Let’s torture pigs so that we’ll have more left to kill.

12 11 2009

I am so done with Freakonomics. Like me, you’ve probably read all the stuff about how bad the global warming chapter is in Superfreakonomics. Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker writes:

Indeed, just about everything they have to say on the topic is, factually speaking, wrong.

I figured I’d skip the new book, but keep reading the Freakonomics blog as it can sometimes be very interesting. Unfortunately, it seems like Levitt and Dubner have decided to give a permanent platform to this guy. Today he offers a heartfelt, compassionate defense of pig torture:

Horrible as it all sounds, many pig farmers vehemently insist on the humaneness of the farrowing crate. Critics might condemn the crate as little more than a productivity maximizer. But consider why it maximizes productivity: farrowing crates prevent piglets from being crushed to death. As many conventional pig farmers note, the crate’s design is carefully engineered to discourage mothers from rolling over on their suckling or sleeping babies, something that happens with alarming regularity in open systems.

Luckily, a reader named Richard has already posted what I was thinking in the comments:

OK, so let’s get this straight. Option 1: pig suffers. Option 2: baby pigs get killed.

Consider now option 3. If we cannot raise pigs humanely (because of 1 or 2) above, then we should not raise pigs. To the farmer who says they have to do option 1 to prevent 2, I say “no you don’t”. You are inherently engaged in a cruel, inhumane business – don’t make out that you are some sort of saint. You are not.

Paul Krugman picked out a particularly good line from Kolbert that applies here as well:

But what’s most troubling about “SuperFreakonomics” isn’t the authors’ many blunders; it’s the whole spirit of the enterprise. Though climate change is a grave problem, Levitt and Dubner treat it mainly as an opportunity to show how clever they are.

In this case, you don’t have to be a trained scientist to figure out the problem with the pig argument. You don’t even have to be a vegetarian. You just have to realize that there are other ways to raise pigs than by the thousands.


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