Jack Daniel’s Recipe Is So Good, It Should Be Mandatory!

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Imagine that you were starting your own auto mechanic business. Would you think it was a good idea to have a random, totally unrelated bunch of guys decide if the cars you fixed were safe enough to put back on the road? Would their judgement likely be better than your own? What if many of them hardly had any prior experience in the field, and their sole duty was to set the “safety standards” as they deemed fit, and to punish people for driving vehicles they’ve determined to be dangerous, for whatever reasons? They may or may not have ever even worked on a car themselves, let alone studied auto mechanics, in the first place. Would that be a system guaranteed to keep things as fair and safe as possible for all parties involved, including you and your mechanic business, any future passengers of the car, any other drivers on the road, the car’s manufacturer, pedestrians, etc.? What if those random guys also happened to have some friends who worked for one of your auto shop’s competitors, and often liked to favor that business over your own, even though the other shop might not have the same spotless safety record as yours? What if they got kickbacks for doing so? Would that still seem fair to you, then, do you think? Would that still seem safe?

Well, in a nutshell, for many industries, that group of “random guys” is the government. And in Tennessee, they’re coming for your whiskey next. That’s right: these anonymous bureaucratic mobsters, most of whom lack any credible background in whiskey production, are now working to establish the standard for what “Tennessee whiskey” will officially come to be universally considered. They’ve also managed to spark quite a controversy in the process, and with good reason.

The regulation standards that are presently on the table for discussion include making it mandatory for every batch of alcohol that is produced bearing the label “Tennessee whiskey” to be made from at least 51% corn fermented mash filtered through maple charcoal, and to have an alcohol content of at least 40% by volume. Additionally, each new batch of the stuff to be produced will have to be aged in new barrels made from charred oak wood, every single time. Interestingly enough, these distillation requirements are identical to those of Jack Daniel’s–the top-selling maker of Tennessee whiskey in the world. Just a coincidence, or a calculated attempt by Jack Daniel’s and Brown-Forman (the company who owns Jack Daniel’s brand) to stifle competition?

whisktatorship

To that effect, even the single stipulation alone that each batch of Tennessee whiskey be aged in new barrels made of charred oak every time would raise production costs for many whiskey distillers by hundreds of dollar per barrel. A spike in cost such as that would make production virtually impossible for smaller competitors, and that’s just one of the new rules being proposed. Now, imagine each of the other new requirements’ additional costs factored in as well, and it’s easy to predict the kind of devastating effect that these new rules would have on countless businesses.

Jeff Arnett, the master distiller for Jack Daniel’s, argues that the move is no different from the standards that govern the classification of champagne versus regular wine, for example, and that the newly-imposed standards will actually benefit independent distilleries. He insists that smaller whiskey makers “don’t mind being held to a higher standard, because they don’t want to create cheap products simply to be synonymous with the state name.” Other voices in the industry seem to disagree, though, insisting that the production process should remain as it has always has in Tennessee: free and lax, allowing for greater varieties of quality and taste to be produced.

This is hardly the first time that “random guys” in government have meddled with industry in the name of regulating “certifiable standards,” though–often with the same harmful results for producers and consumers, alike. One example is the new set of labeling standards for gluten-free products, which has been in place only since August of 2013. The government now requires that in order for any product to bear the label “gluten-free,” the FDA must first conduct an “assessment” to determine that each ingredient contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten, and that the item has never at any point contained gluten (even if the gluten has since been entirely taken out). As a result, many companies must now choose a different, less-convincing description for their products’ labels. Meanwhile, large-scale producers who hold industry clout seem to have little difficulty getting their products certified.

Defenders of such policies argue that systems like this are in place to keep people safe and informed. Opponents of government monopoly over various industry standards insist that businesses’ reputations among consumers are enough of a means of regulation. They feel that basic word of mouth, along with certifications by reputable independent agencies, would do just as good of a job at keeping the public safe and informed, without the need for the expensive assessments which often favor big-name producers. Businesses that consistently and responsibly satisfied the needs and demands of their customers’ would naturally come to be trusted over those that were less reliable.

