Sausagemaking: not as awesome as some would have you believe
Matt Yglesias doesn't like it when people compare the legislative process to making sausage.
Comparing the operations of the US Congress to those of a sausage-maker is a huge insult to the sausage industry. You may or may not think that the sausage-making process looks “gross” in some sense, but the fact of the matter is that sausage is delicious. The other day, I made some pesto from scratch. It was good. I served it over pasta with some sausage braised in cider vinegar, and that made it better. Because sausage is delicious. Sausage-making, whether you want to make it or not, is the way you make delicious sausage. If there were some better way to do it, people would do it that way instead.
The US Congress isn’t like that at all. The idea that it’s some kind of gross-looking sausage-making process is, at heart, part of the culture of flattery and egomania that’s made the place so dysfunctional. The implicit moral of the sausage analogy, after all, is that like sausage-making it looks bizarre but is actually the best way to make the product. Actual congressional legislation-writing, by contrast, looks like things like the President proposing to cut agricultural subsidies to the wealthiest farmer, that idea being dead-on-arrival, and nobody being even slightly surprised because everyone knows that the committee system and the over-representation of rural areas make it impossible to contemplate an even vaguely rational approach to this.
I think this is too kind to sausagemakers. The expression emerged in a more Upton Sinclair-esque era, when sausagemaking really was gross and dirty and unsafe, but producers let all of that go on because it was also profitable to serve a product that had a bit of rat and a bit of a worker's finger in it. The most profitable way to make sausage and the best way to make sausage are very different, and we've got a lot of regulations that try to narrow that gap.
But even today, mass-produced sausages use animals that are not well or sustainably raised and parts of the animal that are not the most delicious parts, and producers mask the taste and production with intense flavorings and vague packaging. This isn't done because it's the best way to make sausage, but because it's the most cost-effective way to make sausage. Using traditional cuts from heirloom pigs might make for better sausage, but the major producers wouldn't even think of doing that because they need low costs to satisfy shareholders, and they're good enough at obscuring the worst of the production process that customers don't complain.
That said, the hot Italian sausages you can buy at Costco are still delicious, and make your meal better than a meal with no sausage at all. But they would be a lot worse without regulations on the meat industry. And the health-care bill will be a big improvement, and will make our country better than if there was no health-care bill at all. But it would be a lot less useful without a substantially private medical industry figuring out ways to save people's lives. Governments and market both have failures, and happily, the failures are different, and one can often step in to ameliorate the flaws of the other.
Photo credit: James M. Thresher/The Washington Post.
December 30, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: The satisfactions are notoriously fleeting
Next: Sen. Bernie Sanders: Health-care bill could spark "a revolution in primary health care"
Posted by: inkadu | December 30, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: MosBen | December 30, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: shorthope | December 30, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: johnclevenger | December 30, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: etdean1 | December 30, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bmull | December 30, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: truck1 | December 30, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: keilprti1 | December 30, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ec3663 | December 30, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | December 30, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: msoja | December 30, 2009 11:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LindaB1 | December 31, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: CDRealist | January 1, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.