Ask an Ethicist: Expanding Fast-Food Outlets

Just to be clear, I wrote both the question and answer for this.

Question: I’m a CEO of a large fast-food chain. Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act) requires me to provide health insurance to employees working more than 30 hours each week. Providing insurance is expensive and I would rather not have to hire so many part-time workers to avoid providing benefits. If Obamacare is not repealed, I won’t be able to expand and create more jobs. How can I ethically expand my business without incurring more expenses?

Answer: Any law that prevents you from opening more outlets should be expanded, but that’s just my opinion. Limiting the number of restaurants you open will encourage locally-owned businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to open their own establishments serving their friends and neighbors. Chains such as yours destroy local economies and limit workers to minimum-wage jobs with no benefits.

What happens as a result of your not offering health insurance and other benefits? The most obvious consequence is that your employees are likely to not be able to go to the doctor, so they will be sicker, and they will come to work sick because you also do not offer them sick time. Having employees work while they are sick might help explain why noroviruses spread so quickly, but I don’t guess you are concerned with that.

Keeping employees part-time to avoid giving them benefits also means that they must work more than one job in order to survive. This in turn means they are not available to their families and cannot pursue further education. The system you want to maintain keeps workers sick, uneducated, tired, and disconnected. While having a constant pool of desperate job applicants probably sounds like a business bonanza to you, it has consequences. If you haven’t noticed, societies filled with people unable to develop personally and professionally, care for themselves, or seek leisure activities are unhappy societies, and that affects everyone.

What would happen if you provided health insurance? Your employees could afford to work only one job. You could have a more stable workforce, meaning your employees would be more reliable, better trained, and more prepared for advancement. It would mean your employees could get treatment for illnesses and come to work in better health. If you and other businesses provided health insurance, it would mean workers would have more income. More money for workers means expanding markets. And that means you may be able to open a few more outlets after all.

Seeking Truth through Social Media

Not too many years ago, serious people were holding workshops and seminars touting the transformative power of social media. Twitter and Facebook were new tools that could expose more people to critical information about politics and social justice, raise awareness of suffering and human rights abuses, and organize activists to check and even overthrow tyrannical governments. Now, those same serious people mock online “slacktivists” who think for a moment that Tweeting or sharing on Facebook does anything to make the world a better place.truth

So much difference a few years can make. It didn’t take long for government and corporations to seize control (or tighten control, as they already controlled the entire system) of the information flow on the Internet. Worse, government agencies, police forces, and corporate legal departments used information from social media to track and punish activists.

Worse still, various groups for diverse reasons poisoned the supply of information on the Internet till it was next to impossible to separate factual information, propaganda, satire, and hoaxes. Enough professional journalists from respected news outlets have been exposed for plagiarism and fabrication to make readers and viewers suspicious of all news outlets, and some people now actually believe that propaganda mills are more reliable than once-trusted journalistic outlets.

Further, accusations of plagiarism, ghostwriting, and fraud have even plagued scientific and medical journals, raising legitimate suspicions about the reliability of scientific literature. With major papers being retracted in large numbers in pharmaceutical and medical journals, it becomes more believable for some that climate scientists may be perpetuating some kind of elaborate hoax. While experts are clearly more qualified to evaluate the quality of scientific data than untrained observers, sadly, most people feel they are quite competent to pass judgment on scientific work. “Everyone has a right to an opinion” has become, “All opinions should be taken equally seriously.”

In spite of constant assaults on truth, we still share information, because that is part of what humans do. The human appetite for information has resulted in some positive developments. Scientists are demanding more transparency and data sharing. Independent groups are publicizing retractions, publishing data that contradicts earlier published reports, and demanding that funding sources be revealed. Journalists are holding each other and public officials to greater scrutiny, and many are realizing the importance of good investigative journalism. And members of the “general public” are taking greater care to check sources and look at new information skeptically.

Still, misleading information such as propaganda often comes from powerful sources, and it will not go away. Perhaps, though, we will see a revival of skeptical inquiry and analysis. Perhaps more people will begin to follow the advice to hold beliefs only in proportion to the available evidence.

In the meantime, I see no reason to mock those who find information and post it on social media, even if that is all they do for the cause. Social media “slactivism” may seem like the least one can possibly do, but for some it is also the most they can do. If someone doesn’t have the time, energy, or skills to do more, then so be it.