How Many Deaths Is Cheap Chicken Worth?

A common belief that regulations are a burden on businesses is challenged by Maryn McKenna’s book Big Chicken

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

1. If you want to be a good boss you will want regulation (likewise good economists). If that surprises you, Maryn McKenna’s book Big Chicken shows you’ve caught a virulent strain of bad ideas about business.


2. McKenna’s meaty history shows “how antibiotics created modern agriculture” but also antibiotic-resistant superbugs (our prevailing pecking order puts profit above deadly risks).

3. ~40,000 deaths + 6,000,000 UTIs arise annually from food-borne, factory-farm born, superbugs.

4. In 1948 antibiotics became livestock “growth promoters” (~10% heavier birds without extra feed).

5. Before 1945 scientists knew ill-suited antibiotic use would breed resistant bacteria—eradicating easy-to-kill kinds clears space for hardier bugs to evolve and thrive (livestock now consume ~80% all antibiotics).

6. In cleanly kept healthy animals growth promoters have little effect (likely work by counter unhealthy deficiencies, like being cooped up in poop-laden enclosures).

7. Yet most players prioritized short-term profit (dodging growth-promoter bans by reclassifying antibiotics as preventive, to continue unscrupulous unhygienic overcrowding).

8. Consider now-popular “free market” ideas. Did voluntary transactions self-organize well? Did businesses behave responsibly? Did bad choices harm only bad choosers? If not then, why now?

9. Not choosing industrialized meat is no defense (e.g., meat-plant bugs spread to a hospital infecting 4,000 newborns killing 24 mothers and infants). We inhabit a microbial commons, rife with “tragedy of the commons” risks.

10. Can we afford to remain oblivious to the obvious? Isn’t it clear that, as in sports, if all players aren’t held to decent standards, good guys lose to prepared-to-cut-corners folks? Unregulated games can become “scoundrel cascades,” where race-to-the-bottom pressures push decent players to match the worst sins to stay in the game.

11. Doesn’t history routinely refute free-market fan self-regulation fantasies? Tobacco, banking, cars, pharma, processed foods... etc. Why trust businesses to do the right thing now?

12. Here cost-benefit-style thinking misleads—how many deaths is cheap chicken worth? 40,000+ annually? Well “markets” have already “decided” that, while risking millions more deaths (post-antibiotic era plagues).

13. In every market externalizing costs increases profits. Handling such dysfunctional incentives is hampered by an unhealthy alliance between backseat-driver theorizing economists and opportunistic bad businesses (—>”How Economists Turned Corporations into Predators”).

14. It’s an amazing case of sophisticated-seeming abstractions creating concrete stupidity. It’s far from the only “free market” example (e.g. claiming corporate taxes hinder growth, while actual “good” entrepreneurs testify not). Garrett Harding complained some economists sprinkle ideas such as “externality” like “pixie dust” before reverting to reality-denying toy-model math-ogling games.

15. Interestingly, my opponents on regulation are often also correct (—>3 regulation resistor types). Many bad counterproductive regulations exist. But that means we must consider the concrete particulars, not abstract idealizations like “permission-less innovation.”

16. Running a good (decent, effective, unharmful) business requires level-playing-field regulations

17. With great opportunity comes great responsibility. And great temptations. Are business titans immune to bias? Rationalization? Hubris?

18. With all the powerful do (public or private) we must “trust, but verify,” deploying balance-of-powers logic (—>Good versus Bad Rich).

 

Illustration by Julia SuitsThe New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

Why the number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics

Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
  • The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
  • Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
Keep reading Show less

Americans under 40 want major reforms, expanded Supreme Court

Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.

Demonstrators In Louisville calling for justice for Breonna Taylor.

Credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
  • The poll revealed that most would want to expand the Supreme Court, impose terms limits, and make it easier to vote.
  • Millennials are more liberal and reform-centered than Generation Z.
Keep reading Show less

Can fake news help you remember real facts better?

A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.

Credit: Rawpixel.com on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
  • A new study published in 2020 explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
  • "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term," researchers on the project explained.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast