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Is to never become an AP Economics writer. I have never read more bunk from one source on my entire life. In yet another article riddled with unfounded assertions, errors and outright ignorance, this AP writer thinks she is the second coming of Upton Sinclair. You cannot blame her for trying to make a story interesting, but the level of irresponsibility here is astounding. Here is the AP story discussing the federal government raiding the meatpacking plants across the Midwest. In a story that would more appropriately be titled, “Random Acts of Authority”, she points out “facts” like this:

“During the 60s and 70s meatpacking wages were relatively higher than at manufacturing plants, running about 14 to 18 percent above manufacturing wages at that time, Mintert said. By 2002, meatpacking wages were running 25 percent below manufacturing wages.”

Does this writer know the first thing about productivity? The US manufacturing sector has had massive capital improvements in the past 30 years, so much so that the average manufacturing worker produces some ridiculous amount more (like 300 times or more if I recall correctly) (see here and here too)than she did in past years. It is hard to see how the productivity in the meat packing sector could have increased as fast as say the candy industry (sort of like how it’s difficult for teacher productivity to increase) due to the labor intensity of the work and scale of the operation.

She then writes:

“Accompanying the wage drop was the decline of unions in the plants. In the late 1970s, about 45 percent of the meatpacking industry was unionized. By the late 1980s that had dropped to 21 percent as more immigrants took jobs in the industry”

Does this writer get paid by the unions? Does she understand the difference between correlation and causation? At least acknowledge that it’s not that simple – particularly since there’s been a secular decline in unionism over the past 60 years, long before the immigrant population increases she mentions, and long before there was much change happening in the meat-packing plants. To look at some of the data on union membership see here and here. Could it be possible that economic growth led to the decline in unionism or that workers wanted the freedom that comes from not being a part of the unions? Of course not – because people are forced to work in meatpacking plants in conditions that would make Upton Sinclair shudder, right? It would have been nice for the writer to point out that the feds were cracking down on people who were peacefully trying to make a living for themselves and their families, and that have helped keep the price of meat low for millions of American consumers. But that would not have made for such an interesting headline, “Feds force meat prices up, trample liberties of poor workers” … or maybe it would.

Happy New Year. May your liberties not be trampled further in 2007.

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