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The Great Burger Battle

Sports bore me but I can’t get enough of the great burger battle. McDonald’s reported sales increases of 4.8 last month. Most of the increases are overseas but it is no surprise that its domestic sales are solid as can be.

Their new coffees, which now include frozen drinks, are a close competitor to Starbucks, and in buying them you don’t have to endure a lecture about how you are doing your part to save the planet.

For breakfast, you can get a traditional biscuit or croissant with sausage or move into the new line that includes a fruit parfait for a buck (how is this possible?) or an apple-walnut salad. This stuff is amazing.

And I would compare their Angus burger next to any hamburger in a fancy restaurant that costs twice as much.

This is a company that knows how to market, how to adapt, how to change. And in my town, the McDonald’s is the happiest place around. They offer wi-fi and smiling employees who are quick with a quip and a smile. The place is full of energy and life and is teeming with the sense of progress.

Meanwhile, Burger King’s sales slipped 8.2% in January and February. Corporate headquarters blames bad weather. They ought to be looking more carefully at their menu. They are only now catching up to the wonderful Angus Burger with a new offering called a steakburger or something like that. But even now, they lack the coffees and fruity breakfast choices.

Still, there is something to admire about both companies. They are responsive to the consumer, and the employees at both places must deal with the most demanding consumers you can imagine. If only one thing goes wrong, they are going to hear about it. People demand more ketchup than they will use, fill up their drinks eight times, and start yelling if the meal they ordered doesn’t appear in 10 seconds.

To be sure, there is a strange way in which Burger King is the benefactor of McDonalds and visa versa. The existence of competition inspires emulation (good!) and the striving for excellence (good!) and an overall increase in the demand for the product they both offer. So, yes, they are competitors but they are also cooperators in a great industry.

It always amazes me how demanding Americans can be toward private enterprise. Everything must be 100% correct or the customer flips out. But put these same people in line at the post office or the customs line at the airport and they become complacent slaves doing everything they are told. They don’t even complain about it.

It’s as if our expectations are different and we are okay with that. We expect the government to be slow, rude, abusive, unreasonable, and unresponsive and we adapt ourselves to that and figure that this is what is necessary for security or the general welfare or whatever. We let them have our money and our lives and call it a day.

But when we enter private businesses, we have the opposite way about us. Everything must go our way. We suffer no fools. We demand to speak to the management right now! and so on. Yes, it is bizarre, but it is part of the socialization we endure in our mixed economic system. We live double lives – one for the real economy and one for the phony economy.

One nice step would be to at least allow the same level of competition in public services that we have in private services. Where is the McDonalds vs. the Burger King when it comes to the Customs Bureau or the Courthouse? It would not be a real market but at least it would interject some life into this static world of the public sector. And yet, it remains as Mises said: there is no real competition without prices and private property. All the rest is just playing market. The burger companies are struggling every day to get ahead. It is a glorious thing to see, and a model for the way the entire world ought to work.


Contact Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder of the Brownstone Institute and an independent editorial consultant.