Thanks for putting this together! It’s really great to see attempts at quantitatively prioritizing animal suffering, and I wish people would do more of it.
I do think you are misusing the word elasticities. The table you cite in compassion by the pound used the price elasticities of supply and demand to come up with their estimates, but these numbers they report are not elasticities, since that term usually refers to the change in demand or supply in response to price or income.
This leaves me particularly confused as to your interpretation of what you call “cross-price elasticities”—a cross-price elasticity of demand refers to the percent increase in demand of commodity x in response to a percent increase in price of commodity y. You are using the term to refer to “the increase in other products which are purchased as substitutes by these other consumers.” The reason this distinction is important is that traditional elasticities of demand account for individual consumers substituting one good for another due to price changes—they do not show the net change in equilibrium quantity of one good in response to a demand change of another good. Since you are basing this on your own assumptions rather than data, all I’m suggesting here is a rephrasing.
If you are truly looking for a cross-price elasticity of demand, these are well studied for most commodities and can be found here.
My final comment is that I am puzzled by your conclusion regarding milk given that the welfare metrics you use are just scales from better to worse and do not have an interpretation for their absolute value. It could be that your metrics are exactly spot on, but milk products still impose enormous suffering on cows per pound. I’m puzzled by your conclusions regarding the relative importance of climate change for the same reason.
Anyways, thanks again for working on this. I hope my comments don’t come across as too critical, as I think that carefully reasoning through these issues is really important.
Thanks! It seems like the big question I missed in my list that is in the article is “a full accounting of the externalities associated with animal agriculture” which I agree may be useful.
The article seems to take for granted that thorough research on the cost of production of welfare increasing practices would be good because the public assumes they are very high whereas in some cases they are actually not. I certainly agree that there are many interventions that are quite low cost, but I wonder if some of this research may backfire if the costs for certain interventions are quite high. I guess the animal ag industry already has a very good sense of this, and there is value in making this information public, but I’d be interested in others’ opinions on this.
Thanks for taking the time to look into this.
I think this highlights the issues with the nomenclature of effective altruism. I find the question “do you identify as an effective altruist” to be akin to “do you identify as a good person.” No matter how much I donate to EA causes or how much good I do with my career, I would not answer yes because it comes off to me as a bit presumptuous and arrogant, and it insinuates that people outside this community are not as effective and altruistic. To be clear, I think the community as a whole does a ton of good and I’m grateful it exists—my concern (which I know others have raised as well) is only with the title.
I agree that looking at more concrete metrics of contribution (e.g. percentage of income donated) might be more informative.
I don’t know off the top of my head—sorry. I heard this second hand from someone involved, so I will ask next time I see the person I heard it from.
I think the economics are definitely worth worrying about, but I also think they work out. There are a small number of large firms that contract out to farmers(eg Tyson’s), but a large number of contract farmers. Farmers tend to stop producing more chickens at a point where the marginal cost of an additional chicken are increasing. If we can get the marginal farmer to stop producing, then we would expect that the farmers that would replace them would have higher costs and therefore produce fewer chickens.
Thanks for the link, that sounds great
I don’t have great answers to alternatives, but dairy farms can be turned I to beer breweries or plant-based milk facilities, chicken farms can be turned to mushroom growing facilities, most farms can grow crops that are not typically used for feed, but which ones depend on the region. A small number of farms in certain locations can support touristy businesses like pick-your-own-apples and go-on-a-hayride but that is not scalable. I’m looking into pig farms but I’m not sure about how they might be repurposed.
More and more jobs offer remote work, and while this won’t work for most farmers, I suspect a lot of (particularly young) would-be farmers underestimate the number of options.
I’m still thinking and will post if I come up with other ideas.
As for the anti-tobbacco lobbying goes, there was a group that was prominent in the anti-tobbacco movement that would go farm to farm educating farmers about crops that could be grown on the same land (peanuts and cotton as well as some corn and soy). Those crops were more mechanized than tobacco, so they would tell the farmers about how to get started. They framed it as “the tobbacco industry is not long for this world and we want to help you out.” As far as I know (I’m hearing this all second and third hand, so I can’t be sure) there was no insinuating that the growers were doing anything wrong.
Thanks, I am glad hear that they are working on that. It does sound a bit different than what I had in mind in that(judging only from the podcast you linked to) they are much more focused on welfare issues rather than economic ones. This surely has benefits that focusing on economics doesn’t, but I wonder if in a separate project/film, they could reach a wider audience by making a mostly economic case