Do animals have a right to life?

Vroman argues at the Unpopular Ideas Club that animal welfare practices are futile because animals are property and should be treated like inanimate objects such as cars, and the only thing that should be considered is how food production benefits humans. He also suggests that children are the property of their parents. I’ll discuss that question extensively in my posts on justice.

I find that view scary and indefensible. We posted the following exchange in the comments section (will update as discussion is ongoing):

Andrew R. Hanson said…

How do you decide whether something has a right to life?

Robert Vroman said…

I don’t. An entity makes that decision independently by demonstrating the capacity to fend for itself.
Those that do not, become the property of those that do. Or die.

Andrew R. Hanson said…

Your conception of rights is nonsensical. Your view seems to imply that you don’t actually believe that anything has a right to life. That’s a view you can certainly attempt to defend, but your commentary here seems to make a distinction between humans and animals without a defense.

Rights can be construed morally or legally, but in either case, they require obligations from agents. The right to life, for example, requires a strong obligation of non-interference. Namely, it requires that they not kill another agent unless they have a justifiable reason for doing so.

Your view implies that nothing has a right to life. You seem to think that persons only have a “right to life” if they can fend for themselves, i.e., if they can defend themselves against other people who try to kill them. But that view doesn’t require a right to life, because it doesn’t require an obligation from anyone. There is no prescription for how agents should act. It is logically equivalent to holding no view of what agents should or shouldn’t do whatsoever.

If you want to try to defend that view, that’s fine, but your distinction between humans and animals doesn’t make any sense. Your view logically entails that humans are property to the extent that they can’t defend themselves. Slavery, genocide, and torturing babies for fun are all morally equivalent. I guess that makes your view interesting and unorthodox, but it’s not rationally persuasive.

Robert Vroman said…

“There is no prescription for how agents should act”

I have made a very clear prescription for moral behavior numerous times. Agents should act efficiently. Slavery is inefficient, because you are taking an individual capable of productive work and committing fulltime force against them, which incurs huge deadweight loss.

Genocide is obviously terrible, because its destroying huge amounts of human capital for some pointless goal of ethnic purity.

Torturing babies is bad because even within the view that infants are property, one should take care of their property. And in this case in particular, I trust parents to care for their children far more than a socialized endowment of rights protection. The few cases of psychotic parental abuse will be less suffering than the overall drain of a collective child protection agency, esp due to the tendency of bureacracies to grow and exceed their mission, and start generating false positives.

Andrew R. Hanson said…

In calculating efficiency, inanimate objects like cars, or, in your view, pets and children, are not considered. Only the preferences of agents are considered. If slaves are property, they are not agents. Their preferences are not calculated in determining efficient outcomes.

Similarly, who are you to decide whether the goal of ethnic purity is “pointless”, some central planning authority? Economic theory doesn’t give us any tools for deciding that. What if a powerful group of people decide that they would derive a lot of pleasure from ethnic purity? How can we differentiate between the two outcomes without making interpersonal utility comparisons?

One can do whatever she likes with her property. If I want to take a sledgehammer to my car, it is my right to do so. Maybe I get a lot of pleasure from destroying expensive things or torturing babies. Why does one have an obligation to “take care of” her property?

As far as parents are concerned, I generally trust them too, and we give parents a lot of leeway on how they raise their kids. But, don’t confuse the issue. Parents don’t own their kids. Children have welfare rights that require an obligation from society. It is usually most efficient for parents to provide those rights. However, in the case that they don’t, not only do we have the right to terminate their rights, we have an obligation. State-sponsored adoption agencies benefit kids; they take them out of homes where they are neglected and abused and often put them in homes where they are provided with good parents. Most adoptions are success stories, especially considering the relative hell the kids are coming from.

By the way, there are more than a few cases of parental abuse. It’s a significant problem.

Andrew R. Hanson said…

It’s very frustrating to argue with you because you keep going back and forth.

(1) Me: How do you decide whether something has a right to life?
You: An entity makes that decision independently by demonstrating the capacity to fend for itself. Those that do not, become the property of those that do. Or die.

Later you: Slaves are not property, they are victims of an ongoing crime.

First, which is it? You first said things that become the property of others can’t fend for themselves and don’t have a right to life. You don’t seem to realize that the inconsistency between your view about animals and your view regarding slaves. Animals were capable of fending for themselves before we domesticated them and eventually put them in a factory farming system. I still don’t understand your view on the relevant difference between the two.

Second, you have no reason to call anything a crime, let alone describe slaves as “victims of an ongoing crime” because you don’t have a theory of what the law should be.

(2) You: Torturing babies is bad because…one should take care of their property.

Later you: Yes, if you want to smash your TV or beat your kid, its none of my business.

(3) You: The reason slavedrivers want to enslave them is because they see they are productive and want to capture that revenue stream without paying the cost.

You (next sentence): its clearly more efficient to liberate the slaves and thus avoid the deadweight loss of enforcement personel

If slave owners didn’t have an incentive to enslave, they wouldn’t. The problem with slavery is not that it’s inefficient.

“Why should I be expected to pay in to a communal fund to go save someone else’s kid from them?”
Because society will be better off if you do. Again, children are not the property of their parents. We owe them obligations because they are potential autonomous persons, but require goods in order to flourish and participate in society productively.