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An even worse side-effect of these kinds of policies is that oftentimes, government labeling standards aren’t entirely informative, and are frequently vague to the point of being downright misleading. An example of this is the USDA’s certification process for labeling organic products. For one thing, items bearing the “organic” label must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, as has been certified by a “USDA-accredited” third party organization. Who’s to say that those “accredited” organizations are even credible in the first place? The USDA, with their exclusive authority over the entire classification process? It’s hard to take the word of any monopoly seriously; consider the earlier example of the “random guys” favoring their friends’ business, simply because they have the power to do so. This kind of stuff happens in the real world all the time. And what’s more, the remaining 5% window allowed for non-organic ingredients is still a wide enough range of concentration for there a possibility of toxicity to remain. There are endless varieties of chemicals in existence (organic, or otherwise) which are so toxic to humans that even as small a ratio as 5% could be lethal. Such a system of labeling standards is misleading, and not only bars market entry for newer or smaller businesses, but actually makes consumers less safe by providing them with a false sense of security. At its best, it’s unnecessary; at its worst, it could be deadly.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always so obvious in every case who the well-connected political cronies are that lurk behind each of these treacherous policies, or what the true motives are behind why they’re passed into law in the first place. However, in almost every scenario, they are imposed under the guise of being in the name of public safety. Thankfully, though, the case of labeling standards for Tennessee whiskey is an exception to that all-too-common shroud of mystery. To anyone with any basic level of insight about the matter, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: this is nothing but an attempt by Jack Daniel’s and its owners to permanently corner the market for Tennessee whiskey by passing regulations to their advantage.

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Of course, there are still many instances every day where the present system of government-monopolized regulation policies does actually inform and protect consumers to an extent, but that’s not really the point here. The point is that this system is far from perfect, certainly anything but fair, and definitely not always safe. And in the case of setting standards for something as arbitrary as quality and flavor labeling of a certain type of whiskey, lawmakers aren’t even pretending that safety is the issue here, in the first place. Government has no good reason to be involved with something as trivial as labeling a style of whiskey. It’s not a public safety issue. Quality standards are something that only businesses themselves can prove to their buyers by providing a product that lives up to customers expectations of what a good “Tennessee Whiskey” ought to taste like. This legislation, if passed, will absolutely just be plain and simple market meddling to favor a specific group and disadvantage it’s competitors. Period.

In a society that was truly free, there could be more alternatives for labeling standards which are less costly to everyone, and less harmful for struggling competitors and new businesses looking to enter the market. Why not let individuals choose for themselves which products they want to buy, based on labeling systems that they come to trust through various independent means (especially now that we have the internet to help us all make better-informed decisions)? Let spontaneous order occur; people will figure out what works best for them and their loved ones. Having only one labeling system might keep people safe to a certain extent, but it squashes opportunities for new product alternatives, and ultimately limits the ability of consumers to make informed choices, because they become forced to rely on only one institution to tell them what’s safe to consume. Buyers must then trust that institution to always conduct its approvals in a fair and unbiased manner–something I’ve already given two examples of the government not always doing. Why not let freedom of information guide people in making their decisions, instead of a single third party group of “random guys” who are neither foolproof, nor necessarily impartial? It would be safer, cheaper, easier, and more fair for everyone involved, in the long run. Guaranteed.

Sledgehammers, Shopping Carts, Flight Tickets, and Nutter

In a series of shocking displays that can be described as nothing short of bizarre, Democratic State Representative Tom Brower has recently undertaken an aggressive personal crusade against the epidemic of homelessness that has come to ravage his home state of Hawaii.  The disgruntled public official has taken to patrolling his district of Waikiki-Ala Moana, armed with a sledgehammer, which he uses to forcefully destroy shopping carts that have been left behind by members of the local homeless population.  Brower was apparently driven to take matters into his own hands amid the region’s escalating epidemic of homelessness, attempting to clean up one of the neighborhood’s “biggest eyesores” (as he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser): the remnants of vagabonds’ castaway luggage carriers.  While one can only surmise as to how effective the act of lashing out against an inanimate symbol of desolate poverty could be, the practice of attacking the symptoms of destitution–rather than the root cause–seems to have caught on among politicians from various other cities across the United States.

