The Libertarian Case for Veganism

I want to follow up on Evan’s excellent piece recently about how veganism isn’t just for liberals. It’s a very interesting argument that connects with one of the valuable pillars of a veganism: the politics. It’s incredibly significant, yet widely unrecognized. Politics is a concept that is misunderstood and maligned, especially in today’s intense and divisive cultural climate. But it’s also an inherent force that’s in the background of our interactions and actions, especially as being vegan. My choice to be vegan is a statement about my commitment to saving animals, minimizing my ecological footprint, and changing the way I think about our relationship with animals and the world. More importantly, though, it’s a statement against the absolutely wicked animal agriculture industry; it’s a demonstration of my disavowal of and separation from animal agriculture and exploitation. This is the most salient aspect of veganism, partly because I’m a political junkie, but mostly because it’s so true and so effective. Seriously, there isn’t any other thing we can do to stand up to an industry that’s actively harming us, animals, and the planet. This is something I wrote about a while ago, so I won’t go too far into that argument here.

The point really is that politics isn’t just about Democrat vs. Republican or liberal vs. conservative, it’s also about power and influence, support or opposition, free association and virtue signaling, etc. This broader, more subtle framework of politics is present in each of us, it’s the force that ultimately moves society and culture. It’s also the underpinnings of partisan politics, but because of the theatrics of today’s discourse, we just think of politics as partisanship when it is really much deeper than that.

All this is to say that Evan is provoking a discussion that is long overdue for veganism. We need to acknowledge that veganism isn’t something that appeals to liberals only, it’s a lifestyle choice that can align with anyone with almost any philosophical predispositions. To show how this is true, I am going to make the libertarian case for veganism. I think we can all intuit how veganism connects with liberal thinking, but I don’t think it’s as obvious how it connects with libertarianism, which is arguably the opposite of liberalism.

Why libertarianism?

Some of you may be asking why I went right to libertarianism (pun intended) instead of conservativism. The reason is that libertarianism essentially has all the logical and consistent parts of conservativism, without the religiosity, corporate protectionism, and foreign intervention that pervades conservative thinking. This is a fundamental difference between these two philosophies. Libertarianism is a secular philosophy, meaning it doesn’t inherently involve a religious belief, and it prescribes that the government does very little in the way of corporate protectionism or foreign intervention. Conservativism, on the other hand, is the opposite.

Basically, my arguments apply for both philosophies and I avoid the logical pitfalls and inconsistencies associated with conservative thinking. I also want to give light to libertarianism because it’s widely misunderstood, misrepresented, and underappreciated, yet it is incredibly meaningful and worthwhile both as a philosophy and a way of thinking about government and public policy.

What is libertarianism?

A quick definition is that it’s a political philosophy that…

  • the government ought to exert little to no role, power, or presence in society, except for national defense and security;
  • individuals ought to freely exercise their liberty and association;
  • market forces, voluntary exchange, and free choice are good for society;
  • government force and coercion, especially taxation, is bad for society.

This is a decent conception of libertarianism, but there is depth, breadth, and nuance that it doesn’t account for. For further learning, there are some superb resources for credible and valid information about libertarianism, including the Cato Institute, the Mises Institute, and Reason TV. Also, a great discussion about the dimensions and implications of libertarianism can be found on The Tom Woods Show, which is another great resource. Like I said earlier, there is much more to libertarianism than the conception I laid out, but the purpose of this post is to speak generally about the philosophy, so I will not be going into such detail. However, I strongly encourage everyone to explore this information and learn more about libertarian thinking and arguments; they’re intriguing and important, and you might be surprised to find that you’ve got some libertarian tinges.

Libertarianism is essentially about limited government and maximized individual freedom, so what does it have to do with veganism? How do these two seemingly different concepts connect with each other? It turns out that there is quite a fascinating and compelling case to make that puts forth how a libertarian framework and approach can help to justify veganism and promote the its growth in the world. I will argue both points in this post.

Connecting libertarianism with veganism.

First, I’ll begin with how libertarianism can be used to justify veganism. To start, the cause of veganism is broadly centered around increasing availability and affordability for vegan products in the marketplace, eliminating governmental support for animal agriculture, and securing the bodily liberty and freedom from captivity for farmed animals. The first two goals strongly align with libertarian values, which I will elaborate on in the following paragraphs. The last goal is the most abstract, but it does align with the libertarian value of maximizing liberty and minimizing coercion. Farmed animals experience horrid and indefensible subjugation, captivity, violence, abuse, theft, and stress. With all the knowledge we have about animal sentience, their social dynamics, and the richness of their experiences, it is logical and valid to extend the virtues of bodily liberty and minimal-to-no coercion to farmed animals and all other nonhuman animals. Therefore, people who are serious about and committed to these virtues should apply them to nonhuman animals as well.

