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February 12, 2006


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Rue Des Quatre Vents

Prof Sunstein,

Price Discrimination: just a conjecture, but consider a tactic Costa Coffee employed with its fair trade coffee blend. I don't have a precise source location, but this is covered in Tim Harford's Freakonomics spin-off called "The Undercover Economist." Costa coffee would offer two sorts of coffee, one more expensive than the other, on the grounds that the coffee beans were bought at a fair price. That is, the farmers who harvested the coffee beans were given a greater price than they might otherwise be given in an open market. The appeal was that these farmers deserved to be remunerated better than market conditions would allow. But when the coffee was sold in the store the increase in price of the fair trade coffee over the regular blend did not reflect the proportionate price increase Costa Coffee paid to the famers. What it reflected was that some people were willing to pay more not only for doing good, but also for thinking that they were doing good. Suppose, if the regular coffee was $1.50, the fair trade was $1.65. But if the additional cost of paying the farmers at a fair price were accurately reflected in the price of the coffee in the store, it'd be more like $1.55. So whoever bought the fair trade coffee self-selected themselves as people willing to pay more based upon their implicit if vague belief in international social justice. So perhaps such a market advantage might be employed by the chicken/cattle industry with respect to people sensitive to animal rights?

Timothy Zimmerman

Professor Sunstein,

One of the best examples of what you talk about that I have seen is the Mexican food chain Chipotle. In the last three or four years they have moved rapidly changed their offerings to be solely free-range pork, chicken, etc. It seems that they established themselves as a great restaurant prior to really embracing the cause of animal welfare in their menu choices however. Do you think that the most successful way for animal welfare to be economically beneficial would come from the largest companies down to the smallest ones? There will always be niche stores that fulfill a need in large markets where consumers demand such products, but in order to truly make animal welfare a priority motivated by economics, does the $1 McChicken have to become the $2 free-range McChicken?

Liam Jackson

Professor Sunstein,

Might you say something about the manner in which you think such labeling practices could be regulated and enforced? A current problem with so-called "free range" products is that there exist no formal industry-wide standards defining "free range" practices. As such the free-range label is absolutely meaningless (especially since free-range conditions create new possibilities for abuse - including the potential for violence between and among the animals themselves). Any serious attempt to enlist market support (in the form of labeling) for self-initiated reforms must involve the articulation of formal industry-wide standards governing the treatment of animals as well as some regulatory mechanism which allows for the intermittent inspection of factories and farms to ensure compliance.

Another obvious issue concerns the impact of such welfare reforms on attempts to publicize and articulate the moral significance of non-human animals. Would market-driven improvements to animal welfare discourage some consumers from going vegetarian/vegan (believing it sufficient to purchase "cruelty-free" products)? I am always suspicious that the ultimate effect of "welfare reforms" is merely to make the consumption of meat socially acceptable - if meat and dairy consumption rose as a result of welfare reforms, have we actually reduced animal cruelty according to any meaningful calculus?

On the other hand, attention to the treatment of animals might possibly make the production process more visible in the minds of consumers (it is exactly this invisibility, and the meat industry knows well, which allows injustice against non-human animals to flourish), and might have the consequence of discouraging overall meat and dairy consumption.

Have you studied the results of dolphin-safe tuna labeling practices (as well as the troubles such practices got into from the WTO, etc.)?

Kimball Corson

I am working on my paper on 'gnat standing' and will get back to you all shortly. (Don't they feel pain too?)

Kimball Corson

Is a discussion of animal rights really meaningful when we murder so many daily for food? Or is it only that we want to address visible and imminent cruelty that offends us so we can keep our sensibilities intact and feel we have done something? Does the purpose for which an animal was killed really matter? Is it not dead either way? Do we not simply rationalize here instead of coming to grips with the real problems?


I wrote a business plan for a company that would do this sort of branding science. Consumer report/good house keeping seal...pay to have your product screened, neutral information made available online, beautifully typeset mind you.

It's behavioral economics, object relations, knowledge management, and graphic design among other things.
Good stuff yeah.

I it, I you, I thou...


i like what u wrote im with animal rights

Barbara Barzilai

I absolutely support your perspective and would like to help in any way I can. I thought your presentation was thorough, intelligently stated and yet was not "too pushy" as to turn off non-vegetarians. Most meat-eaters actually do care about animal welfare, and as you stated are just ignorant to facts.

Bekir L. Yildirim

The cyniststs "why" questions are tenous at best. Such "whys" always exist on any issue with moral dimensions. A certification by appropriate organizations would be a step in the right direction. That cannot be deemed to leave the animal welfare to the consumers' buying habits, for it does not hinder other mechanisms, but provides an aditional means. Just as Kosher or Halal labeling does not substitute for the prudence by the faithful. Like any other soscial issue, the solutions do not come in a revultionary fashion, but with incremental changes, such as the one proposed in the article. I fully support, and would be willing to pay the premium commensurate with the additional cost.

maryann rollins

hey i am maryann rollins and i am looking for a college i want to go to. so that i no what kind of grades i have to have to get in cause i have pretty good grades. and the prices like for trimesters or how ever you do it so please reply with some answers!!!

Maryann Rollins

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