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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:A Sham Argument Against "Deregulation"

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"You say industry can regulate itself? Prove it," thunders the title of a recent editorial in the New York Times, before making great hay of a implied failure of a government pilot program to change how hogs are inspected in slaughterhouses.

So, for starters, we aren't actually talking about industrial self-policing, aka deregulation.

Now, let's look at the standard of proof we are to adopt before we change or jettison an inspection regime the Grey Lady admits is "out of date:"

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via Pixabay, license.
The system of slaughterhouse regulation is out of date. The industry has succeeded over time in sharply reducing the kinds of problems visible from the slaughterhouse floor -- the government says its health inspectors increasingly are policing aesthetic issues -- but the incidence of some illnesses caused by pork consumption has stopped falling.


The Clinton administration agreed in 1997 to let five hog plants adopt the inspection system that the Trump administration wants to embrace for the whole industry. In 2013, the Agriculture Department's inspector general reported that the pilot program had not demonstrably improved food safety. In response, the government defended the new system as no worse than the old one. [links omitted, bold added]
But there is "some evidence of increased risk:" During a span of four years, the five processing plants in the program were cited 22 times in total for failing to remove caracasses from production that could cause food poisoning. That averages out to just over one hog per plant per year. The piece does not cite a comparable statistic for the rest of the industry for the reader to gauge for himself whether there is truly an "increased risk," due to expanding the pilot program; or, if so, whether it is an acceptable increase; or of the nature of the risk. Certainly, some federal inspectors are at "risk" of losing government jobs and having to seek employment in the private sector, if the pilot program is expanded. In any event, there is no information for the reader to use to determine if the end of the decrease in instances of foodborne illness is due to a technological limit or some other factor. Instead, we are left to assume that even more federal inspectors would surely lead us to the nirvana of zero instances of illness due to bad carcasses.

But I favor eventually getting the government completely out of the business of quality control, given that there are great incentives for keeping customers alive so they can keep buying sausage. That said, it will not necessarily be a simple matter to back out of regulation. For one thing, as this piece shows, there is, in some quarters, a great failure to appreciate the power of the profit motive. This failure is both due to a suspicion of selfishness and to the idea, part assumption and part self-fulfilling prophecy, that businessmen are out to make a quick killing, and so don't think long-range. Decreased vigilance by the public, based on the assumption that the government is watching everything accounts for that second factor.

On top of the hand-waving arguments against the small reduction in personnel Trump inspecting the meat industry, this article does a great disservice regarding the whole debate about regulation, with a big assist from the President: It is using a small, unprincipled step towards apparently less regulation as a convenient straw man to ensure that people remain ignorant of what actual deregulation is, and whether it might do a better job than the government is doing of ensuring the safety of our food supply.

-- CAV

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