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COWBOY CAPITALISM AND THE IBP REVOLUTION: HOW THE MEATPACKING INDUSTRY CHANGED AMERICA, 1960-1990
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This dissertation examines the rise of the country’s largest beef processor, IBP, Inc., during the late-twentieth century and its effect on laborers, farmers, business, and the communities in which it operated. Though scholars have cited IBP’s technological advances as the reason for the company’s success, I argue that IBP’s unique public relations approach that manufactured the consent of local communities to pay comparatively low wages, provide tax breaks, and in the instance of cattle producers defend IBP’s right to “free enterprise,” provided it with a competitive advantage. From 1960 through the 1980s, the meatpacking industry endured a revolution stemming from IBP’s ability to maintain enough community consent to gain large market shares and draw down substantial profits.
Yet gaining and keeping consent was not easy, nor was it linear. At one point or another all of these entities opposed IBP on a myriad of fronts, but their early cooperation aided in creating a corporate juggernaut that often limited their economic or political power. For IBP’s part, the company’s founders and subsequent executive managers fostered a masculine, individualistic sense of corporate capitalism, which I refer to as cowboy capitalism. Executives painted themselves as farm boys and cowboys, as renegades who were bringing hard work and plain talk to the inefficient meatpacking industry. This conservative, bootstrap mentality played well in the Siouxland region of the Northern Great Plains, where IBP began. Just as corporate success is aided by community consent, rescinding consent creates challenges for the company that can temporarily cause a decline, or at the very least roadblock to company growth. Though founders, managers, and key innovators gain critical and laudatory attention for their role in growing American capitalism; extended community support in terms of governmental and non-governmental actors rarely have been the focus of a corporate study. It is community consent, both active and latent, governmental and non-governmental, that supported the cowboy capitalism IBP deployed to start a revolution.