Skip to comments.Manufacturing a Burger
Posted on 02/29/2004 8:21:15 AM PST by cp124
It's a stretch
By MATT WICKENHEISER, Portland Press Herald Writer
Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles (and) onions on a sesame-seed bun might make an American classic, the Big Mac, but are they steps in a manufacturing process?
That's the question raised in the Economic Report of the President, given to Congress recently. In the manufacturing chapter, President George W. Bush's economists suggest that the government's definition of "manufacturing" is vague, which might affect policy-making and even provide factory tax breaks for fast-food businesses.
"When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?" the authors questioned.
The question led to criticism of the administration from Democrats and jokes on late-night television, but White House spokesman Ken Lisaius stressed that the report didn't suggest that making a pizza or cheeseburger was in any way manufacturing, or that fast-food jobs should be considered such.
"It raises a point that policy shouldn't be based on arbitrary classifications," Lisaius told the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. "The report does not say that classification should be changed, only that it's a slippery slope, if you will, when reviewing policy."
Even so, the idea that hamburger production is on the same hill, slippery or not, as paper-making hits something of a nerve in Maine.
The sector has suffered severe job losses - 30,900 since December of 1990, including 15,700 in just the three years prior to December 2003.
Despite these losses, the state still has a strong manufacturing base of more than 60,000 goods-producing jobs, with shipbuilding, paper, semiconductors and wood products a big part of the economy. Mainers know what manufacturing is and what it isn't, and they are as amused as the late-night hosts that the two might ever be confused.
Making pizzas and subs isn't manufacturing, no matter how closely you follow the recipes, said Tony Barrasso, owner of Anthony's Italian Kitchen in the Old Port.
"Open this can, add this spice, put the garlic in - I don't see that as being manufacturing," said Barrasso, from behind the counter at Anthony's. "I think we're food preparers."
To be sure, there are some steps involved in food service - five main steps to putting together most of the McDonald's sandwiches, explained Brenda Nueslein, manager at the McDonald's Express on Congress Street in Portland: Take the bun, toast it, dress the bun (mustard, ketchup, pickles, onions, "cheese if they want it; if they don't, they don't") put it together, wrap it, send it up to the customer.
But that's not manufacturing, said Nueslein.
On a basic level, there may be some similarity, said Thomas Healy, general manager at Nichols Portland, a manufacturing plant that makes 30 million to 35 million gears for automotive pumps a year.
"They take frozen fries and they cook them. They have to assemble the hamburgers, there's several different pieces," said Healy. "They have to cook it, we have to bake our steel parts . . . "
Of course, said Healy, some of Nichols' part specifications are more exact - to the micron-level; a micron is .001 millimeters - than in fast-food kitchens.
Another difference is in the number of steps to make a hamburger, say, versus the number of processes needed to produce a computer chip. Between 200 and 350 steps have to be taken to make a microprocessor, said Anne Gauthier, public affairs manager for the National Semiconductor plant in South Portland.
"The tooling required to make semiconductors is a lot more sophisticated. (It's) computer-controlled, very highly mechanized and integrated with other parts of equipment," said Gauthier. "It's an automated line where wafers are being moved from piece of equipment to piece of equipment, and the equipment can cost from a low of $1 million to a high of $10 million."
Jim Raffel, owner of the Arby's on Forest Avenue, questioned the motivation behind even theoretically linking manufacturing to fast food.
"(It's) to make statistics look better," said Raffel. "The fact is, fast-food restaurants do not pay as much as manufacturing."
Raffel's concerns were echoed by U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine.
"I would think it's odd, to say the least, that they would even raise the question," said Allen. "This doesn't say this, but are they thinking about expanding manufacturing so their job numbers look better?"
Of course, calling fast-food jobs manufacturing positions would go a long way toward turning around Maine's goods-producing sector. In 2002, 13,720 Mainers flipped burgers, flung pizzas or deep-fried chicken - just 4,080 fewer than the number of manufacturing jobs lost in the last few years, according to state statistics.
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, has already lambasted Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, for statements made recently regarding the benefits that can come with moving work overseas. Michaud has called for Mankiw's resignation, and the fast-food comparison just put more fat on the fire for the Maine congressman, who worked in a paper mill before his election.
"It was absolutely outrageous that the Economic Report of the President released last week praised outsourcing American jobs overseas as good for the economy. It borders on the complete absurd that this same report (speculates about whether) working in a fast-food restaurant (could be) a 'manufacturing' job," said Michaud in a written statement. "Just tell that to the 24,000 manufacturing workers who have lost their manufacturing jobs in Maine since the passage of the North America Free Trade Agreement."
Maine's two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, did not respond to requests for comment.
Lisaius, the White House spokesman, said the issue had been misrepresented nationally by people wanting to politicize the report. He said there had been talks on Capitol Hill regarding whether the government could better define which people work in manufacturing, but the White House has only raised the question in its report and hasn't offered any input toward the legislative discussion.
