A pound’s a pound, un­less Texas per­mits bar­be­cue sleight of hand

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - SU­SAN ADAMS, AUSTIN

For cen­turies, peo­ple have cheated in com­merce. In re­sponse, so­ci­ety has cre­ated sys­tems that en­able fair trade for all. In Texas, the in­tegrity of that process is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner.

To­day, the process is be­ing threat­ened. The Texas agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner, Sid Miller, is stand­ing up to the state at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ken Pax­ton, who as­serts that state law ex­empts bar­be­cue es­tab­lish­ments from the global mea­sure­ment sys­tem used by Texas and across the U.S.

Miller is in the spot­light for de­fend­ing a sys­tem that gen­er­ally op­er­ates qui­etly in the back­ground be­cause it works so well.

The Texas De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture is try­ing to pro­tect our el­e­gant and af­ford­able sys­tem of com­merce. We should sup­port those ef­forts and not let a few bad ac­tors drag the rest of the state’s bar­be­cue pur­vey­ors down the slip­pery slope of hav­ing to be dis­hon­est to stay in busi­ness.

Na­tion­ally, more than $1 tril­lion of goods and ser­vices are bought an­nu­ally — money spent for a mea­sur­able quan­tity of some­thing: dol­lars per gal­lon of milk, or a pound of ground beef, cents per kilo­watt-hour of elec­tric­ity or a yard of silk.

When con­sumers are will­ing to pay more for some­thing — a faster mo­dem, for ex­am­ple — they in­her­ently be­lieve some­one some­where can ac­tu­ally mea­sure the de­vice to de­ter­mine that it re­ally is as fast as claimed.

The temp­ta­tion to ad­just mea­sure­ments to profit the seller has a long and mul­ti­cul­tural history.

The Book of Deuteron­omy in the Bible says: “You shall not have in your bag dif­fer­ing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house dif­fer­ing mea­sures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just mea­sure ...”

Dur­ing the War­ring States pe­riod in China (475-221 B.C.), a sys­tem of weights and mea­sures was adopted to en­able fair com­merce and trade.

In many old cities in Europe, you can still see metal rods set in a wall that de­fined length for sales in that city.

To­day, if I’m hav­ing trou­ble mak­ing a profit by sell­ing you gaso­line at $2.56 a gal­lon, a sim­ple so­lu­tion could be to de­crease the size of my “gal­lon.”

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires a de­fined mea­sure­ment sys­tem, in part to keep the gov­ern­ment from be­ing cheated on taxes. At the time of the na­tion’s found­ing, dif­fer­ent cus­tom houses used dif­fer­ent mea­sure­ment stan­dards. Con­sis­tency was key for en­sur­ing fair­ness.

If we do not in­sist on con­sis­tency, we risk hav­ing a sys­tem de­velop in which hon­est busi­nesses are forced to cheat to com­pete.

The milk in­dus­try of a few decades ago un­der­scores that risk. It was found that dairies in nearly ev­ery state, in­clud­ing Texas, were un­der-fill­ing milk con­tain­ers of all sizes. As­sume that a gal­lon of milk costs $4. Un­scrupu­lous dairy own­ers rec­og­nized that if they re­duced the fill of the jug by 2 per­cent, they could un­der­price their com­peti­tors by 3 cents a con­tainer and make an ex­tra nickel in profit.

As hon­est dairies be­gan los­ing money, they could ei­ther start cheat­ing, be­come a whistle­blower, or go out of busi­ness.

The un­der­fill­ing of milk con­tain­ers con­tin­ued un­til the dis­hon­esty grew to cover most of the na­tion. Even­tu­ally, the cheat­ing was stopped — and the in­dus­try did not get an ex­emp­tion so each dairy could de­fine its own “gal­lon.”

The Texas De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture is stand­ing firmly on the side of hon­esty in the sale of Texas bar­be­cue. Their po­si­tion is that if brisket is ad­ver­tised at $10 a pound, we can’t al­low shop own­ers to de­fine their own pound.

I doubt that those who want to ex­empt the Texas bar­be­cue “pound” from the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of a pound be­lieve that ev­ery bar­be­cue joint in the state is scrupu­lously hon­est. The point is it doesn’t take many bad ac­tors to cor­rupt the en­tire in­dus­try.

Hun­dreds of years of history teaches us to ex­pect a few bad ac­tors; that’s why we need a sys­tem that guar­an­tees ac­cu­rate mea­sure­ments are routine.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s com­ments at a rally show how far the Repub­li­can Party has fallen. Mock­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s phrase “a thou­sand points of light,”

I was in­ter­ested to see that Scott Pruitt was fi­nally forced to re­sign be­cause of the mount­ing eth­i­cal scan­dals that have dogged his ten­ure. But with his exit from the post, the dam­age he has done by dis­man­tling the safe­guards on the qual­ity of our air, water and cli­mate will not be un­done any time soon by his suc­ces­sor.

What’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear is that we can’t rely on reg­u­la­tions to re­duce the risk of cli­mate change, as reg­u­la­tions are vul­ner­a­ble to the whims of whomever holds of­fice. We need to in­stead en­cour­age our mem­bers of Con­gress to en­act bi­par­ti­san leg­isla­tive solutions, like Car­bon Fee and Div­i­dend, to en­sure our cli­mate pro­tec­tions en­dure this tug of war be­tween the par­ties.

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2017

Stu­dents should learn at a young age that there is an im­me­di­ate price to pay so­cially — and oth­er­wise — for dis­rupt­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, a reader writes.

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