RUSS ROBERTS

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A Sausage By Any Other Name

A version of this essay ran in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on 4-4-01
It is said that there are two things you should not watch being made: sausage and law.
Once upon a time there was a great sausage maker from Arizona. He made sausage from the innards and entrails and unmentionables of the pig and of the cow. His sausage was delightful. It was the Rolls Royce of sausage, the Mark McGwire of sausage. His customers loved it and kept coming back for more.
One day a journalist read the label on a package of sausage. He was shocked to see it contained entrails and innards, not to mention the unmentionables. So he wrote a devastating article exposing the nature of sausage making. He demanded reform of the industry.
The newspaper readers were disgusted when they read about how sausage was actually made. People began to be uncomfortable with the smell coming from the sausage factories. The customers of the great sausage maker began to complain. Maybe you could use something other than innards. Maybe you could do without the entrails.
Even the great sausage maker began to be embarrassed. So he called a great convocation of all 535 sausage makers.
“We have lost the confidence of the people,” he said. “Our livelihood is in jeopardy. We must bring about change.”
But what can be done, someone asked.
“From this day on, we will no longer make sausage from innards, entrails, and unmentionables.”
A great hubbub rose up from the group. No innards? No entrails? That wouldn’t be sausage!
“Relax,” said the great sausage maker. “I’m mainly talking cosmetic, here. We will still use the pancreas and the brains and all the other unmentionables. But from now on our labels will just say parts. Pig and cow parts. Instead of calling the outside of a sausage an intestine, we’ll call it a casing. And we’ll perfume the air outside our factories so people can enjoy the smell of our work once again. Think of it as casing fragrance reform.”
But will it work, someone asked.
“It will save our industry. Wouldn’t you rather have paté instead of chopped liver? Or gelatin instead of boiled cow hooves?”
A moan went up from the group. Gelatin is boiled cow hooves?
“I’m afraid so,” said the great sausage maker. “It’s all marketing. Once these reforms are announced, most people will stop paying attention. The press will leave us alone for 25 years.”
A few dissident voices were heard. A sausage maker from Kentucky claimed a First Amendment right to call an innard an innard. He said that customers deserved the truth even if the truth was sometimes uncomfortable.
But in the end, the great sausage maker from Arizona was triumphant. The newspapers announced the reforms with great fanfare. All the nastiness had been removed from the sausage-making process, or so they said. And the people congratulated themselves that their sausage makers were so enlightened.
And the 535 sausage makers? Their work became a little less convenient. To maintain appearances, their suppliers made their deliveries at night and at the back entrances of the factories. But it was worth it. The livelihood of the sausage makers was more secure than ever.

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