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Big gonif, redux.

December 2, 2008, 1:00 pm

Jonathan Dresner kindly puts us in his “History Carnival.” Then, for “the other side,” he links to this post about the “fascist NRA” and how the Roosevelt “Administration targeted Jewish merchants/middlemen for the dual sins of being good capitalists and observant Jews”.

We had the privilege of the excellent Andrew Cohen post on this a while back.

In Shlaes’ portrayal, the Schechter brothers were small immigrant businessmen crushed by a tyrannical federal government exceeding its traditional jurisdiction.

The real story is much more interesting. A.L.A. Schechter & Co. was actually the largest firm in Brooklyn’s $60 million kosher poultry market, grossing over $1 million per year. The corporation had grown by undercutting their five hundred or so rival slaughterhouses, represented by three groups: the Greater New York Live Poultry Chamber of Commerce, the Official Orthodox Slaughterers of America, and Teamsters’ Union Local #167.

The tough guys who ran these organizations tried to bully the Schechters into submission, on one occasion putting emery powder in the crankcase of their trucks. In response, the US government pursued the leading figures in the industry, especially Arthur “Tootsie” Herbert, the business agent of the poultry drivers. Between 1928 and 1932, Herbert and his colleagues endured federal indictments, injunctions, and contempt citations, interventions all upheld in the Supreme Court case Local #167 v. United States (1934).

With the passage of the NIRA in 1933, however, the worm turned. Even as the leaders of the poultry associations were fighting to stay out of prison, they were given the authority to construct a legally enforceable code for their industry. Soon the Schechters found themselves prosecuted for sixty violations of the code. The criminals had become lawmen, and the victims, delinquents.

Interestingly, Andrew reminds us by email that the Schechters voted for Roosevelt in 1936.

Joe [Schechter] told reporters that he was enthusiastic for the re-election of Roosevelt and that all eligible members of his family, including the four brothers involved in the NRA action, had cast their ballots in his favor. “I wonder if it would be possible,” he asked reporters, “to congratulate President Roosevelt through the newspapers and tell him that sixteen votes in our family were cast in his favor.”

Oh, and if you’ve really infinite patience for listening to me talk about the Great Depression and New Deal, you can hear me on EconTalk, with the very polite and kind Russ Roberts, who seems nevertheless a deal closer to Shlaes than to me on this subject. FWIW I don’t think I come off so well as I ought.

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