Brower (nicknamed the “Evil Miley Cyrus“) also admits to frequently waking up any sleeping vagrants that he finds lounging about throughout the city, bellowing orders such as, “Get your ass moving!” in an attempt to clear them off the streets.  Ironically, however, Brower insists that he never disturbs sleeping have-nots during nighttime hours, out of respect for their circumstances.  And there is quite a set of circumstances to be taken into consideration on Oahu, indeed: between 2005-2007, the homeless population of the island increased by a staggering 28.6% [1].  Homelessness is certainly becoming an urgent problem in Hawaii, and Brower’s measures are not the only actions that have been taken by government officials in an attempt to counteract the epidemic.

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Another doomed attempt to combat the rapid increase in Hawaiian homelessness is scheduled to debut itself during Hawaii’s fiscal year of 2014.  Entitled the “Return to Home” program, this new government initiative will be providing one-way airline tickets to select destitute individuals, flying them back to the United States mainland in the hopes of reducing the island state’s population of more than 17,000 homeless people.  Critics say that the program could create the illusion to those seeking to take advantage of it that there will always be a guaranteed flight back to the continental U.S. waiting for them in the event that it becomes necessary to leave the island, but supporters of this new provision argue otherwise.  According to the project’s enthusiasts, only as many as 100 people per year will be eligible to participate in it, limiting the potential for its services to be taken advantage of. [2]

Similar methods of dealing with socio-economic challenges such as these have been observed recently in other American cities, as well.  In New York City, the mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg has on occasion utilized a program which is not unlike Hawaii’s upcoming “Return to Home” program in order to combat its own epidemic of homelessness.  From 2007-2009, the city paid for the airline flights of 550 struggling families with the intention of aiding them in making their pilgrimage elsewhere, all in the hopes that they might settle down and live more comfortably in some other part of the world.  New York City’s Department of Homeless Services is in charge of coordinating these assisted excursions, whose annual expenses consume roughly $500,000 of the city’s yearly budget.   Supporters of the initiative extoll that the program is far more affordable than the alternative option, which is to provide housing for these families through the city’s system of homeless shelters at an annual cost of approximately $36,000 per family.  Apparently, it is simply cheaper for the city to send such disparate people elsewhere and forget about them entirely, showcasing yet another depiction of the government’s recent inclination to address merely the symptoms of debilitating poverty (in this case with the intention of saving city money), rather than remedying its underlying causes. [3]

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In Philadelphia, the so-called “City of Brotherly Love,” neither shopping carts, nor homeless individuals themselves have become the focus of such eradication efforts by local officials.  Instead, the city’s own destitution crisis has prompted an attempt at a different sort of extrication, altogether.  In March of 2012, the city’s mayor, Michael Nutter, announced that a ban on the feeding of homeless people would soon go into effect at any of the city’s outdoor locations that generally draws a high level of pedestrian traffic.  Unconvincingly citing sanitation issues and a concern for the individual dignity of those receiving the food donations as being the primary motivation for passing the ban, Nutter declared:

“Providing to those who are hungry must not be about opening the car trunk, handing out a bunch of sandwiches, and then driving off into the dark and rainy night.” [4]

He went on to insist that every individual deserves the right to eat a proper meal in a comfortable, indoor setting, a belief which he proceeded to reiterate in numerous interviews:

