Tuesday, April 5, 2011

McDonaldization

This is a term that has been put forth by George Ritzer, a sociologist who has studied American culture and published the book The McDonaldization of Society in 1993. The idea is that the values of a place like McDonald's have been applied to our society and culture as a whole: immediate, cheap, one-size-fits-all solutions.

These values have become so ingrained in our society that people have come to expect immediacy in everything, from internet downloads and news to political decision-making and economic recovery. Consider the kind of things that are most widely labeled as "progress" in our political sphere today: stop-gap budgets, piles of spending cuts, lowered taxes for the rich and businesses, and the application of moral conservatism as a tool for economic redirection. None of these solutions bring long-term prosperity and can actually be financially ruinous in the long run.

Consider the economic ramifications of cutting medicaid or privatizing social security and entitlements. The burden of these expenses are then relegated to the people who buy into them, limiting the money they can spend to stimulate the economy as a whole, which reduces profits for business and drives down the economy. Given enough time, the decisions being made and actions being carried out on the federal level will likely result in a worse situation, or at least one that is not as easily remedied. There are only so many cuts you can make, only so low you can put taxes before the country starts literally and figuratively falling apart.

McDonaldization has reached the minds of Americans as well. One of the reasons people are dissatisfied with Obama and the government is that the economic recovery does not seem to be going as quickly as expected. In fact, it's been doing very well, with unemployment at it's lowest in two years and businesses posting record profits again. The very best economists have said that the economy will not fully recover for at least ten years, and possibly many more. But that's not what people have been taught to expect. They have learned,  by the example of our fast-paced market, to expect immediacy in all things. We have been conditioned by our media and culture to expect things as soon as we think of them. We value speed and short-term answers more than long-term solutions.

Consider the societal impact of McDonaldization the next time you hear a politician talking about shoring up the economy, cutting taxes to stimulate job growth, or cutting entitlements to help balance the budget. Ask yourself why there is no discussion of the long-term impacts of these decisions and why no one thinks more than a year ahead anymore.

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