An op-ed by Liam Neeson in yesterday’s New York Times caught my eye. New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, has pledged to eradicate the scourge of horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.
Ah! I get it. It must be the pollution and traffic back-ups caused by these vehicles. Right? Wrong. It has nothing to do with negative externalities. The mayor’s beef (so to speak) with horse drawn carriages is that they are “inhumane.”
I know nothing about horses but I know a bit of economics. I know the industry would collapse on its own tomorrow if the paying public got the slightest whiff that the cute horses pulling them around the park were sweatshop workers. A rich customer likes to think well of themselves, and certainly doesn’t want to think of themselves as slave drivers. The point of a carriage ride is not to get somewhere, the point is to enjoy the ride. This includes smelling some poop and perspiration and petting the mane and hearing the puff of air out the nostrils.
The industry is already regulated, with horses working about six hours a day. Further, horses “cannot work in excessive cold or heat, and must also be furloughed for five weeks a year on a pasture in the country.”
Sweet! That’s a longer vacation than most human workers get. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers with 5 years of service receive on average two weeks of vacation per year.
I am in agreement with Jeremy Bentham that the pains of our fellow creatures on earth should be included in any utilitarian calculus. Unlike Bentham I am also willing to state there are certain basic animal rights—what they are we can debate. Do horses have a “right” to work? Neeson noted that “horses are at their happiest and healthiest when working.”
We owned a sheltie dog and what we did to that dog was criminal: we never let it work. It pined to herd sheep. Although we had a large yard for it to run and we took it on long walks, what it really wanted to do was collect and manage, and it would be happiest doing that in the snow. We deprived it of that work and its life was (I think) less satisfying because of it.
The lesson: we have a duty to fellow creatures (exactly what that is we can debate). But that duty surely extends to giving dignity and meaning to the life of work.