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791- 6316 or at:
Yes, I know that bottle caps are now done by machine and that "Laverne and Shirley" were probably laid off around 1967 after which they married Lenny and Squiggly and got divorced and then went on welfare because they were too stupid to get another job doing something else. But I digress. Anyway, in a few short years, fast food places like McDonalds and Burger King will have machines "assembling" our hamburgers as well.
Is this thing on? Thank you, I'll be here all week....
Only if the minimum wage rises to the point where machines are cheaper...
If you want to tell me that a country that has for decades specified the diameter of holes in Swiss Cheese has not had a concrete definition for the word "manufacturing" - then I've got a bridge I'd like to sell ya!
These are not the types of issues that would surface in a nation that's on an economic rebound.
Not so far fetched. Some McDonalds already do this now at the drive inwindow with soft drinks. The order is put into the cash register, the machine is notified by the computer in the register, and the cups run down a conveyor system that fills them with ice, then the appropriate soft drink and puts them at the window for the attendant to hand out. No humans involved except putting the cups and syrup in the machine on the input side and taking the finished product off of the output side to hand to the customer. It's a really neat system, BUT, here is the question: Should the production of the soft drinks by the 'manufacturing' process of the machine be considered manufacturing in the same way as making that machine? Not to my way of thinking.
Of course it is. I dont know what/how McDs does things, but Ive done maintenance at another large (regional, at the time) fast food joint. Nobody prepares much of anything as it has been pre-prepared.
All the burgers were formed, partially cooked, the frozen and packaged for shipment to the retail locations. All the potatoes were washed, cut, partially fried, broken into fryer-sized portions, bagged and frozen for shipment same for onion rings, tater tots and everything else. The chili for the hot dogs is already pre-made and canned..
All they do at the restaurant is move a couple of boxes of patties from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before theyll be (partially) thawed the next am. Theyll slap a patty on the grill for 100 120 seconds, flip it for another 90 seconds or so at which point it will be heated through and properly cooked for consumption its designed to work that way.
Theyll put a fryer basket on the rack, dump a bag of fries in it, dunk the basket, hit a button, and when the buzzer goes off theyre hot and finished cooking. Specifically designed to be done that way to make things idiot-proof and give the customer some degree of consistency across the chain.
You dont have some kid in back forming patties by hand and cooking them to order. Youll literally have a production line that does nothing but take ground beef and produces case after case (and pallet after pallet) of frozen, partially cooked patties, etc, designed specifically to be quickly finished at the retail location for consumption. If that does not constitute manufacturing
In fact, about the only preparation that takes place is using a stainless lunchmeat-type slicer to slice lettuce, onions, tomatoes that they did do at the individual locations.
I thought Shirley's boyfriend was Carmine, "The Big Ragoo." Did they break up?
Not to worry...we will "Outsource" Shrub's "cheese" to Crawford about 4 PM January 20, 2005!!!
Why not call motel maids cleaning dirty rooms "manufacturing"? After all, they're processing blankets, stacking bedsheets in a different order and changing the chemical character of the toilets! And, aren't they making a product somebody can "use"?
This “fact” about Bush equating MCD with manufacturing was mentioned by some dimwits recently. He and his people (Gregory Mankiw, specifically) have been lied about more than just about anyone I can think of. This is the actual quote, in context. He was commenting on what is, now, not trying to change any definition. Never trust liberals... PP 73-74 “Box 2-2:What Is Manufacturing?
The value of the output of the U.S. manufacturing sector as defined
in official U.S. statistics is larger than the economies of all but a
handful of other countries. The definition of a manufactured product,
however, is not straightforward. When a fast-food restaurant sells a
hamburger, for example, is it providing a service or is it combining
inputs to manufacture a product?
The official definition of manufacturing comes from the Census
Bureaus North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS.
NAICS classifies all business establishments in the United States into
categories based on how their output is produced. One such category
is manufacturing. NAICS classifies an establishment as in the manu-
facturing sector if it is engaged in the mechanical, physical, or
chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into
This definition is somewhat unspecific, as the Census Bureau has
recognized: The boundaries of manufacturing and other sectors can
be somewhat blurry. Some (perhaps surprising) examples of manufac-
turers listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are: bakeries, candy stores,
custom tailors, milk bottling and pasteurizing, fresh fish packaging
(oyster shucking, fish filleting), and tire retreading. Sometimes, seem-
ingly subtle differences can determine whether an industry is classified
as manufacturing. For example, mixing water and concentrate to
produce soft drinks is classified as manufacturing. However, if that
activity is performed at a snack bar, it is considered a service.
The distinction between non-manufacturing and manufacturing
industries may seem somewhat arbitrary but it can play an important
role in developing policy and assessing its effects. Suppose it was
decided to offer tax relief to manufacturing firms. Because the manu-
facturing category is not well defined, firms would have an incentive
to characterize themselves as in manufacturing. Administering the tax
relief could be difficult, and the tax relief may not extend to the firms
for which it was enacted.
For policy makers, the blurriness of the definition of manufacturing
means that policy aimed at manufacturing may inadvertently distort
production and have unintended and harmful results. Whenever
possible, policy making should not be based upon this type of
arbitrary statistical delineation. “ http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy05/pdf/2004_erp.pdf