Blogs > Liberty and Power > What's the beef?

Apr 10, 2004 8:06 pm


What's the beef?



Kevin Drum over at Washingtonmonthly.com writes:

"WEIRD SCIENCE....This story is so weird it defies belief:

The Department of Agriculture refused yesterday to allow a Kansas beef producer to test all of its cattle for mad cow disease, saying such sweeping tests were not scientifically warranted.

The producer, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wanted to use recently approved rapid tests so it could resume selling its fat-marbled black Angus beef to Japan, which banned American beef after a cow slaughtered in Washington State last December tested positive for mad cow. The company has complained that the ban is costing it $40,000 a day and forced it to lay off 50 employees.

....Gary Weber of the cattlemen's association called 100 percent testing misleading to consumers because it would create a false impression that untested beef was not safe. He compared it to demanding that all cars be crash tested to prove they are safe.

....Asked if beef producers did not want to be pressured to imitate Creekstone and pay for more tests, Mr. Weber said it was"absolutely not about the money."

Let me get this straight:

Creekstone wanted to voluntarily test all its own cattle.

They were doing this to respond to demand for tested beef in Japan, a market they wanted to sell into.

The federal government, supposed champion of the free market, refused to allow Creekstone to take this voluntary action.

And the beef spokesman then has the gall to say that this has nothing to do with money. They are just righteous advocates of sound science.

Since when have federal safety regulations prevented someone from voluntarily adopting more stringent measures of their own? Will we be banning Volvos next?

Gus here: A while back Ben and Jerrys was forced to remove a notification that their ice cream did not contain bovine growth hormone because by implication it cast aspersions on those whose milk products did. the chicken industry tried the same with Rocky the Range Hen, but that time they failed.

The greatest threat to the free market is not consumer advocates wanting safety regulations or people wanting social services, it is corporations and their servants in government trying to guarantee special privileges and protections for the economically powerful. By comparison the rest are pikers.


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Gus diZerega - 4/12/2004

My post was aimed at a long tradition in the libertarian movement - of which I was once a very orthodox member - to see most threats to the market as coming from the left, combined with a tendency to glorify business. These weren't universal attitudes, but they were and remain very common ones.

The more I studied politics (I am a political scientist by training and profession) the more impressed I became with the fact that most uses of government to take by force what belonged to others did not come from the average citizen, but came instead from those whose money and position gave them ready access to the halls of power.

Example - the Savings and Loan scandal may well be the largest transfer of money from the middle classes and poor to the politically best connected portion of the wealthy in human history. Welfare payments, even if all were fraudulant and gained in bad faith, were a pittance by comparison.

In terms of clasical liberal theory the problem is this: AS ORGANIZATIONS the instrumental (in Hayek's sense "constructed") organizations that succeed within a spontaneous order such as the market, possess long term interests running at cross purposes to the conditions required for that spontaneous order to survive. They will therefore have a strong tendency to use the resources they control to subvert the conditions that initially won them their wealth because those conditions also threaten to enable a competitor to replace them.

This, it seems to me, is the biggest theoretical problem facing libertarian theory and the tendency to denounce the welfare state or social programs so prevalent among them really is turning a blind eye to where most of the abuses take place.


Michael Meo - 4/11/2004

Let me amend your last sentence: change "The greatest threat to the free market" to "The current government is in the hands of".

Then you are no longer posing a "threat" that's long past happening, or asking rhetorical questions we all know the answers to.