Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Burger for Your Buck

If there’s anything Christian that’s been successful mainstream and lauded by the liberal academia, it’s In-N-Out Burger. Although it’s generally analyzed from a secular economic or business perspective, it actually can serve as an important model for Christian behavior and relationships.

The fastfood industry has both perfectly competitive and monopolistically competitive characteristics. Firms rely much on advertising, unique menus, and other tactics to distinguish their products from everyone else’s so that they can exercise some control over the market. However, the restaurants are subject to severe price competition since patrons are often quite willing to substitute one burger for another.

Economics is all about self-interest, meeting the individual’s wants. Although a number of Christians have criticized this outlook applied to both business and personal life, very many, following the tradition of Gary North and other Christian Reconstructionists, see the price mechanism as God’s way for managing market activity. For them, it’s all about competition, and its natural result is producers putting downward pressure on wages to cut costs so they can offer goods and services at competitive prices. Critics of the minimum wage see its legislation as destructive to businesses’ ability to compete and the economy’s ability to operate efficiently. Despite a majority of Christians coming from the working class ranks of society, Christian economic theology has leaned away from the idea that business owners, whether entrepreneurs or large firms, owe their employees a “living wage.” The business’ success is at stake, and that’s the priority in the Christian, as well as the non-Christian, economist’s mind.

What does this have to do with In-N-Out Burger? Well, despite intense competition from other burger joints, it has managed to stand quite firmly on the principles of high quality food and a high wage. Just like the claim “not made in a sweatshop” helps the reputation of firms in the clothing industry, In-N-Out Burger attracts both workers and customers because of its “associate” salaries. Paying every employee in any state above even the City of San Francisco’s minimum wage, the stores out do the average starting wages at competitors like Burger King, Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s, and Wendy’s. Even sister-in-Christ Chick-Fil-A, specializing in chicken sandwiches instead of burgers, doesn’t come close.

Now In-N-Out hasn’t become a far-reaching empire as other chains have, but it’s profitable and well-liked wherever it does goes.* What more could a Christian want than to be successful at his job, appreciated by his customers, and known for motivating his workers to care about producing quality work? Yet, many Christians prefer the rhetoric that people are worth only the going market price and value success in the eyes of the world rather than the admiration of those that toil for them.

*And as any member of a large family of picky eaters knows, they’ll always get your order right!