakeholders of McDonalds pay for the peace and prosperity we enjoy? Are the employees paid fairly? How about those who provide the foods that McDonalds serves? What are the health and environmental impacts that McDonalds has on the community? These are just a few of many questions that could be asked after we enjoy the peace and prosperity.

    The problem is that prosperity sometimes acts as an anesthetic in that our prosperity sometimes numbs us to the pain of others.

    • What is your solution for anesthetic prosperity?

      • Curt Day

        The solution is very complicated. People have to change. And they have to because the status quo is not sustainable, self-destructive, and inhumane.

        If you listen to what King said you would realize that when we put a higher priority on possessing objects rather than caring for others, we are doomed spiritually and I would add physically

        • Yeahbut Curt … McDonald’s serves 68 million customers daily in more than 100 countries and is in highly competitive industry. McDonald’s customers don’t seem to be troubled by the questions you pose. If you told them that they “have to change,” you’d probably get a blank look or worse. McDonald’s freely offers a meal and millions upon millions of people all over the world every day are very happy to voluntarily plunk down their dough for it. If McDonald’s served crummy hamburgers and fries, no one would come back. Where is the injustice here?

          • Curt Day

            THat the customers don’t seem troubled, a speculation at best, implies what?

            See, there is another reality that conservatives run from. That reality consists of the consequences of our lifestyles.

            Finally, how does the fact that McDonalds does not serve crappy hamburgers, speculation, and thus has customers imply?

          • Marc Vander Maas

            Curt – I think saying that McDonalds customers don’t seem troubled by McDonalds hardly qualifies as speculation. And I think that what it implies is that whatever deep concern that you feel about McDonalds has yet to find purchase in the hearts and minds of the great hamburger consuming public.

            As for how the fact implies, I have no idea.

          • Curt Day


            Either you misread or I didn’t write clearly. I said it was speculation that they don’t seem troubled. With revelations of what was being used on the beef when making it hamburger came out, I’m sure some customers might have been troubled. In fact, McDonalds dropped the use of Ammonium Hydroxide soon after the revelations came out. Was there any info gathered on what the customers felt? And what of other practices on food prep which we don’t know about

            But what if the speculation is true, what does that imply? Why is customer satisfaction the only factor to be used determine if McDonalds practices are just? Those are the questions I had for John.

        • Marc Vander Maas

          Even if McDonalds contributes greatly to the problem of people putting a higher priority on possessing objects rather than caring for others (“I’m not donating to the orphanage because I need that money to spend on my precious collection of preserved McRib sandwiches!”), why would you assume that McDonalds – or the economic system within which McDonalds operates – is the root of the problem? King – and I’m assuming you’re talking about Martin Luther King, because you’re dropping that name in there without any context that I can find – was diagnosing a SPIRITUAL problem, not an economic one.

    • Joseph Sunde

      I believe I explicitly pointed out that plenty of questions are well warranted on how we respond or think about modern conveniences. I’m not one for blindly marching toward some arbitrary, self-absorbed view of “progress.”

      I would, however, submit that we’re reaching a point where we are /too/ content to ridicule the benefits of prosperity. And, quite ironically, I think such disdain for the “quick and easy” this and that is typically a byproduct of the very “numbing” of which you speak. I can whine about my washer and dryer not being as efficient as Mother Earth deserves, but only because I’ve been numbed into forgetting the degree of toil that goes into washing everything by hand.

      Are questions in order? Certainly. But only one who is “numbed” by the benefits of prosperity can decry something like McDonald’s as a net loss for humanity. For the bulk of human history, a job working for minimum wage at an air-conditioned McDonald’s would’ve be a dream, regardless of whatever inadequacies you might find with the burger content (gasp!). Working at McDonald’s would’ve certainly been seen as a step up for my immigrant grandpa who, not even a century ago, was confined to pitiful wages and long hours at the packing house, or, for that matter, my great-grandpa, who shoveled coal on the railroad.

      How do we come to this point where we bite the hand that has fed us? How do we come to the point of so aggressively ridiculing the benefits of prosperity, which, if we use them wisely, can /enable/ and /empower/ us to do more good for humanity, not less? I’d say it has something to do with being numbed away from the place from which we came.

      So yes, ask the questions, raise the standard, and yadda yadda yadda. But in doing so, let’s not stop appreciating the privileged position from which we prattle. Let’s not be so numbed by prosperity that we fool ourselves into thinking, for example, that the poor could elevate themselves better, or that we might be nobler or purer or more “above all that” without awesome places like McDonald’s.

  • Paul

    Be great to have McDonalds stay away from Tecoma Australia They are not wanted there. Good example of US imperialism I’m afraID

    • RogerMcKinney

      That’s a strange definition of imperialism. Did McD’s land with thousands of troops and shell Tecoma into submission? Does McD’s have a monopoly that forces everyone to buy from them? How do you know McD’s isn’t wanted in Tecoma? Do you mean that if they opened a restaurant no one would buy anything from them and they would go broke?

    • Paul,

      The great thing about a free and civil society is that you get to make an argument against McDonald’s coming to Tecoma. If enough people agree with you then, in a free market, McDonald’s either won’t put in a new restaurant or if they do, it will fail. Either way, your position wins.

      Of course if you do manage to keep McDonald’s out of your market then there will likely be some negative economic consequences as a result. My guess is that these consequences will fall most heavily on the least skilled workers in the area.

      None of this, to extend on Roger’s point below, suggests that McDonald’s is being imperialistic.You may not like their food or their business practices immoral but the do provide value to both their customers, their employees, and suppliers.

      So how is any of this imperialistic?

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  • Ernie Didot

    Round about when McDonalds started serving the breakfast back in the day, I begged and pleaded to be served after breakfast hours. “For the love of all that is good…why not?!!” 25 years+ later and I can’t touch them during any hours or I’ll balloon into Grimace.