From Pine View Farm

Live and Let Die 3

Steven Chapman (who, thankfully, is not from these parts) in today’s local rag:

There are lots of theories on how to succeed in business. But here’s one that never occurred to me: Poison your customers.

This strategy sounds counterintuitive, since the dead don’t do much buying, but some people think it accounts for periodic outbreaks of food-borne illness. They say you can’t trust the private sector to keep pathogens out of our food, making it incumbent on the federal government to protect us.

The recent episode of lethal pet food is Exhibit A in this case. Adulterated wheat flour made its way from China to factories in the United States and Canada that produce food for dogs and cats. The contamination killed or sickened thousands of animals, and led to the recall of more than 100 brands of pet food.

Many liberals, however, insist that the only remedy is more regulation. “If we expect to have our spinach uncontaminated, our pet food safe, Congress has to give the FDA more resources,” says Donald Kennedy, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

But this case also shows that, when a product goes wrong, everyone in the supply chain has a big stake in making it right. Chinese exporters stand to lose a vast amount of sales if they don’t raise their safety standards. Pet-food-makers face rejection from retailers unless they can show their products pose no danger. Stores that sell tainted goods will send their patrons to the competition.

So, following this logic, the thing to do is to wait until after some folks are dead before ensuring that the food and drug supplies are safe.

Frankly, Mr. Chapman’s misty-eyed bleeding-heart view of business ethics pretty much ignores history–but that’s a pretty common thing these days among those who call themselves “conservative.”

A century ago, American meat packers poisoned American soldiers in the “rotten meat” scandal.

More recently, Enron staffers joked about forest fires while manipulating electricity for California to drive up prices.

Just today, this headline: “Ex-China drug regulator to be executed” for accepting bribes to approve adulterated products.

And those are just a few examples that come to mind without any research.

Mr. Chapman may be somewhat right. No doubt, as these fine, upstanding business persons went about their way, they did not actually intend to harm anyone. They just wanted to cut costs and increase their profit margins.

And to hell with the rest of us.



  1. Karen

    May 29, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Have you given any thought to the medical side of things? Listening to the “side effects” of new drugs, and problems coming up with what were considered “established” drugs, I’ve chosen not to take any, any more. Doesn’t do much for my blood pressure, but it beats learning in the future that the drugs used caused no telling what issues.

  2. Frank

    May 29, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Extrapolating from Mr. Chapman’s column, once you and a few other people die, American business would fix the problem.

    From the people who gave you Thalidomide.

  3. Opie

    May 30, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    I do think as government regulation increases, there is a point of diminishing returns. Where that point lies, though, is surely different in different situations and more often than not is probably near-impossible to calculate.

    I know you’re being sarcastic when you say “once you and a few other people die, American business would fix the problem,” but the ugly fact of life is that this can actually be true. And I suspect there are probably instances when regulators have made poor decisions too, and then fixed them to save their own jobs.

    And on top of that, consider that sometimes, withholding a product from the market because you’re afraid it might kill people can conceivably kill people anyway. If a drug saves the lives of some people but kills others, well, I think you see the complexity of the situation. And you’ll have that whether you leave it to private business or not.

    Last but not least – American business ethics actually are pretty good, and opposing American business because of the crimes it has committed is like opposing vaccines because they will kill some people who take them. The degree of freedom Americans have to make their own economic decisions has been a gold mine for our nations, and while the crimes that do occur are unfair, any method that would eliminate all corporate crime would cost society far more than it would save.