Cats: internalising the externality

By Eric Crampton 31/01/2013

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.