Animal Rightists -- Allies for Liberty? (Postscript)

I realize that if farmers bring life into the world, they have to care for it well. Yes, factory farming, which is the offensive technology, is fairly new, having been brought about through economies of scale, so that it is so efficient that only a tiny percentage of the population in the US now works in agriculture. But 100 years ago the working conditions in factories for humans were awful, as well. Socialists described the unhappy lot of workers as the outcome of capitalism. Yet the economic and consumer satisfaction-driven technological progress made possible only by capitalism have so much improved working conditions that they are no longer a public issue. No one talks about it. Libertarians even advocate the abolition of OSHA.

Newer technologies can reduce the costs of keeping animals healthy or enable such improvements in animal health and happiness that are now completely impossible. Antibiotic diets, bovine growth hormones, tight confinement of animals, etc. are primitive transitional tools. They may do some good, but they also do a lot of harm. Again, more sophisticated technology will maximize the benefits while minimizing the harms both to the animals and to their products.

It might be objected that technology is what's responsible for the bad conditions of animals in the last several decades in the first place. Why should more technology make things better in the future? The answer is that factory farming has brought inexpensive foods to everyone in America and to many in the rest of the world. It did much to eliminate hunger. In other words, farmers so far have been focusing on bringing cheap food to the masses. Yet even now the transition is underway to higher quality foods. Those may still be somewhat of a luxury, but under free markets today's luxuries are tomorrow's necessities. Technological progress will switch direction, and the results will be that the animals will be treated better.

June 2, 2006

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