- Animals and the Economy by Steven Mc-Mullen
The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series is a pioneering effort by Palgrave Macmillan and the Ferrater Mora Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics to expand the range of intellectual perspectives that address issues of animal ethics. Historically, philosophers and theologians were the main voices in the field, but the Oxford Centre has aggressively encouraged scholars from the social sciences to apply their expertise and make animal ethics a truly multidisciplinary field. One result of that effort, Steven McMullen's Animals and the Economy, is one of the few examples of research in animal ethics done by an economist.
McMullen's book is based on two questions: "Why do so many animals live such short lives in terrible conditions?" and "What could realistically be done to change their lives?"
His answer to the first points to fundamental, systemic ethical weaknesses in the structure of contemporary market economics. He writes that even though
animals have ethically relevant interests, and humans have a corresponding moral obligation to consider those interests when making decisions … current economic thinking marginalizes the interests of animals, usually leaving them outside the realm of consideration. This is not just a problem with the way we think about economics. Our economy is also built in a way that systematically marginalizes the interests of animals.(pp. 2–3)
This weakness is exacerbated by the fact that "even human interests in animal flourishing are marginalized" (p. 3). Consumers who desire animal-friendly products, producers who wish to build a more humane system, and researchers who want to move away from animal experimentation are consistently stymied by "systemic constraints [that] limit the expression of some preferences and encourage others," (p. 3) and produce a situation in which "many animals live lives that are clearly worse than their counterparts only 100 years ago" (p. 4). Accordingly, his suggestions for remedying the situation ultimately focus on systemic elements.
Following an introductory first chapter, McMullen describes the central problem in "The Place of Animals in the Economy" (Chapter 2). From a traditional economic perspective, animals are viewed in terms of their exchange value, not their inherent dignity. As "The Ethical Logic of Economics" (Chapter 3) explains, "It is the structure of the economy [emphasis added] that determines animal treatment in the commercial world" (p. 28). And because "economic logic is anthropocentric and consequentialist … only consequences that are easily valued in market terms are given consideration" (p. 31). Given these weaknesses, McMullen recommends "a new economic toolset" for economists. This would help economists to see animals as agents, whose interests are an intrinsic good.
Discussions of the place of consumers (Chapter 4, "Giving Consumers What They Want," and Chapter 5, "Ethical Consumer Action"), producers (Chapter 6, "Competition and Moral Complicity," and Chapter 7, "Regulating Animal Use"), and those engaged [End Page 228] in animal experimentation (Chapter 8, "Animal Experimentation") combine accounts of the ethical problems in each area and specific suggestions for improvement. For example, while proanimal consumer preferences are currently marginalized, McMullen argues that they could be better recognized with specific policy changes aimed to correct, for example, the information asymmetry between consumers and producers. Pointing out that current regulations aimed to ensure competition among producers and to guarantee safe products through animal experimentation are in direct conflict with the well-being of animals, McMullen argues for both reforming and strengthening government regulation. This would give both proanimal producers and experimenters more freedom to operate in a way that respects animals.
The final substantive section of the book (Chapter 9, "Property Rights and Animal Rights"; Chapter 10, "Ownership and Animal Oppression"; and Chapter 11, "A New Kind of Ownership") constitute an extended argument for changes in property law as it relates to animals. While not rejecting the idea that animals can be classed as property, McMullen recognizes the anthropocentric bias and serious harm perpetuated by current property laws, and he points to changes that would legally recognize the interests of animals. For example, he praises David...