Jonah Goldberg

Or, as historian Gabriel Kolko writes, "The reality of the matter, of course, is that the big packers were warm friends of regulation, especially when it primarily affected their innumerable small competitors."

A spokesman for "Big Meat" (as Edwards might call it today) told Congress, "We are now and have always been in favor of the extension of the inspection, also to the adoption of the sanitary regulations that will insure the very best possible conditions." The meatpacking conglomerates knew that federal inspection would become a marketing tool for their products - "Quality guaranteed by Uncle Sam," as it were.

Meanwhile, small firms and butchers who'd earned the trust of consumers would be forced to endure onerous compliance costs, while large firms not only could absorb those costs more easily but also claim their products were superior to uncertified meats. This story played itself out repeatedly during the Progressive Era. Big Steel actually sought out government regulation because it feared free-market competition. During the New Deal, FDR supposedly carried on his (distant) cousin Teddy's crusade against the "malefactors of great wealth." But the truth is that big business often welcomed government regulation. Clarence Darrow, surveying the National Recovery Act's record, found that the keystone agency of the New Deal had served only to help big business.

What progressives, then and now, always fail to recognize is that the more government meddles in business, the more business meddles in government. The left thinks the rational response to the bear hug that business has around government is to hug back twice as hard. The real answer is to let go, let companies sink or swim. Don't render them "too big to fail" because they provide health care or other benefits.

All of these people who want to "crack down" on big business are simply inviting companies into the tent, giving them incentives to buy politicians, votes and policies. Yes, end the subsidies. But also stop trying to use business as government by proxy. Of course, some minimal standards of conduct need to be enforced. But beyond that, it's better to treat business like bees. If you don't bother them, they won't bother you.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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