Thursday 31 January 2013

Cats: internalising the externality

The typical North American housecat cat is declawed: a veterinarian surgically removes the cat's front claws. Or, at least that was the case when we lived in North America. The norm in New Zealand is not to declaw as it's viewed as cruel to the cat and being not unlike amputating your fingers above the last joint. Some online sources suggest it is illegal to declaw cats in New Zealand.

If declawed cats are less able to indulge in their murderous ways, it can be the case that something somewhat cruel to cats is nevertheless on net animal welfare increasing. And, it seems a fairly appropriate way of internalising the relevant externality: the cat gets to exist,

Imagine yourself behind the Veil. You do not know whether you will be born a cat or a bird. In the state of the world in which cats are declawed, you are more likely to get to exist, get to exist as a cat, have a less happy life if a cat, and have a happier life if a bird. Do you, behind the veil, choose to prohibit, allow, or mandate declawing? It'll depend on how unhappy declawing makes cats, and how much effect declawing has on cats' ability to torment birds. The first isn't easy to assess, though I'd definitely pick declawed cat over non-existence. Does anybody know anything about the second?

Declawing: to help reduce the risk.

Conflict of interest watch: after our eventual extensive home repairs (earthquake), we'll likely have to get another cat. I prefer that that cat be declawed even counting the losses to the cat. I don't think this colours my analysis above.


  1. Eric,

    #1 article on the Herald this AM - where I come from the wildlife fights back, lost plenty of cats to snakes, pretty sure de-clawing would have seen them knocked out of the fight a bit quicker.

  2. Your "analysis" is merely a rationalization for cruelty.

    "Torment" birds indeed. Cats eat birds and rodents.

    Go behind your veil and think of a world where:

    1. Vegetarianism is enforced.

    2. There are no humans.



    You use abstractions as excuses to coerce, and otherwise dictate "correct" behavior.

  3. Gareth Morgan proposed banning cats. I wondered whether allowing cats to be declawed might be less coercive. Your comment really is a bit nuts.

  4. Just because someone else is more coercive or cruel doesn't change the point I made.

  5. Please go back and read my prior posts on the topic. I have an awfully hard time seeing what I have proposed that is coercive or cruel here. I've suggested that Morgan is right that cats impose harms on other wildlife, and that IF you wanted to count animals' utility directly, there are certain policy consequences that flow from that position that differ from Morgan's IF we stick within a broadly utilitarian setup. The current post is also in that framework: ASSUMING you count the utility losses among the victims of cats and the cat's utility from hunting AND IF you from that conclude we need to do something to reduce the harms done by cats, THEN you might prefer allowing declawing to banning cats.

    I'm trying to work in wertfreiheit here: given the other person's stated objectives and reasonable assumptions about the underlying welfare function, what recommendations follow? That's different from my endorsing any of those recommendations - it's a consistency check.

    If I told you that the best way to get to Invercargill were some route, that's not me telling you to go to Invercargill. It's me saying "If you want to go to Invercargill...".

  6. NZ wildlife differs considerably from that in other places. Some of our species seem to be trying to make themselves extinct. Have you seen the kakapo? Ridiculous animal that seems most interested in mating with Stephen Fry's head.

  7. You are wasting too much of your life thinking about Gareth Morgan....

  8. I understand, I just have difficulty with the imposition of any policy. I'm an anarcho-capitalist, and I think most public policy is not implemented for the common good, and even then, it is unnecessary.

  9. From what I have heard of declawing, I would unambiguously choose not being born at all to being born as a cat that was to be declawed. Their claws are too important to their sense of security, knowing that they can run up a tree or defend themselves if a dog approaches. My understanding is that declawed cats turn into nervous wrecks.

    (Full disclosure, I do and will continue to own neutered cats with their claws intact!)

  10. We adopted a very fat declawed cat when I was young. Seemed a very happy animal and would pick fights with the fully clawed barnyard cats.