History

Sick Chickens and Blue Buzzards

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Economist Steven Horwitz has a great post at Liberty & Power telling the remarkable story of the Schechter brothers, the Kosher butchers who fought FDR's New Deal all the way to the Supreme Court and won:

As part of its legislation, the [National Recovery Administration] had all kinds of detailed codes for individual industries, describing to the letter how firms must do their business. The Schechters fell under the "Code of Fair Competition for the Live Poultry Industry of the Metropolitan Area in and About the City of New York" (and you thought Atlas Shrugged was fiction….). Among the things the code prohibited was "straight killing" which meant that customers could buy a whole or half coop of chickens, but did not have the right to make any selection of particular birds (such individual selecction was "straight killing").

This last rule was in direct conflict with Kashrut laws, which also served as an informal health code in the Jewish community. As [Amity] Shlaes points out, the phrase "glatt kosher" referred to the fact that the lungs of the animal were smooth (which is what "glatt" means) and therefore free of tuberculosis. Inspecting the lungs was part of the official process of conferring Kosher status on a butcher shop. Removing unhealthy animals from the stock was one of the core principles of keeping Kosher, and the rabbinical inspectors were fanatic about doing this. But so were customers. As Shlaes points out, individual customers, both retailers and their customers, had the right to refuse individual animals. This minimized the risk of an unhealthy animal getting through when both seller and buyer did such inspections. And it ensured that the kosher laws served as a health code, or perhaps something more like the Underwriters Laboratory or Good Housekeeping seal.

The Schechters, as you may have guessed, were targeted by the NRA enforcement crew. They were inspected repeatedly during the summer of 1934, which forced them to violate their own Kashrut practices, telling customers that they could not reject individual birds as keeping Kosher allowed. Not surprisingly, their deeply religious customer base began to dwindle. The constant inspection turned up a variety of violations, including allegations that they had, in fact, sold sick chickens (not surprising, if true, given that part of their own internal inspection process was negated by the NRA code itself!). They were also accused of "competing too hard" and keeping prices "too low."

Thankfully, the Supreme Court saw things differently, holding in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935), that, "It is not the province of the Court to consider the economic advantages or disadvantage of such a centralized system. It is sufficient to say that the Federal Constitution does not provide for it."

For more on why the New Deal wasn't so great after all, see here, here, and here.

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  1. I may be reading into things a bit, but does the NRA blue eagle have anything to do with (inspiration-wise) the blue eagle from the muppets who was always really serious?

  2. The 30s must have been a creepy time.

  3. Oh, I read this a few days ago, and it seems apropos. I’d hate to waste a rare opportunity to possibly contribute something worthwhile to a thread.

    Good Fascists and Bad Fascists

    Broken down, [fascism] includes these devices:

    1. A government whose powers are unrestrained.

    2. A leader who is a dictator, absolute in power but responsible to the party which is a preferred elite.

    3. An economic system in which production and distribution are carried on by private owners but in accordance with plans made by the state directly or under its immediate supervision.

    4. These plans involve control of all the instruments of production and distribution through great government bureaus which have the power to make regulations or directives with the force of law.

    5. They involve also the comprehensive integration of government and private finances, under which investment is directed and regimented by the government, so that while ownership is private and production is carried on by private owners there is a type of socialization of investment, of the financial aspects of production. By this means the state, which by law and by regulation can exercise a powerful control over industry, can enormously expand and complete that control by assuming the role of banker and partner.

    6. They involve also the device of creating streams of purchasing power by federal government borrowing and spending as a permanent institution.

    7. As a necessary consequence of all this, militarism becomes an inevitable part of the system since it provides the easiest means of draining great numbers annually from the labor market and of creating a tremendous industry for the production of arms for defense, which industry is supported wholly by government borrowing and spending.

    8. Imperialism becomes an essential element of such a system where that is possible – particularly in the strong states, since the whole fascist system, despite its promises of abundance, necessitates great financial and personal sacrifices, which people cannot be induced to make in the interest of the ordinary objectives of civil life and which they will submit to only when they are presented with some national crusade or adventure on the heroic model touching deeply the springs of chauvinistic pride, interest, and feeling.

    How do we score? I say 4 or 5 out of 8.

  4. Warty, that’s kind of a strange list. 1-6 are criteria to define something as fascist, but 7-8 are just consequences of fascism, and thus not uniquely associated with fascism. There are many examples of militaristic societies, for instance, that were definitely not fascist.

  5. As part of its legislation, the [National Recovery Administration] had all kinds of detailed codes for individual industries, describing to the letter how firms must do their business.

    Maybe they have some useful tips for running a car company.

  6. “Code of Fair Competition for the Live Poultry Industry of the Metropolitan Area in and About the City of New York”

    Try buying live poultry from a licensed business in a major urban area now……..

    Then do the cosmotarian math…..