Whether or not parents, including abusive and neglectful parents, want to relinquish their children is an empirical question, and it’s an easy one to answer. All one has to do is look through millions of Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) and court cases, see the awful things that are done to children, and simultaneously witness the fight parents put up when their kids are about to be taken away. Please watch or read the book “Precious” if you have the chance. When I worked at a state Adoption Search Program, I read through thousands of cases that were similar in nature.

It does not make a difference whether a private organization is “voluntary”, but nearly all adoption services are privately run, but state-sponsored (i.e., allocated some funding/tax benefits). The only children who are taken to state orphanages are the ones who haven’t been adopted. This makes sense: if the private sector doesn’t provide the service, we still have an obligation to provide children with welfare rights.

Adults are autonomous. They are capable of fending for themselves and deciding the life they want to lead and pursuing that end. The state has had an adult’s entire childhood to foster autonomy and productivity; it need not intervene longer after that (especially with the risks that come with intervention). Additional support is ordinarily not required except perhaps for our most vulnerable citizens. The obligation we owe them is far less than that of children. J.S. Mill speaks extensively about the difference in On Liberty .

Robert Vroman said…

“Me: How do you decide whether something has a right to life?
You: An entity makes that decision independently by demonstrating the capacity to fend for itself. Those that do not, become the property of those that do. Or die.
Later you: Slaves are not property, they are victims of an ongoing crime.”

Slaves are obviously capable of fending for themselves: they are producing value, otherwise why would anyone try to enslave them? The fact that they are able to produce value, but are prevented from trading that for protection services, indicates the society is operating inefficiently, hence immorally. The system which allows slavery is bad. Its corporatism, where slaveowners get the benefit of slaves productivity, while society pays the cost of police enforcement for slavery, and furthermore less wealth is being produced by the slaves themselves than they would have as free labor, due to the skewed incentives.

As for animals, they are fundamentally unable to produce tradable wealth outside themselves.

So one is a wealth-creator that is trapped in an inefficient system, the other can never be more than a commodity. I see no inconsistency.

“Second, you have no reason to call anything a crime, let alone describe slaves as victims of an ongoing crime’ because you don’t have a theory of what the law should be.”

Theft is a crime. I dont see where I could have made that ambiguous.

“You: Torturing babies is bad because…one should take care of their property.
Later you: Yes, if you want to smash your TV or beat your kid, its none of my business.”

Yes, people tend to be better off if they take care of their things. I strongly advise people not to destroy their own property, but I am not going to exert the effort to protect them from themselves by force. Why is this controversial?

“You: The reason slavedrivers want to enslave them is because they see they are productive and want to capture that revenue stream without paying the cost.

You (next sentence): its clearly more efficient to liberate the slaves and thus avoid the deadweight loss of enforcement personel

If slave owners didn’t have an incentive to enslave, they wouldn’t. The problem with slavery is not that it’s inefficient. ”

The problem IS that its inefficient. Costs and rewards are not alligned, overall productivity is much lower. By “liberate”, I didn’t mean that slaveowners would necessarily voluntarily release their hold. I’m saying someone else would offer to trade with the slaves, and find a rate at which it was profitable for both parties for the former-slaves to work for the new boss voluntarily, and the new boss would protect them from the taskmasters. If no one comes forward with this offer, then an opportunity is being missed. The market is not perfect, there are all manner of transaction costs and signalling problems that prevent useful economic arrangements from coming to fruition, but the trend is to ever better coordination and efficient distribution of resources.

“We owe children obligations because they are potential autonomous persons, but require goods in order to flourish and participate in society productively.”

Lets say a factory makes a tractor, which has potential to plow say 10 fields in a year which would grow 1000 bushels of corn. Except everyone interested n entering the farming market who can get capital, already has their plowing needs met. The tractor is unsold at any price, and is eventually trashed for scrap metal. The tractor should not have been made, and thus ceases to exist.

If I did not bring a child into the world, that child is not my problem, regardless of their potential to be economically useful down the road. Hopefully their parents will raise them well. If not, maybe I or others will donate to fill the gap, for whatever personal compunction. If not, then a child who should not have been created ceases to exist, or struggles through an abusive experience and eventually becomes independent on their own force of will or not. If a woman goes through the inconvenience of pregnancy, and ends up negelcting her child, and no one else is willing to step in and take over, then that baby should not have been made. There are plenty of other babies being made that parents do care about. They will become (on net) productive people. Responsible society is already doing its part for the future productivity of the next generation through their own children.

I don’t owe other people’s kids my support, anymore than I would feel obligated to buy that tractor I don’t need, just to save it from the compactor. The tractor is useful in theory, but not useful to me. Other people’s kids are not useful to me. If I think its important to have well cared for kids around to replace me someday, then I will probably have my own kids and care for them well, rather than pay to take care of someone else kids indirectly.

“society will be better off if you do pay in to a communal fund to save someone else’s kid”

Disagree. I assert as a default that any compulsory tax scheme will create more deadweight loss than it can possibly create in value, regardless of the fund’s intended purpose.
The administrative work in assessing a tax, paying enforcement personel to punish tax evaders, the tendency for mission creep, and other corruption opportunities, altogether mean its impossible for a state CPS to generate more value in the form of productive citizens who otherwise would die or become criminals, than the bureaucracy costs in terms of ongoing economic drain.
I find private charities rather dubious also, but as long as they are voluntary, Im unable to make a nonarbitrary judgment on individuals choice of disposable income sink.

“Additional support is ordinarily not required except perhaps for our most vulnerable citizens.”

Ok, so you actually do prefer a full welfare state.

“Please read the book “Precious”

Not going to do that.

I yield.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: