Actual engagement was a weakness as people tended to ignore the passionate subculture with a rigid gospel prohibiting use of any and all animal products. The vegan movement’s brain finally outgrew its heart, and in less than two decades the pragmatic vein of the movement has morphed into one of the biggest disruptors of the American food system. Instead of throwing red paint at the fashion industry, picketing outside McDonald’s, and creating spectacles in the street, the small group devoted their energies to behind-the-scenes farm animal welfare policy, pressuring companies to improve housing conditions for pigs and hens while also drafting legislation and ballot measures to get the issues in front of voters. Friedrich leads The Good Food Institute, a lobbying shop in DC that represents the interests of meat-alternative food products; Shapiro helped mastermind a cage-free ballot initiative in Massachusetts that will reshape how food animals are produced across the country; Prescott has made inroads into major investment banks; Meier leads undercover investigation efforts to expose the poor living conditions of many farm animals; and Tetrick, who as a college student would travel from West Virginia to DC to hang out with the pragmatists, was a founder of Hampton Creek, the well-known eggless condiments company. By picking on farm animal production techniques that appeal to consumer emotions, the group forced companies with so-called factory farms into the difficult position of defending practices that can seem draconian.
That measure prohibits the in-state sale of eggs, veal, or pork from farms that confined their animals in spaces that prevented them from lying down, standing up, extending their limbs, or turning around. There aren’t many egg farms in Massachusetts, but if egg farmers in Iowa want to sell their goods to the 6.7 million people living in the northeastern state, they’ll have to re-outfit how they house and manage their flocks. Voters who empathize with farm animals were much more likely to buy into Shapiro’s measure. If sales data show consumers care about animal welfare, Matthew Prescott can use-and has used-it to convince investment banks to pressure companies, such as McDonald’s, to change their practices. Companies such as Perfect Day, Beyond Meat, and Hampton Creek are developing meat and dairy products marketed as better for the environment and the animals.
From the absolutist point-of-view, the pragmatists diminished the importance of fighting for animal lives by concentrating their energies on farm animal welfare. A commitment to reducing animal suffering, argues Gary Francione, a Rutgers University law professor, was an abdication of the bigger mission of freeing animals altogether.
Political analysts frequently consider what it means to be a libertarian. Almost no one ever discusses what it feels like to be a libertarian. It feels bad. Being a libertarian means living with an almost unendurable level of frustration. Imagine spending two decades warning that government policy is leading to a major economic collapse, and then, when the collapse comes, watching the world conclude that markets do not work.
Imagine continually explaining that markets function because they have a built in corrective mechanism; that periodic contractions are necessary to weed out unproductive ventures; that continually loosening credit to avoid such corrections just puts off the day of reckoning and inevitably leads to a larger recession; that this is precisely what the government did during the 1920’s that led to the great depression; and then, when the recession hits, seeing it offered as proof of the failure of laissez-faire capitalism. I remember attending a lecture at Georgetown in the mid-1990s given by a member of the libertarian Cato Institute in which he predicted that, unless changed, government policy would trigger an economic crisis by 2006. Libertarians spend their lives accurately predicting the future effects of government policy. Their predictions are accurate because they are derived from Hayek’s insights into the limitations of human knowledge, from the recognition that the people who comprise the government respond to incentives just like anyone else and are not magically transformed to selfless agents of the good merely by accepting government employment, from the awareness that for government to provide a benefit to some, it must first take it from others, and from the knowledge that politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics. For the same reason, their predictions are usually negative and utterly inconsistent with the utopian wishful-thinking that lies at the heart of virtually all contemporary political advocacy.
For the sin of continually pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, libertarians are attacked as heartless bastards devoid of compassion for the less fortunate, despicable flacks for the rich or for business interests, unthinking dogmatists who place blind faith in the free market, or, at best, members of the lunatic fringe. If you add to that curse that she would be ridiculed, derided, and shunned for making her predictions, you have a pretty fair approximation of what it feels like to be a libertarian. Trust me, it won’t feel any better five or ten years from now when everything you have just said has been proven true and Obama, like FDR, is nonetheless revered as the savior of the country.