Audit Notes: Fast Food Nation at 10, U.S. Inequality, Marilyn Hagerty

Eric Schlosser revisits his muckraking epic Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal for The Daily Beast, writing that while some things are better, too much hasn’t changed in the ten years since its publication:

The industry-friendly policies of the Bush administration also reduced government oversight of worker safety. In 2002 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration changed the form that meatpacking companies must use to report injuries. The new form had no space to report musculoskeletal disorders caused by repetitive trauma—thereby preventing a whole category of serious injury from being counted. Instantly, as if by magic, the injury rate in meatpacking dropped by almost 50 percent. “Recordable safety incident rate in plants cut in half since 1996,” the American Meat Institute proudly announced in a press release, without ever mentioning that the decline was due to the change in record keeping. In a scathing report on the exploitation of American meatpacking workers, Human Rights Watch suggested that the AMI had deliberately chosen the year 1996, as a basis of comparison, to mislead the public. “A 50 percent drop in meat and poultry industry injury rates in a single year would be implausible,” the report noted, “but reaching back six years creates an impressive but fictitious improvement in plant safety.”

A few years later the AMI claimed that “recordable injuries” had actually fallen by 70 percent, thanks to the meatpacking industry’s concern for worker safety. The claim was made in an AMI pamphlet commemorating the 100th anniversary of The Jungle’s publication.

The New Republic’s Timothy Noah takes down a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Carnegie Mellon’s Allan Meltzer that argued domestic policy has little impact on inequality:

Among the industrial democracies where income inequality is increasing, it’s much worse in the United States than it is almost anywhere else. Among 34 nations recently surveyed by the OECD, the United States got beat only by Turkey, Mexico, and Chile. That’s as measured by the Gini coefficient, and including taxes and government transfer payments.

Do those taxes and transfer payments make any difference? Meltzer doesn’t think so. “The big error made by those on the left,” Meltzer wrote, “is to believe that redistribution permits the 99 percent or 90 percent to gain at the expense of top earners.” But the data don’t support this claim. If you omit government redistribution from the calculations in the previous paragraph then four countries that previously were more equal in incomes than the U.S.—Portugal, Italy, Israel, and Germany—become less equal than the U.S. In every instance save Israel, these four countries were, when you included taxes and transfer payments, more equal than the U.S. by quite a lot. Omit these taxes and transfer payments and they flip to being less equal than the U.S. Meanwhile, excluding government redistribution makes France about as unequal as the U.S. Including government redistribution made France more equal—again, by quite a lot. If government distribution didn’t matter, none of this could be true.

— My former Wall Street Journal colleague Bob (James R.) Hagerty writes a charming ahed—the paper’s quirky page one feature—today about his mom Marilyn Hagerty, the North Dakota columnist who wrote that Olive Garden review that went viral.

Despite having secured her reputation for posterity, Mom retains her work ethic. When she takes a vacation, it is only after writing enough articles in advance to fill her daily space. She pays her own way at restaurants, rather than submitting expenses, so no one can say she does reviews just to get free meals. When she was successfully treated for breast cancer two years ago, she used the occasion to write a review of the hospital’s food. It was right up there with the cuisine at Olive Garden.

My mom has her own style of reviewing restaurants: She doesn’t like to say anything bad about the food. Her regular readers read between the lines. If she writes more about the d├ęcor than the food, you might want to eat somewhere else.

Her Olive Garden review was actually mixed. She said the “chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day.” She also noted that the restaurant is “fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway.”

This one of those times when the Journal’s understated ahed prose
is just perfect.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,