Growing the market for vegan products has been and continues to be a positive thing. It’s also important to highlight because it reflects the market-driven voluntary exchange of goods, and the growing supply of and demand for vegan products. Our ability to consume vegan products in the first place is because there is a market for it; the government cannot provide this many goods and options, especially at the scale that is needed. A positive effect from the market growth of vegan products is that it leads to competition in sales, which ultimately leads to differentiation, innovation, and lower prices. This is all good for consumers, suppliers, and entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, government support of the animal agriculture industry goes against one of the strongest values of libertarianism: excessive government interference. Through laws like the FARM Bill (newly passed in late 2018) and The Animal Welfare Act, and state ratification and enforcement of ag-gag laws, states and the federal governments protect this destructive industry. In addition to this arguably being government overreach, it has two bad downstream effects. The first bad effect is that the government is supporting an industry and practice that is horrible and harmful; secondly, the government’s support creates barriers to entry for competitors, particularly from vegan products. This ties back to the importance of a free market, too, because at least in the marketplace, people can more easily choose alternative products from meat or things not derived from animals.

Another interesting point is that the even if we stipulate that government interference is necessary, it hasn’t done a good job at serving the public when it comes to food policy. So, there’s the government support of animal agriculture that I just mentioned, but there is also a deeper problem of poor administration that makes the libertarian case stronger. In other words, the government does an incredibly bad job at governing, such a bad job that it can arguably demonstrate why government interference is negative. For example, the “MyPlate” model: It is essentially a healthy-eating guideline, includes dairy, which is widely known to actually not be healthy for human consumption. In fact, Harvard University published their own “Healthy Eating Plate” model to “address deficiencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s MyPlate.” This is information that is supposed to educate Americans about how to eat healthily, but the federal government can’t even do that right. Another example is the general ineffectiveness of bureaucrats. Examples of this are rife throughout society, from government regulators from the Animal Inspection Service who removed records about animal welfare related to the Animal Welfare Act; to state officials who neglect to develop their own regulations surrounding animal welfare, space and volume limitations, antibiotic use, or waste management; and even to regimes within the USDA that refuse internal documents from promoting Meatless Mondays. This is a small sample of the profound way governments fail at governing effectively, which instantiates the argument that they ought not regulate at all because they’re so bad at it when they try.

So, there are some good arguments that justify and support veganism; many of the principles underlying these two philosophies align with each other. The next point to address, though, is how libertarian thinking can be used to promote vegan living. First, we should stop hoping for or expecting government intervention. We need to shift our focus to consuming and promoting vegan products, being educated about the marketplace and processes of food production and distribution, and ultimately, advocating for deregulation in this sector. All of the progress we’ve seen regarding veganism has been in the marketplace, the government is arguably counter-productive to the cause because of its support for animal agriculture and general ineffectiveness. The pursuit of achieving a vegan world is arguably more of an economic issue than a public policy one.

In a regime of strong competition, in which subsidies that deflate the price of meat didn’t exist, vegan products would be comparatively more attractive. In other words, if was a fair fight between meat and vegan alternatives, the vegan stuff would probably win; the question is how long the victory would take. It’s very impressive to think about how popular and accessible vegan products have gotten in this current regime of government protectionism and market dominance of meat, so imagine how much growth we’d see in the vegan sector once the field is leveled!

Even with a market and governmental regime that is skewed in favor of meat and dairy from farmed animals, there is a lot of hope for vegan products, which is incredible and inspiring. Demand for vegan, plant-based products is surging! Katrina Fox, a contributor to Forbes and the founder of Vegan Business Media, wrote a thorough and hopeful article about how the market is moving towards more ethical vegan alternatives. This reinforces the power that we have to vote for veganism with our dollars, to grow its marketshare, and to increase its availability and affordability for consumers. Our voting power becomes much more powerful when there are competitive options for us to vote on, which arguably can only be enabled by a free-market, libertarian regime of society and governance.

Takeaways

The libertarian case for veganism is strong and compelling. I genuinely believe that all of the progress we’ve seen in the effort to spread veganism has taken place in the marketplace. This is incredibly compelling, Evan has talked about how there are so many options for vegans nowadays and I think he is, again, identifying an important and valuable aspect of veganism today. Vegan food is delicious and diverse, and this has implications for the appeal that veganism has for the general public.

I also genuinely believe that the government is currently not helping to promote veganism, let alone do anything to stifle the animal agriculture industry. I think it’s even fair to characterize most governmental regimes as opponents to the cause. Besides a lack of political or administrative will, there is a deeper question of if the government can even do anything positive in this realm. So, at least in the context of veganism, we shouldn’t hope too hard for government support to suddenly shift towards our priorities. We should instead focus our collective energy on promoting veganism in the marketplace and as an individual choice we all can make that would effectively normalize it in society.

With a libertarian framework and approach, we can act in a more direct and impactful way. We already see that this has essentially been happening, so why not pursue that path further, to grow the availability and affordability of more ethical and sustainable vegan goods and services. Over time, the markets will recognize the shift in demand and there will be a natural, uncontrolled revolution towards these options. It’s Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ at work, that will move all the pieces into place so we can get closer to a vegan world.

 

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