Supply and Demand

I.

I have earned much flak for my simple line of thought:

If one believes that (non-human) animals are equal to humans in any meaningful way, then one should do everything they can to liberate animals–even if this requires breaking the law.

These days Gary Francione is the fashionable animal rights theory–which is mighty disappointing to me, because I never found his thought particularly rigorous–though Francione’s abolitionism is better than Singer’s utilitarianism. One facet of Francione’s thought is that it has united the belief with animal rights with a staunch, and conditionally-independent, non-violence.

I see the animal rights movement as the logical progression of the peace movement…

Gary Francione, A Comment on Violence.

It makes for a very different sort of animal rights when one approaches it as an expansion of another movement–especially one that seems to have won no victories in its entire existence. (I may be wrong, and please let me know in the comments if the peace movement has ever stopped systemic violence).

Part of the Francionian abolitionism, as opposed to the older ALF/ELF abolitionism, is focused on reducing demand, because spreading veganism is seen as the most peaceful and morally upright way to save animals.

EDIT: By “part of Francionian abolitionism”, I mean, specifically, one of the consequentialist arguments used by followers of a mostly deontological ethical system.

II.

In fact the idea of veganism being the best way to help animals, is dependent on a few basic premises that must be true:

  • The relationship between supply and demand is always direct and reciprocal.
  • A vegan diet has a noticeable effect on demand for animal by/products.
  • A slow reduction in the supply of animal by/products is the best thing for animals.

III.

For individual animals, or even entire generations of animals, veganism is useless–the vegan message if a cow or chicken could hear and understand it–is that the individual chicken doesn’t matter. Not even this entire generation of cow matters. The fight is for the descendants a hundred, a thousand generations down the line in a hypothetical future where all, or at least most, humans have given up using animals. This is the policy of only approaching demand as a worthy tactic.

IV.

Has anyone one ever presented evidence that there is a correlation between the number of vegans and the number of animals slaughtered? It seems self-evident, right? But where are the numbers? I can easily find the number of animals slaughtered each year, due in part to the USDA having a lot of records (thanks Upton Sinclair). Polls that show the number of vegans in this country are a bit harder to come by–they exist, but they are hardly comparable.

There is a trend of growth however where the number of vegans in the US has grown from around .2% of the population in 1994 to .5% of the population in 2008, based on a number of polls, that is from around 500,000 to over 1,500,000 people.

Using USDA data the amount of meat from livestock (cows, sheep, and pigs) was 42.5 billion pounds in 1994 which rose to 50.2 billion pounds in 2008, an increase of 18.12%.

The amount of meat from poultry (chickens, turkeys, and ducks) was 39.88 billion pounds in 1994. The number was a whopping 58.7 billion pounds in 2008, an increase of 47.19%.

The US population in 1994 was 267 million people. That is 159.18 pounds of livestock and 149.36 pounds of poultry per person.

The US population in 2008 was 312 million people. That is 160.9 pounds of livestock per person and 188.14 pounds of poultry per person.

Edit: The US population increased by 16.85%, smaller than the increase in the vegan population  as well as pounds of flesh per person.

I don’t know what sort of changes we should have expected from a growth in veganism (or even vegetarianism which experienced a less dramatic increase from around 1.7% to over 3% of the population between ’94 and ’08). The increase in production of animal flesh is enough to begin questioning the tactical efficacy of only promoting veganism, if not questioning the worth of veganism for creating systemic change at all.

V.

Yet Francionian vegans remain attached to the belief that they can hinder, and one day stop, demand (and perhaps the growth of veganism, vegetarianism, and similar movements have drastically shaped demand).

The question that very few seem willing to ask is if demand and supply are as intimately connected as we have been taught to think they are. You see this is often the argument used when someone advocates, or just points out the usefulness of direct action–we must focus on demand, because it is the only way to “peacefully” bring about the change we desire.