“My motivation is not to exclude anyone.  I want a hungry person in need to know they can go to a clean, dry place.” [5]
The mayor’s spokespeople echoed similar sentiments, among them, Mark MacDonald, who spoke with USA Today on behalf of Nutter, claiming that the ban was aiming to force the homeless to go indoors to eat their meals in the hopes that they might become subjected to other health services (or so he alleged):
“This is about an activity on city park land that the mayor thinks is better suited elsewhere.  We think it’s a much more dignified place to be in an indoor sit-down restaurant…The overarching policy goal of the mayor is based on a belief that hungry people deserve something more than getting a ham sandwich out on the side of the street.” [6]
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At no point did Nutter or his representatives address the point that few individuals, if any, would rather starve on the street than eat a much-needed meal in an outdoor environment.  Nor did they offer to provide an indoor dining environment for the homeless, despite being so seemingly passionate about this detail.  This is comparable to the fact that at no point did Rep. Tom Brower address the fact that lashing out against shopping carts (or any other artifact common among the poor) would have absolutely no impact on reducing Hawaiian poverty levels.  Regardless of the empty gestures committed in either case, or by either of the two ultimately powerless political saps, the obvious truth of the matter remains unchangeable: homelessness doesn’t cease to exist simply because one of its many physical symptoms goes under attack from some desperate politician.  No individual or group of individuals can reduce the level of destitution in society simply by destroying a vagabond’s shopping cart, or by forcing him to eat indoors, or by purchasing him a plane ticket to some other faraway place–doing so may at most conceal some of the more obvious aspects of the economic suffering of a society, if even that.

While the outwardly freakish wrath being wielded by Rep. Tom Brower against both inanimate objects and the sleeping impoverished alike is simultaneously alarming, comical, and ultimately pathetic, the underlying motivation behind such outbursts is actually a relatively common theme among politicians nowadays.  Powerless to prevent the onward march of society towards escalating poverty and economic despair as the financial climate of the 21st century continues its downward spiral, desperate politicians like Brower, Bloomberg, and Nutter can only be expected to continue to do what is typical of elected officials in such times of social distress: lash out by passing laws, all of which are enforced with violence.

Whether on a scale of pitifully-channeled, simple-minded, and childish aggression directed toward an inanimate object–such as in Brower’s case–or in a more complex and sophisticated manner, involving the ill-conceived redistribution of wealth (as has been exhibited by Bloomberg and Nutter), politicians inevitably have only one card available for them to play: the use of force.  And (as has been demonstrated so conveniently by the outcome of Brower’s tantrums) beating a misplaced shopping cart with a sledgehammer does nothing to alter society’s level of poverty–if anything, it only makes the vagabond with little else to carry his cargo around in even poorer than he had been to start with.  Neither of these scenarios differs from one another with any measure of significance, in that respect.  Poverty is poverty, and force is force, and politicians are ultimately powerless to treat even the symptoms of poverty through such brutish means.  And if they are so unable to treat even the very symptoms of destitution, how could they ever possibly hope to cure the root cause of the condition itself–whether they choose to brandish either a sledgehammer or a scrawled edict to aid in the attempt?

Sources:

  1. N/A. “Hawaii lawmaker wages campaign against the homeless and their belongings with sledgehammer.”  Russia Today.  19 Nov. 2013. http://rt.com/usa/hawaii-sledgehammer-homeless-possessions-986/
  2. Wing, Nick.  “Hawaii ‘Return To Home’ Program Will Pay To Fly Homeless To The Mainland.”  Huffington Post.  25 Jul. 2013.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/25/hawaii-return-to-home-homeless_n_3653498.html
  3. Bosman, Julie.  “City Aids Homeless With One-Way Tickets Home.”  New York Times.  28 Jul. 2009.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/nyregion/29oneway.html?_r=1&
  4. Dunn, Mike.  Hunter, Walt.  “City To Ban Street-Corner Feedings Of Homeless.”  CBS Philadelphia.  14 Mar. 2012.  http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/03/14/nutter-announces-ban-on-outdoor-feeding-of-homeless/
  5. Hill, Miriam.  “End to feeding homeless in city parks?”  Philly.com.  14 Mar. 2012.  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/heardinthehall/publicfeeding.html?c=r
  6. Pearce, Matt.  “Homeless feeding bans: Well-meaning policy or war on the poor?”  11 Jun. 2012.  http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/11/nation/la-na-nn-homeless-feeding-bans-20120611