Charles Crawford, over at the Commentator – whose comments system, based on the Hell that is Disqus, sucks – fisks the incomprehensibly influential doofus Will Hutton on the horsemeat scandal. And totally misses the point. Hutton:
“As the horsemeat saga unfolds, it becomes more obvious by the day that those Thatcherite verities – that the market is unalloyed magic, that business must always be unshackled from “wealth-destroying” regulation, that the state must be shrunk, that the EU is a needless collectivist project from which Britain must urgently declare independence – are wrong.”
How’s that, Will? As Richard North has demonstrated in his usual obsessive style, Horsemeat entered the food chain because of fraud in the EU regulation system, a compulsory system that places excessive weight on paperwork while failing to sample any actual meat. Quite what the failure of an overbearing, hubristic, supranational regulatory bureaucracy has to do with Thatcherism is completely beyond me.
Other than proving it right, that is. The truth is, this scandal is actually extremely instructive in showing almost the exact opposite of Hutton’s gleeful conclusion: that EU regulatory structures, which replaced our own local authority testing of which North was once a part, can cost a bloody fortune, get in the way of efficient trade, and still utterly fail to protect the public in any meaningful sense at all. There are plenty of regulations, and keen, enthusiastic, inspectors to enforce them; they just don’t work. As long as the Papers are in order, and the factories are ticking all the right Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points boxes, all is well. Until some unanalyzed hazard emerges at an uncritical, uncontrolled, point, such as a crook who doesn’t give a damn about HACCP switching the labels. Guys like North would have known who to suspect – the dirty premises, the slapdash staff, the shifty management – and left the honest ones relatively, well… shall we say “unshackled”? The alphabet soup of FSA/DEFRA/EU bureaucrats, who are too high and mighty to get their hands dirty on the slaughterhouse floor, don’t have a Scooby Doo. All their papers check out. Someone must have been – gasp! – lying.
So we have frantic, minute, obsessive – expensive – regulation, to absolutely no useful end whatsoever. Oh, yes: this costs money, and does destroy wealth. That’s why we now have a tiny number of “super-abbatoirs”, instead of a thriving industry of local ones. It’s the only way the meat business can afford the regulation. Hardly the the free market running riot, is it? And it’s a damning example of the uselessness of Will’s beloved EU. Indeed, as North points out, this is only beginning to be sorted out by the EU states organising their own investigations outside the Union’s institutions.
Crawford never touches on this, preferring to score cheap points by bringing up the Staffordshire NHS killings. But then, his opening statement (“Sooner or later anyone that prolific must drift from wisdom towards self-parody”) suggests that he thinks Hutton demonstrated any wisdom in the first place, which casts severe doubt on his judgement.
Update: Thanks to Your Freedom and Ours, here is what Hutton thinks doesn’t exist: “Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety”. This is particularly interesting:
Before 1 January 2005 and every six years thereafter, the Authority, in collaboration with the Commission, shall commission an independent external evaluation of its achievements on the basis of the terms of reference issued by the Management Board in agreement with the Commission. The evaluation will assess the working practices and the impact of the Authority. The evaluation will take into account the views of the stakeholders, at both Community and national level.
“Stakeholders”, eh? I don’t know if Hutton actually coined this slippery word, but he did much to popularize it, and it appears again in the article Crawford attempted to fisk. So much for the Powers That Be ignoring his ideas and going off on a neo-liberal spree of their own….