Farm animal treatment: letting states and markets sort it out

The New York Times’s “Room for Debate” feature has a round table up on the movement for more humane treatment of farm animals and invited me to participate. I argue that local variation in laws and the emergence of distinct markets for humanely raised meat are preferable to calls for federal government intervention. More: Tom Laskawy, Grist; and see my Cato follow-on post referenced here.


  • Fair enough. Do you believe regulation of tort laws should be best left to local variation by the states as well?

  • Generally, yes, for the ordinary run of cases that do not cross state lines (e.g. med-mal, auto collision, premises). Product liability is different because it systematically tempts state courts to externalize costs by asserting power across state lines. And there are of course many federal activities, comprehensive regulatory schemes, and other legal presences that may justify case-by-case departures from the general rule of state handling.

    What were you expecting me to say?

  • Setting aside for a second old “systematic tempting of state courts to externalize cost by asserting their power across state lines” argument – a real winner because you can retrofit any facts you want to support the thesis – I want you to specifically say this:

    “I’m a huge fan of medical malpractice caps, caps on attorneys’ fees, and anything else I can think of to screw malpractice victims and prevent American juries from making their own informed decisions based on the facts (Walter, feel free to play with the wording just a bit). But I think federal intrusion into states’ rights by instituting damage caps like H.R. 5 proposes is ridiculous. I agree with Republican Congressman Lee Terry that states are free to do what they want but the federal government should stay out of this. “

  • Gosh Ron, the reason for caps is that malpractice is, in the main, adverse outcome insurance. You can not buy an open ended life insurance policy. The premium is related to the face amount of the policy, and there is the matter of insurable interest. Jackpot awards based on emotion is bad social policy. The premiums for such adverse outcome insurance can not be justified and states lose medical providers. And where is justice when a guy with shortness of breath gets $200 million in Mississippi because the jury for his case had access to deep out-of-state pockets. This is why insurance awards for airplane accidents is limited.