    – live poultry + iPods = net gain in liberty!

  7. One of the few times the Court saw fit to limit the commerce clause power of Congress, but then FDR threatened to pack the Court in ’37 and they learned their lesson.

  8. I’m guessing today’s court would have broken towards the government.

  9. “The Schechters, as you may have guessed, were targeted by the NRA enforcement crew. They were inspected repeatedly during the summer of 1934, which forced them to violate their own Kashrut practices, telling customers that they could not reject individual birds as keeping Kosher allowed.”

    What is it with these Jews – always resisting the laws and regulations put into place by their betters! No wonder FDR restricted their immigration into the U.S. during this same decade.

    Seriously, where do these Jews get off, letting their religion get in the way of great national projects? What happened to separation of Church and State? Don’t these Jews know that religion is inherently superstitious and irrational – just like believe in Santa Claus?

  10. FOOLS! UNDERSTAND FIRST THAT FDR PRIVATELY REFERRED TO HIS PROGRAM AS THE “NUDE DEAL,” AND YOU WILL TAKE THE FIRST, HALTING STEPS TOWARDS ENLIGHTENMENT.

  11. Taints McCoy, eh. Just wait till the Urkobold gets ahold of you.

  12. “Competing too hard”? Goddamn I hate government.

  13. Maybe they have some useful tips for running a car company.

    Apparently, Henry Ford refused to sign on to the NRA automobile code, despite the Administration orchestrating a Federal and state boycott of purchases of Fords. A quote: “Hell, that Roosevelt buzzard. I wouldn’t put it on the car.”

  14. Then do the cosmotarian math…..

    Whoa, how are you dragging cosmotarians into a thread about the 1930s? The term “cosmotarian” was just made up about one or two years ago.

  15. I may be reading into things a bit, but does the NRA blue eagle have anything to do with (inspiration-wise) the blue eagle from the muppets who was always really serious?

    Ooh, good find. And “Sam the Eagle” is really patriotic and a humorless scold. Also, according to this, he resists palette-swapping, unlike those ninjas from Mortal Kombat.

  16. Sounds like a great book:

    The Schechter brothers: how two butchers stopped Roosevelt from choking the chicken (industry).

  17. Sounds like a great book:

    Hmmm…could be optioned to Hollywood, too. I could see it working as either a prestige picture or a screwball comedy.

  18. If there is any hope at all of tarnishing the glorious myth that has been drummed into our heads for 60 years of how the prophet Roosevelt brought the sacred tablets of the New Deal down from on high and used them to save the universe it is with stories like these about minorities who were hurt by and/or opposed the New Deal. The progressives can hardly dismiss people like these Jewish butchers as “reactionary robber barons” defending their “class and race privileges” against “social justice.”

  19. “Try buying live poultry from a licensed business in a major urban area now……..”

    actually there are a lot of live kill joints in brooklyn, both jewish and chinese, as well as halal butchers if that’s your thing.

    plus there are some folk in queens, the bronx and brooklyn who do keep live chickens.

  20. I’m guessing today’s court would have broken towards the government.

    No question at all. The myriad Commerce Clause cases giving the national government all-but-plenary power over anything connected with the economy make that perfectly clear.

    The most SCOTUS has been able to rouse itself to do to limit the Commerce Clause in the last 60-odd years is to require the Congress to include a recital that a bill regulates something that affects interstate commerce.

  21. There’s a viverio on 10th ave and 207th street in Manhattan.

  22. Good to hear you can still buy live poultry in big cities. United Poultry Concerns is trying to stop it though

  23. Who the fuck wants to buy live poultry? I don’t think there is a big market for that, anyway.

  24. I mean, other than industrial slaughterhouses, that is.

  25. What is this stupid Cult Of Amity Shlaes here? Last I heard, she was defending Phil Gramm’s remark that America wasn’t in a recession, except “mentally.” She ridiculed the view of “campaign economists” that the economy was in a “Katrina” state.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/11/AR2008071102543.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

    (And pelase don’t say she was right “at the time”–as the National Bureau of Economic Research has determined, the recession had started in December 2007, long before she wrote this.)

    Of course Reason has also printed articles by James (“Dow 36000”) Glassman, so obviously, being spectacularly wrong is no more a disqualification in Reasonland than it is among those Eeevul Statists…

  26. Lots of people want to buy live poultry for many of the same reasons as before. You can pick your bird and you know it’s fresh. There are lots of live poultry sellers in NYC, not just catering to the Kosher and Chinese markets but also African and West Indian immigrant communities. I’ve seen people raising live chickens in empty lots in East Harlem. I think if you’re used to freshly killed chicken that you saw was healthy and kicking a couple of hours ago, the oozing, flabby, pink, god-knows-how-old slabs of meat sitting on styrofoam trays in the grocery story actually look pretty gross.

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