Jan 11 2019

Why we have the FDA and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Upton Sinclair

When Jurgis had first inspected the packing plants with Szedvilas, he had marveled while he listened to the tale of all the things that were made out of the carcasses of animals, and of all the lesser industries that were maintained there; now he found that each one of these lesser industries was a separate little inferno, in its way as horrible as the killing beds, the source and fountain of them all. The workers in each of them had their own peculiar diseases. And the wandering visitor might be skeptical about all the swindles, but he could not be skeptical about these, for the worker bore the evidence of them about on his own person–generally he had only to hold out his hand.

There were the men in the pickle rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle rooms, and he might have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one.

Of the butchers and floorsmen, the beef-boners and trimmers, and all those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who had the use of his thumb; time and time again the base of it had been slashed, till it was a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. The hands of these men would be criss-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails,–they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan.

There were men who worked in the cooking rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply was renewed every hour. There were the beef-luggers, who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; a fearful kind of work, that began at four o’clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years.

There were those who worked in the chilling rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time limit that a man could work in the chilling rooms was said to be five years.

There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hand chopped off.

There were the “hoisters,” as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham’s architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees.

Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor,–for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,–sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

It was intended as a screed against the scandalous exploitation of the working class by Gilded Age Oligarchs but most people read it and said-

Ooh. Ick.

Trump’s Big Libertarian Experiment
By Paul Krugman, The New York Times
Jan. 10, 2019

“Government,” declared Ronald Reagan in his first Inaugural Address, “is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Republicans have echoed his rhetoric ever since. Somehow, though, they’ve never followed through on the radical downsizing of government their ideology calls for.

But now Donald Trump is, in effect, implementing at least part of the drastic reduction in government’s role his party has long claimed to favor. If the shutdown drags on for months — which seems quite possible — we’ll get a chance to see what America looks like without a number of public programs the right has long insisted we don’t need. Never mind the wall; think of what’s going on as a big, beautiful libertarian experiment.

Seriously, it’s striking how many of the payments the federal government is or soon will be failing to make are for things libertarians insist we shouldn’t have been spending taxpayer dollars on anyway.

For example, federal checks to farmers aren’t going out ­— but libertarian organizations like the Cato Institute have long denounced farm subsidies as just another form of crony capitalism.

Businesspeople are furious that the Small Business Administration isn’t making loans — but libertarians want to see the whole agency abolished.

If the shutdown extends into March — which, again, seems entirely possible — money for food stamps will dry up. But Republicans have long been deeply hostile to the food stamp program. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has denounced the program for “making it excessively easy to be nonproductive.”

The shutdown has drastically curtailed work at the Food and Drug Administration, which among other things tries to prevent food contamination: Routine inspections of seafood, vegetables, fruits and other foods have stopped. But there’s a long conservative tradition, going back to Milton Friedman, that condemns the F.D.A.’s existence as an unwarranted interference in the free market.

Strange to say, however, neither the Trump administration nor its congressional allies are celebrating the actual or prospective termination of government services their ideology says shouldn’t exist. Instead, they’re engaged in frantic administrative and legal maneuvering in an attempt to mitigate those program cuts. Why?

O.K., we shouldn’t be completely cynical (cynical, yes, but not completely so). Even where there’s a government-free solution to a problem, you might worry that it would take time to set up. Maybe you believe that private companies could take over the F.D.A.’s role in keeping food safe, but such companies don’t exist now and can’t be conjured up in a matter of weeks. So even true libertarians wouldn’t necessarily celebrate a sudden government shutdown.

That said, the truth is that libertarian ideology isn’t a real force within the G.O.P.; it’s more of a cover story for the party’s actual agenda.

In the case of the party establishment, that agenda is about redistributing income up the scale, and in particular helping important donor interests. Republican politicians may invoke the rhetoric of free markets to justify cutting taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor, or removing environmental regulations that hurt polluters’ profits, but they don’t really care about free markets per se. After all, the party had little problem lining up behind Trump’s embrace of tariffs.

Meanwhile, the philosophy of the party’s base is, in essence, big government for me but not for thee. Stick it to the bums on welfare, but don’t touch those farm subsidies. Tellingly, the centerpiece of the long G.O.P. jihad against Obamacare was the false claim that it would hurt Medicare.

And as it happens, many of the spending cuts being forced by the shutdown fall heavily and obviously on base voters. Small business owners are much more conservative than the nation as a whole, but they really miss those government loans. Rural voters went Republican during a Democratic midterm blowout, but they want those checks. McConnell may have trash-talked food stamps in the past, but a sudden cutoff would have a catastrophic effect on the most Republican parts of his home state.

The one piece of the shutdown that Republicans seem fairly calm about is the nonpayment of federal workers. Maybe the party believes, like Trump, that these workers are mainly Democrats. But when the effects of nonpayment start to bite, even that indifference may disappear.

In any case, while the gap between Republicans’ supposed ideology and their actual reaction to the shutdown is understandable, that doesn’t make it innocent. If a party is going to claim, year after year, to believe that government is the problem, not the solution, then complain bitterly when the government stops handing out checks, attention should be paid.

And if you have libertarian leanings yourself, you should ask whether you’re happy with what’s happening with government partially out of the picture. Knowing that the food you’re eating is now more likely than before to be contaminated, does that potential contamination smell to you like freedom?

Or, as Atrios (who is also an Economist, just not a Nobel Prize winning one) says-

There are some things that rich people can’t realistically protect themselves from, without an absurd amount of inconvenience. Sure you don’t have to live next to a superfund site, but living in a bubbled dome, solely, even if affordable, is pretty inconvenient. Gotta breathe the air the rest of us do, sometimes, unless you want to be bubble boy. Kinda hard to establish an alternative food supply system, too.