Posts

What Should We Make of India's Cow Protection Movement?

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"[O]n April 21, 2017, in the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir state, a mob brutally attacked five members of a nomad cattle-herding family, including a 9-year-old girl, on suspicion that they were taking their cows for slaughter. A video posted on social media showed a group of men chanting slogans commonly used by BJP supporters, breaking down the family’s shelter, beating an elderly man with rods and sticks even as women begged for mercy, and finally setting the shelter on fire."

This episode is the latest in a trend sweeping India of "cow protection" that has won praise and accolades from some animal advocates, from up and down my newsfeed, and from Leonardo DiCaprio. The tide has swept high enough that India recently banned the sale of cows for slaughter. It's now reached the point at which the movement turns to violence, high on its own success.
What should animal rights activists make of this movement? The turn to violence is something to oppose given stud…

Trump's Supreme Court Nominee May Be the Most Important Thing Trump Does to Animals

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As much as Trump promises to empower the most extreme voices on civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and immigration, animal advocates have long had good reason to fear the Trump administration. Trump's ties to notorious ag empresarios and persecutors of activists from Forrest Lucas of Protect the Harvest to Bruce Rastetter of "ag gag" fame give cause for worry. Despite this all, potentially the most important - that is, damaging - nomination for animals is Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.
Why the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court touches on all sorts of issues - LGBTQ+ and women's rights, voting rights, civil liberties, federalism, etc. - but when has it ever played a major role in animal rights? How could we even predict how a Supreme Court nominee would rule?
The thing to note is that while nominations, personal ties, regulations, and even laws come and go, it takes a much longer time for a Supreme Court nominee to come and go. At 49, Gorsuch is the youngest nomi…

Vox's Piece Against Bill Gates's Chicken Donation Misses A Major Externality

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Economist Chris Blattman (a Principal Investigator where I work, Innovations for Poverty Action) writes an on-point criticism of Bill Gates's push for donating chickens at Vox, but he misses a major cost. It's a cost that many of the forefathers of modern welfare economics, like Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill noted well ahead of their time. The cost is the lifelong suffering and complete obliteration of individuals - chickens - who possess all the morally relevant characteristics of economic agents for welfare economists to consider them.

There are many reasons why economists ignore animal suffering when analyzing agriculture. One is likely simple speciesism. There's a deeper set of reasons that I think make economists ignore animal suffering, though, and they show how far modern economics has strayed from its roots in many ways. The reasons start with this: a refusal to make a "moral" judgment.

The basic premise of modern welfare economics is that there is n…

2016 Was a Good Year and a Bad Year for Humanity, Depending on How You Count It

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Though the end of 2016 was greeted by most people I know with a sigh of relief and by pundits as being the end of a very bad year, people who look carefully at the evidence on social trends have been pushing back. Economist Max Roser and representatives of Innovations for Poverty Action (where I work part-time) both recently wrote columns in the Washington Post about why 2016 was, in fact, a great year for humanity. Worldwide poverty continued its massive decline, and there was no great increase in violence despite what people seem to think, leaving us still far ahead of humanity and pretty much any time in the past when it comes to the likelihood of dying a violent death, as psychologist Steven Pinker chronicles in the Better Angels of Our Nature and a more recent interview. All in all, humanity is likely doing better now than we were a year ago, in a continuation of an ongoing trend.
Odd, though, that so many people think things are so bad. At the end of 2015 there was a similar deba…

Why I Work on Institutional Change at Home but Not Abroad

When the movement termed “effective altruism” started, one of the major currents was the movement in economic development toward conducting what are termed randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for poverty alleviation programs. A randomized evaluation is the way the FDA tests new drugs before they go on the market: a treatment is randomly provided to some of a given collection of individuals but not to others. Because the treatment is allocated randomly, there should not be any systematic differences between those who get it and those who don’t. So all sufficiently large differences between treatment and control should be due to the treatment and you can estimate, without any bias (in an ideal case) the effect of the treatment.
This is very different from the way many studies are done: longitudinal studies in medicine (which are usually how doctors get initial looks at the differences between different diets) suffer from selection bias: people who drink are likely to differ from people w…

The Meat Investor Problem

This is the third in a three part series on poverty and veganism/animal rights that I’ve been writing.
My friend Scott Weathers wrote a post recently on “the poor meat eater problem,” wherein people who want to address global poverty but are anti-speciesist have to deal with the worry that their money will hurt a great number of animals. Today I want to turn to a different problem: for many people in developing countries, “purchasing” an animal is a form of investment when savings are difficult to come by and an important business decision. There’s also evidence that this helps boost people’s income, particularly when coupled with other goods (full disclosure: I work at Innovations for Poverty Action, which did the linked-to study). Nearly every survey of poverty in developing countries asks, in a disinterested way, whether somebody owns “livestock”, which type, and how much.
I struggle with this a lot. Part of it is probably good old-fashioned cognitive dissonance. Part of it is probab…

Where Are All These People Who Need to Eat Meat to Survive?

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This is the second of a three part series I’m writing on veganism and global poverty.
As an animal liberationist you often have people ask you: What do you say to people in developing countries who need meat to survive? Note that you only get this question in the U.S. and Europe. I've never gotten it here.
After getting this question all these times, I can't help but ask myself now: Where are all these people who need to eat meat to survive? Well, basically, they aren't.
I’ve probably lived in two of the more difficult developing countries to live in as a vegan. In the more rural parts of Peru, the places to eat are generally chicken joints, and in Ghana, meals are almost always a chicken or fish-based soup with some sort of carb ball (maize, grains, potato, yam). Both countries have absorbed the Abrahamic faiths that are particularly anti-animal in their typical manifestations.
Look around, though, and you can almost always find conscientious objectors. Further south in Ghana…