Monday, August 18, 2008

Blurring the Lines Between Business and Government

"Since the dawn of the Progressive Era, reformers have constructed an army of straw men, conjured a maelstrom of myths, to justify blurring the lines between business and government. According to civics textbooks, Upton Sinclair and his fellow muckrakers unleashed populist rage against the cruel excesses of the meatpacking industry, and as a result Teddy Roosevelt and his fellow progressives boldly reined in an industry run amok. The same story repeats itself for the accomplishments of other muckrakers, including the pro-Mussolini icons Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens. This narrative lives on as generations of journalism students dream of exposing corporate malfeasance and prompting government-imposed "reform."

The problem is that it's totally untrue, a fact Sinclair freely acknowledged. "The Federal inspection of meat was, historically, established at the packers' request," Sinclair wrote in 1906. "It is maintained and paid for by the people of the United States for the benefit of the packers." The historian Gabriel Kolko concurs: "The reality of the matter, of course, is that the big packers were warm friends of regulation, especially when it primarily affected their innumerable small competitors." A spokesman for "Big Meat" (as we might call it today) told Congress, "We are now and have always been in favor of the extension of the inspection, also to the adoption of the sanitary regulations that will insure the very best possible conditions." The meatpacking conglomerates knew that federal inspection would become a marketing tool for their products and, eventually, a minimum standard. Small firms and butchers who'd earned the trust of consumers would be forced to endure onerous compliance costs, while large firms not only could absorb the costs more easily but would be able to claim their products were superior to uncertified meats."

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning,

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