Would you like a combined input with that?

By Geraldine Sealey
Published February 23, 2004 10:50PM (UTC)
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If ketchup is a vegetable, slapping some on a burger at McDonald's just might fit the definition of manufacturing. At least that's what the Bush administration hopes. N. Gregory Mankiw, chair of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, and the man who infuriated many American workers when he said recently that outsourcing could be good for the economy, has laid another rhetorical and political landmine with the curious suggestion that classifying fast-food workers as "manufacturers" was "an important consideration" in creating economic policy.

Mankiw made the statement in reference to this excerpt of the president's economic report: "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 report asks. (You tell us.) "Sometimes, seemingly 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."


This gem is the latest to be unearthed from the president's economic report -- the same one that contained the controversial outsourcing language and the jobs creation estimate that members of Bush's own Cabinet and the White House spokesman backed away from because it was so misleading.

In response to the McJobs-as-manufacturing assertion, Democratic Rep. John Dingell (Mich.) wrote this sassy letter to Mankiw. Will special sauce now be counted as a durable good, Dingell wonders? "I am sure the 163,000 factory workers who have lost their jobs in Michigan will find it heartening to know that a world of opportunity awaits them in high growth manufacturing careers like spatula operator, napkin restocking and lunch tray removal," he said.

Why bother recategorizing fast food anyway? The Center for American Progress says it will help the White House put a better spin on its dismal record with jobs and the economy: "In the face of [dipping poll] numbers, stagnating wages, and lackluster job creation, the Bush Administration has responded not with a new economic policy, but with an effort to simply change the way statistics are counted. Under this scenario, the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs might be blurred because some of those jobs have been replaced by lower-paying fast food jobs." The Progress Report cartoon lampoons this latest Bush administration affront to American workers.

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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