Libertarians are often accused of being apologists for big businesses, and more specifically to the profit motive. Fallaciously following from this logic is the idea that libertarians care about money much more so than animals, the environment, the poor, etc. But as we will explore with animals, this assumption is utterly false.
Libertarians aren’t worried so much about profits at the expense of everything else, but rather, we understand the role of profits (and losses) and believe they are better apt to solve many of our animal crises of today.
First, a simple thought experiment is useful. Animals that are commonly privately owned, either for food, game, or etc. are more abundant than animals which must survive in the natural, violent world. When was the last time anyone has ever heard of chickens being endangered? The very reason that chickens are so abundant in today’s world is the profit motive driving owners of chickens to breed, or otherwise protect, chickens from becoming so. Without chickens, which they have developed skills in raising, their skills would be idle and they wouldn’t receive any profits, which is like a subsidy to protect chickens.¹
A common critique to this view is one held by vegans, that eating animals is immoral, thus the profit earned from selling animals for food is immoral. Yet, these people forget just how violent nature really is. If chickens were not owned by humans attempting to make a profit, they would be more quickly killed by animals trying to survive. The main difference between humans and animals is the ability to economize, i.e. the ability to satisfy scarce resources to the most valued ends by consumers. A hungry animal just wants food, whereas a hungry human wants food today, and tomorrow, and for as long as possible. An animal may eat the chicken without hesitation, whereas a human will try to make that animal last as long as possible. The best way to elongate a species’ survival is to breed that species.
Furthermore, dissenters of the profit motive in conserving animal life forget the function of pets. We don’t eat or hunt all the animals we wish to own, sometimes we just like having them around. Cats and dogs are classic examples of owning pets, and ensuring their species’ survival. The (monetary) profit motive disappears, but there still is a profit motive to be enjoyed by owning a pet, namely the psychic profit motive. Pets make their owners happy for a plethora of reasons, so much so that the monetary loss ensued is much smaller than the psychic profit gained.
Simply, animal ownership saves animal lives.
Another common critique is as follows: “But what about animals that are already endangered? Surely we should not wish to eat, hunt, or otherwise own these animals, as that will obviously diminish the number of them remaining.” Again, this is wrong.
Any endangered animal will be more protected if people are allowed to eat, hunt, or otherwise own these animals. The somewhat counterintuitive answer is because of the profit motive.
The profit motive enables humans to be rewarded, usually monetarily, to learn the skills of protecting animal species either by owning, breeding, or selling for game. Let’s examine hunting in-depth.
If one owns any specific animal which is popularly hunted, it abides by the same economic laws as any other good, namely supply and demand. The profit motive ensures that the owner has an incentive to keep the animal from extinction, for if extinction happened, he would be out of a job.
Likewise, if nobody owns the animals, there is no incentive to keep certain animals from going extinct. The government could arbitrarily claim that hunting any certain animal is illegal, but as we have seen with prohibition, laws don’t stop people from fulfilling their demand for a certain good. In India, endangered tigers died more rapidly in government-provided tiger reserves, than in the wild, despite poaching, an illegal process, happening more in the latter.
Contrast this with an owner of an endangered species of animals. Let’s say he owns 50 bison, and charges a certain fee to hunters to hunt the bison. As the number of bison he owns diminishes, he will a) charge higher premiums to hunters, deterring the marginal hunter from hunting completely; and b) he will either engage in more breeding practices or purchase more bison from another owner of bison, who has the same incentives to protect the bison as previously discussed.
When owning and hunting bison is outlawed, it simply means that any potential hunters must hunt illegally. While this might deter any marginal hunters, it won’t make the hunters’ pockets hurt with each bison they catch, as it would when someone owned the bison.
If laws did diminish the demand for the illegal goods, then this would work. In reality, laws just create black markets for goods, which, in the case of animal life lead to a quicker extinction precisely because the profit motive has disappeared.
Shortages can only occur when free market principles are not allowed to work, usually by governmental law. There is no reason whatsoever to conclude that this is any different when the good in question is endangered animals. In other words, privatization can save animal lives.