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Exposing the meatpacking myth

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Wheylous Posted: Tue, Nov 29 2011 10:14 PM

I've written up a first draft of my exposé on the meatpacking myth:

Thoughts? Critiques?

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Jargon replied on Tue, Nov 29 2011 10:27 PM

After a first read I thought it looked good. Except you're saying George Kolko when you really mean Gabriel Kolko. Not sure where you got the george part from.

Land & Liberty

The Anarch is to the Anarchist what the Monarch is to the Monarchist. -Ernst Jünger

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Runyan replied on Wed, Nov 30 2011 1:07 AM

Any sources or examples of the mainstream account? Otherwise it seems kinda straw man-y.

First name needs fixed, also in the last paragraph you state "George Kolko, another socialist," after previously stating "George Kolko, himself a socialist"; don't really need to emphasize that he was a socialist multiple times.

You might want to read/quote/source Upton Sinclair’s article in Everybody's Magazine Volume 14 "The Condemned Meat Industry: A Reply to Mr. J. Ogden Armour" and maybe even the Armour article he's replying to, which I believe is a direct source for meat industry bigwig stating he wants regulation. (sorry don't have link handy for that one)

In that article Sinclair does a good job at summing up the cartel:

“The Federal inspection of meat was, historically, established at the packers' request; that it is maintained and paid for by the people of the United States for the benefit of the packers; that men wearing the blue uniforms and brass buttons of the United States service are employed for the purpose of certifying to the nations of the civilized world that all the diseased and tainted meat which happens to come into existence in the United States of America is carefully sifted and consumed by the American people...I might say this also: that the laws regulating the inspection of meat were written by the packers, and written by the packers for the express purpose of making this whole condemned-meat industry impossible of prevention.” (emphasis belongs to Sinclair)

*I personally tend to think that most of the people who attack the meat myth by attacking Sinclair's credibility regarding the sanitary conditions do themselves a bit of a dis-service, or at least it's unneeded and distracts from the main issue - the regulation supported cartel.  Even if conceding his claims regarding bad conditions, the main point stands - that the inspections grant a seal of approval to bad meat for both overseas sales and competition against uninspected domestic meat (local and small butchers/packers)  

It's my personal conjecture that it has been one government action after another that sets the stage for the Chicago centralized packer cartel; in the 1840's Cincinnati was the primary meat packing city, then comes railroad subsidy boom which leads to Chicago becoming a major hub, followed by the Civil War which puts pressure on industry to get away from the chaos, so no big surprise that after the war Chicago is the main packing town.  Later on, but before Sinclair, Armour & Co is awarded a contract to sell 500,000 lbs of beef to the army during the Spanish American War, in which there is a scandal of them selling rotten meat and poisoning soldiers.  Sanitary conditions or not, Armour and the other members of the "Beef Trust" enjoyed, both directly and indirectly, the benefits of government action and regulation at the expense of the American taxpayer and all  consumers.

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Wheylous replied on Wed, Nov 30 2011 8:55 AM

I fixed the "George" issue. I have no clue where that came from. I also realize that the citations are atrocious, but I wanted to get this out first and then fix it up.

Runyan, I am beginning to see the Gilded Age as much more complex than commonly thought, even among libertarians (many of whom, I must concede, likely don't do much homework on their beliefs).

Here's the thing: there is a mix of three conditions:

1) There was not, as is commonly believed, laissez-faire

2) The elements of the free market that did remain helped to improve the nation

3) The government elements hindered the benefits of the free market elements

How do these play into the meatpacking issue? Well, first of all according to my research above the meatpacking conditions were not actually that bad. Hence, the meatpackers could possibly be absolved of the claims made against them. Yet at the same time, the packers were actually seeking government help to control the markets.

The emergent role of my research is hence to show that free market elements did not cause evil, but instead that corporate-government collusion did.

That's why it appears important to me to get the truth on the sanitary issue and on the lobbying issue.

Furthermore, I have not yet discussed the antitrust allegations against the packers, which make the picture even more complex. First, the small packers tried to control the big ones (which, it appears, became big at least partly because of their efficient creation of byproducts, and were hence efficient), then the big ones turned around and wanted to push down the small ones.

I shall read those articles as I continue to expand my article.

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Thank you for the work you've done so far on this topic, it's very useful. 

However, I actually came here looking for information in regards to the labour safety regulations in meat packing. My girlfriend is doing a reading for her medical anthropology course and I realized that there isn't all that much out there regarding this side of the issue from libertarians. What you've put up regarding the regulation of the health and sanitation of the product is great, but where is the information regarding labour safety regulations? 

Just to reiterate, though I'm sure you know already what I'm looking for; the standard account seems to be that labour safety regulation was put in place, headed by the OSHA, to stem the number of injuries in these meat packing facilities. Her reading seems, not to surround, but to take account of many failures of regulatory agencies. An example of this is that the OSHA had required that companies keep an injury log, which would be the stardard by which the agency would choose to do inspections. IBP, one such company, simply kept two logs, one real one, and one fake one. When the inspector came, they would show them the fake, low scoring log, and they wouldn't be inspected. When this was charged of them in court, they denied it outright. However, the logs were later discovered by the regulators. They never found him guilty of anything specific, citing that they didn't have enough grounds to prove that he had "wilfully lied". He was never charged, but the company was fined just under 6 million dollars. The fine was then reduced to some 900,000 dollars when IBP agreed to participate in some sort of safety project by the regulator. 

If you can even refer me to any sources of said information, I would be very grateful. 


Chris Laforest

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Clayton replied on Thu, Dec 13 2012 8:42 PM

Post a summary on VR when you're done, with the link to the Wiki entry.

Clayton -
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Wheylous replied on Thu, Dec 13 2012 10:23 PM

Hey, Chris - I'm afraid I do not know much about labor safety historically at the time. I remember reading that there was only one guy who actually fell in a vat and he was fished out immediately (contrary to Sinclair's portrayal).

As to OSHA, you might find this source useful:

Government Failure versus Market Failure


Considerable empirical evidence, including time series studies by Bartel
and Thomas (1985), Viscusi (1986), and Smith (1992) and simulations by
Kniesner and Leeth (1999), indicates OSHA regulations and enforcement
have had a modest effect, at best, and often a statistically insignificant effect
on the workplace accident rate. Gray and Scholz (1993) contended that
researchers have tended to underestimate OSHA’s impact on safety, but
their quantitative estimates are actually quite similar to Viscusi’s.

Among other sources.

I wish I could help some more. I will be getting two history books for Christmas, so that might help a little bit, but it will likely be too late.

There is some info on OSHA here:

For general libertarian perspectives on issues, use to search.

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