What 90 Years Of Failure Can Teach Us: (Not) Learning From History

The Huffington Post is a like an oil-drum chock full of stupid, and somewhere inside are some tiny grains of good writing and reporting. Regina Weiss saw a big ocean of dumb and decided “I CAN DO THAT! I CAN DO IT NINE TIMES! I CAN BE THE STOOPIDEST!”

ReginaWeissDog Thinks Keith Olbermann is reasonable and rational.

Dumb it down for us, Regina:

In 1919 the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported to President Woodrow Wilson on a months-long investigation that produced seven volumes of evidence related to anti-competitive practices in the meat packing industry, at that time dominated by the “Big Five” companies Armour, Swift, Morris, Wilson and Cudahy Packing. That investigation revealed “an intricate fabric of monopolies, controls, trusts, combinations, conspiracies or restraints [of trade]” underpinning the “huge profits” of the Big Five and, two years later, resulted in Congress passing the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA).

So five private companies controlled most (but not all) of a market. On average, each company controlled roughly 20%.

While the Act gave the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to regulate the meatpacking industry in order to “protect farmers, ranchers, and consumers,” the major change from 1919 until now has been an increase in consolidation, with the “Big Five” mega-meatpacking companies currently reduced to just four – JBS (a Brazilian company that in 2007 purchased Swift, then the third largest US meat packer), Tyson, Cargill and National Beef – that today control more than 80 percent of the beef and pork produced in the United States and beyond.

Ninety-one years of major invasive government regulation has resulted in four major companies controlling on average, 20% of the market. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I haven’t eaten meat for more than two decades, but I’m smart enough to be terrified by that fact.

This doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Read literally, she’s saying vegetarianism is dumb. Is she trying to argue that vegetarianism makes you super brave? That meat has some kind of courage-sapping magic? And what exactly is she terrified of? That the “big meat” (ed note: heh heh) market share has stayed constant? Or just that some companies are effective at producing beef and pork? The implication we’re supposed to draw is that no company can control one fifth of a market without being some kind of cartoonishly evil, Legion-of-Doom cabal of planet-raping hotdog magnates. Fuck that noise.

Market-share, by itself, is a stupid thing to worry about. Apple controls only 6% of the personal computer market. Sam Adams controls 0.5% of the American (not even international!) beer market. These numbers don’t tell us anything about the markets.

This is just like the old argument, which Tim Cavanaugh blew up (again) recently:

How do libertarians propose to respond to the power of large enterprises?

There is a pretty standard libertoid response to this old chestnut, which one commenter in a sea of anti-lib hate hits on: When you can find a monopoly that exists without the support of the government, ask me then. I’d add that the biggest monopolies — on mail delivery; air, sea and land traffic control; education; use of public (and in many cases private) space; gambling; lotteries; and marriage licenses, to name a few — are not just in cahoots with the government but are actual government entities.

Weiss misses Wilsonian style “passionate and direct language to describe any kind of corporate avarice”, and argues that progressives need “frank assessment and a passionate enforcement of the law” to fix these evils. Fair enough. But then she plops out this closing paragraph which totally undermines her entire premise:

On August 6, 1919, the US Department of Justice announced there would be a series of lawsuits filed in response to the FTC’s investigative report on anti-trust violations by the Big Five meat packers. The next day, The New York Times reported, “agents of the packers have been in Washington for several days.” There they have remained ever since, lining the pockets of lobbyists and the coffers of candidates. So today, as ever, the question is not whether the Administration has the ability or authority to bust up the meat monopoly, but whether it has the guts, political will and independence to do the job.

Spoiler alert; no. As a call to arms, her piece is fine. As a policy proposal, it’s ridiculous. Learn from failure, people.

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