Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Biased history, "Jungle" style

Most people know of Upton Sinclair's famous muckraking novel about conditions in Chicago's meat packing plants in the very early years of the 20th century.  The Jungle is still often cited as an example of the power of investigative journalism --- it's credited with the passage of the 1906 Meat Inspection Act -- and is required reading for students all across America.  What's commonly not taught is the tremendous amount of fabrication that went into Sinclair's book, most of which was intentional and directed by the socialist Sinclair at the capitalist America of his day.  Lawrence Reed, writing in The Freeman, has a very interesting article about The Jungle as a good example of bad history.  I particularly liked this passage:
According to the popular myth, there were no government inspectors before Congress acted in response to The Jungle, and the greedy meat packers fought federal inspection all the way. The truth is that not only did government inspection exist, but meat packers themselves supported it and were in the forefront of the effort to extend it so as to ensnare their smaller, unregulated competitors.
And this:
In the end, Americans got a new federal meat inspection law, the big packers got the taxpayers to pick up the entire $3 million price tag for its implementation, as well as new regulations on the competition, and another myth entered the annals of anti-market dogma.