HRW on the meatpacking industry

by Henry on January 25, 2005

There was a minor kerfuffle among left-bloggers a couple of days ago about the dearth of blogging on trade union issues. “Nathan Newman”: suggested that it reflected the lack of interest of middle class liberals in trade unions. This is part of the story but only part. I suspect that the lack of media coverage of union issues, or, sometimes, of “good information from the unions themselves”:, are equally important in explaining why people don’t blog on this as much as they should. Bloggers tend to rely on their morning newspapers to find out about the world – when those newspapers don’t cover union issues, bloggers are unlikely to focus on them. Which is why I hope that this recent NYT “story”: describing a Human Rights Watch report on the US meatpacking industry gets the attention that it deserves from lefties, and indeed from “union-friendly conservatives”:

bq. The report also concluded that packing companies violated human and labor rights by suppressing their employees’ efforts to organize by, for example, often firing employees who support a union. The report asserted that slaughterhouse and packing plants also flouted international rules by taking advantage of workers’ immigration status – in some plants two-thirds of the workers are illegal immigrants – to subject them to inferior treatment.

Original Human Rights Watch report available “here”: (interested readers should also check out Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, which has a trenchant and detailed discussion of how meatpacking firms abuse immigrants).

Update: “Nathan Newman”: suggests that bloggers should sign up for email updates from “American Rights at Work”:, an organization which I hadn’t heard of, but which seems to be doing excellent work on union-related issues.

Lessig on the limits of copyright

by John Quiggin on January 25, 2005

This is my second report on last week’s Creative Commons conference. Lessig’s closing lecture was given in the Banco court of the Queensland Supreme Court (very plush – those lawyers don’t stint themselves) and was focused on traditional copyright issues . For Brisbane readers, an interesting titbit was that we haven’t seen OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism because neither the Courier-Mail nor the national daily, the Australian, (both Murdoch-owned) would carry more than minimal ads for it. One of the costs of being in a one-newspaper town.

The main point of the lecture was a historical survey of the relentless extension of copyright, along with some discussions of a failed attempt to stop this in the case of Eldred vs Ashcroft. This case is notable for the fact that, as has happened before, the economics profession almost unanimously supported the losing side. As Lessig argued, copyright has been extended in length, scope and force to the extent that nowadays virtually everything is copyright, virtually forever.

[click to continue…]

The Case for Medical Paternalism

by Henry on January 25, 2005

Matt Yglesias “mentioned”: a few days ago that he didn’t see anything that was morally wrong with paternalism, with the implication that paternalist policies ought to be evaluated on purely pragmatic grounds. The Washington Post has an interesting “test case”: today for those who might disagree with him. It describes how “aggressive direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns” for Celebrex and Vioxx persuaded consumers to take these drugs, even though they would predictably have been better off if they had taken other non-prescription drugs instead. As the article says, the US is highly unusual in allowing direct-to-consumer marketing of drugs – Western European countries typically only allow these drugs to be marketed to doctors through specialist publications etc.

None of this is to say that the European system is perfect – drug companies pour an awful lot of money into “seminars” in nice places, golf excursions etc where they try to persuade doctors to prescribe their drugs. But there is a strong pragmatic case to be made that doctors are going to be better informed as a rule than their patients over the benefits and drawbacks of particular courses of treatment (otherwise why use them in the first place?). Thus, they’ll be better able, most of the time, to figure out when pharmaceutical companies are trying to con them into prescribing expensive and potentially dangerous medications where off-the-shelf drugs would work as well or better. Of course, this is not to say that consumers shouldn’t be able to get their hands on relevant information (doctors aren’t infallible) – but it’s surely a bit of a stretch to argue that aggressive TV advertising campaigns provide such information. Thus, I’m pretty well convinced of the case for banning direct marketing of drugs to consumers – it’s a relatively mild form of paternalism, which seems to me to have quite substantial payoffs. Any dissenters out there?

Update: via “Bill Gardner”:, I see that “James Surowiecki”: is similarly critical of the marketing of Vioxx:

bq. But companies like Merck, which spend hundreds of millions on ads targeting consumers, have themselves to blame, too. Instead of getting people to think about drugs in terms of costs and benefits, these ads encourage people to think of medicine in the same way they think of other consumer goods. It would be one thing if Merck had marketed Vioxx only to people who really needed it—people who couldn’t take ibuprofen or aspirin safely. Instead, the company marketed it aggressively to everyone, so that some twenty million Americans had Vioxx prescriptions. That’s why the potential damages against Merck are so vast. If juries have a hard time accepting a risk-benefit trade-off when it comes to drugs, it’s in part because the drug companies have convinced them that no such trade-off has to be made.

Yeats, Higgins, Healy

by Ted on January 25, 2005

Imagine my delight last night when I opened my copy of Wired to find a “From the Blogs” column featuring a charming excerpt from Crooked Timber’s own Kieran Healy. (No, seriously- imagine it.)

As a Freeper hates a Camembert slice
And an OxBlogger hates a dove
As CalPundit hates a rainy day
That’s how much you I love.

Whole poem here, and many congratulations to Kieran. Now, there are some who would wonder how it happened that Wired would come to publish a short blog excerpt that’s two years old. Not me, though; I’m still waiting for my close-up…