Friday, October 05, 2007


Occasionally, the author does a “This Day in History” type of a post. The most recent was on Wednesday, October 3rd, addressing the 50th Anniversary of the Soviet space satellite Sputnik.

This post, linking us back 60 years to October 5, 1947, is a little different. Nothing truly monumental happened on that day, but events of that day fit well into some monumental events, the first presidential address to be televised, and a recent post on going vegetarian and ditching the dung producers. The post was entitled “Your Big Mac or Your Big SUV. Which Will it Be?
The post, from September 22nd, addressed the huge environmental costs of raising and consuming mammals and poultry.

On this day 60 years ago, then-President Harry Truman urged Americans to forego eating meat on Tuesdays and poultry and eggs on Thursdays. The New York Times web edition posted the front page of the New York Times from October 5th, 1947.

Several issues were at play around this time. First, there was widespread inflation coming from the pent-up demand From World War II. The consumer economy nearly ground to a halt during World War II as materials were diverted to the war effort. Many consumer goods, including meat, poultry, dairy products, were rationed and in short supply on the home front.

Rationing and price controls were put in place to requisition goods and materials for military use. After the war ended in 1945, many controls remained in place to reduce inflation and ease shortages.

Also, with the war over, there was international demand for American foodstuffs. Europe was in chaos and their economies and food production capacity were greatly reduced. America needed the grain to feed Europe rebuilding under the Marshall plan. Hungry Europeans needed the grain. American carnivores demanded pounds of decaying flesh. And since it generally takes about 22 pounds of grain to produce one pound of carrion, American meat demand was eroding grain supplies.


In 1947, meat was in short supply in America. In the NYT article from 1947, the then-President of the National Meat Industry Council, Jack Kranis stated:

"If every family will reduce voluntarily its consumption of meat, whether it now has meat on the table three, four, five, or six days a week, the nation will achieve a maximum saving of meat and reduce the demand for grain to feed cattle and hogs," said Mr. Kranis.

"This will also produce a downward pressure on meat prices, and help curb living costs."

Mr. Kranis suggested also that housewives buy the cheaper cuts and grades of meat, rather than choice steaks and chops, to bring down prices and reduce waste. He said that 75 per cent of the cheaper meats were not being used on the average American dinner table.

"If the housewife will make greater use of the cheaper cuts," said Mr. Kranis, "we will have about 25 per cent more use of the entire animal. This will help feed starving Europe and cut our meat bills at home. All that is needed is for the housewife to learn how to cook the cheaper cuts. They are fully as nutritious as the choice cuts if properly prepared. Unskillful cooking will, of course, produce unpalatable dishes. It is time the American housewife learned how to cook the cheaper cuts."

In fact, the National Meat Industry Council was recommending price ceilings on livestock and the government requisitioning of livestock if producers would not sell at the price ceilings. Somehow, the Author suspects that the interests and sympathies of the National Meat Industry Council and the livestock producers were not aligned.


President Truman’s political future was, at that time, as dead as a quarter-side of beef. The meat shortages, inflation and other consumer goods shortages had driven Truman’s poll numbers close to George W. Bush lows. Discontent with the lack of meat was producing so-called “hamburger riots”.

Truman also faced a hostile Republican House and Senate. In fact, it was the electorate’s disappointment with Truman that allowed a Republican takeover of the House and Senate in the 1946 elections.

Yet Truman pulled off an election upset in 1948 and defeated Republican challenger Thomas Dewey of New York.

And the meat and grain markets sorted themselves out and everyone, except the cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens, lived happily ever after.



At 8:56 AM , Blogger roopsag said...

"After the war ended in 1945, many controls remained in place to reduce inflation and ease shortages."

the resulting big surprise:

"In 1947, meat was in short supply in America."

"If every family will reduce voluntarily its consumption of meat" - that has never happened in a rationed and price-controlled economy. It can only happen when price is allowed to reflect all costs (including futures cost plus profit). Notice that because we are paying higher prices at the pump - there are no gas lines. Which is worse, high prices (which many of Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs tried to attain) or shortage (which was the result of rationing and price controls).

At 10:43 AM , Blogger FOXP2 said...

Thanks for the comment. The statement that the price controls were left in place to reduce inflation and ease shortages was the consensu view at the time. Perhaps a better way to have stated it would be to say it the controls were left in place to "manage" shortages, in effect to contiue rationing without allowing the price to rise to an equilibrim price.

In fact, when price controls were lifted in post-war reconstruction Germany the result was obvious and instantaneous. The shelves again filled with goods.

But there are two subtexts to the post, one stated, one implied. First, I am a vegetarian and oppose the slaughter of animals to feed humans when easy and cheap plant substitutes are available. So the thought of housewives rioting because the cannot get hamburger (at an admittedly below-market price) while Eurupeans were going hungry and millions of people were prematurely dead is comical to me. And also consider the fact that the housewives could have gone out to the black market and paid the market price.

The unstated subtext is that the nation was tired of war and ready to move on. And people were chafing under war time restrictions long before the end of the war. They believe that when the war was over and the boys came home, things would return to an uber-normalcy. They were asking for the impossible. Below market prices and bountiful supply. Later today I am going to the classic post-WWII film "The Best Years of Our Lives" at the local art theatre. It addresses some of the post war-economic issues, as well as the post-war human costs on returning soldiers and their families. My post and your comments will add a new dimension to the film.

At 9:13 AM , Blogger roopsag said...

I always wonder about the sanity of people wishing for rationing for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I personally view rationing as a very pricey short term fix to a solvable problem. It introduces economic calculation problems, by no means trivial. Had we no rationing and price controls after the Great Depression, then WWII - I doubt we would have had many shortages in WWII. I also doubt the Great Depression would have been, well, Great.


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