I recently stumbled across an address by DeLisle Worrell, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, entitled What’s Wrong With Economics. One point that stood out to me was:

A second example of economists’ misrepresentation of the world is the notion that prices are determined by an equilibrium of supply and demand in a market. This notion is so fundamental to economics that it is accepted without question, and not only by economists. A visitor from Mars would find this quite strange, because when he looked around him, he would be hard pressed to find anything resembling a market in which buyers and sellers negotiate the price of things bought and sold. In real life retail prices are always predetermined by the seller, and wholesale, producer and other prices are determined by contract.

Worrell goes on to explain how our conception of economics was born at the tail end of a world where markets were real physical places where buyers and sellers haggled, within a specific place within a specific time that constrained their bargaining power to the factors of supply and demand. We no longer live within such a time, and have not for a long time.

As early as 1906 people were already questioning the supremacy of the Supply-demand maxim. A Daniel De Leon wrote an editorial in the July 10, 1906 Daily People where he critiqued the notion that supply follows demand. He pointed out that in certain circumstances not meeting demand would also result in higher profits. Which leads to his statement:

“Under capitalism, Supply follows or lags behind Demand according as Profits may be swelled by an increase or a relative decrease of Supply,” or in shorter form “Not Demand, but Profits controls Supply.”

It is a simple and logical proposition–profit determines supply. Estimated demand is only one of the factors that goes into determining expected profits, and hence supply.

Francionian abolitionists critique liberationists and welfarists for their focus on the “supply side” of the problem as opposed to the “demand side.” But when supply is made up of the lives and bodies of animals it is the only side for any AR activist to approach. The Francionian vegan merely approaches supply through consumer demand, the direct action liberationist through the material production, and the welfarist through a sort of ethical idealism and collective guilt.

VI.

The militant user of direct action is, in my eyes, the only vegan walking the talk of animal equality. Despite what Francionians believe, there is the possibility that those who don’t limit their actions to vegan advocacy are the only ones creating material change.

The Francionians believe that these actions are futile because they don’t change demand, and that replacement abattoirs will arise. These activists want a slow turn to universal veganism, because they believe it is the only way–as posted at Unpopular Vegan Essays:

Any attempt to force, threaten, vandalize, or terrorize our way toward abolition will only backfire, cause resistance, and shut down moral and rational dialogue. We cannot educate people about pro-social, healthy, and nonviolent veganism whom we are simultaneously threatening, vandalizing, terrorizing, or “at war” with. This would be true even when a relatively large percentage (say, 30%) of the population is vegan. This is especially true when only a very small percentage (about 1%) of society is vegan.

Whether or not this slow evolution to a vegan society is possible (or even desirable) it seems to place veganism before animals. Just like profit as the driving force of supply is pushed into the background by a focus on demand, so are animals overshadowed by veganism.

xo

Royce

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3 Responses to Supply and Demand

  1. adam says:

    Royce, I’m not the biggest fan of Francione, but I think it is inaccurate to characterize Francione’s veganism as “focused on reducing demand”. I can’t recall him ever arguing from a consequentialist position (like Singer). Veganism for Francione, like peace, is an unconditional principle. It seems like you are starting from your own consequentialist foundation of morality and evaluating non-consequentialists, but this might not be a valid method if consequentialist and deontological approaches are incommensurable worldviews.

    Anyway, have you heard about Meatpaper? Seems like something you’d like
    http://www.meatpaper.com/

  2. Royce says:

    Francione’s own comments on militant direct action point to the need to advocate veganism because it addresses demand instead of those who address supply. Francione often writes about veganism as an unconditional principle in his published writings, but he takes on consequentialist arguments himself in his blog and within his forums when confronting arguments that are themselves consequentialist.

    Despite my misgivings about deontological approaches I wouldn’t reduce all of Francione’s thought to the position of removing demand. I only recognize what I believe to be a flaw in the consequentialist arguments that I’ve seen from Francionian abolitionists when they aren’t being so deontological.

    And I hadn’t seen meatpaper, but I’m gonna check it out.

  3. Pingback: Vegans Are Tools « Pythagorean Crank

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