Protection for the Powerless: Political Economy History Lessons for the Animal Welfare Movement
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Subjectanimal welfare, animal law, child labor, legal history, political economy, social movement theory
In the last several decades, animal agriculture has experienced a dramatic shift in production methods, from family farms to concentrated industrial operations, with societal consequences comparable to the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. The new confinement operations raise significant moral questions regarding the humane treatment of animals subject to modern methods that emphasize economics over animal welfare. The success of the animal welfare movement, however, hinges on whether society will adopt regulations, based on moral considerations, that are directly opposed to its economic self-interest. The situation is remarkably similar to the plight of child laborers caught in the transformation of manufacturing methods during the Industrial Revolution. This article uses the history of child labor reform to construct a model for how society enacts protections for politically powerless groups, such as children and animals. Using the insights of new social movement theory, the article concludes that animal welfare reform will require a complex mixture of resources, including the difficult task of norm development. While the path to such reform is long, the child labor history shows that success is possible.