What do Libertarians have to say about puppy mills?

Can you diagnose a market failure where there isn't really a market?

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I think I know some people who speak Libertarian, so here’s a question. To my mind, this tragic story is about puppy mills, but it’s more generally about regulation.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are notoriously prone to syringomyelia, which means “your brain is too large for your skull” (!), but they’re not the only breed to have been messed about by breeders and dog fanciers. The BBC decided to no longer show Crufts because, amongst other things, the standards for German Shepherds amounted to animal cruelty. (The 2016 winner could barely walk.) The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel people in the UK have a kitemark about trying to do something about the terrible health of the breed, and hooray for them. But the breeder of this tragic puppy said (effectively) “we abide by all laws”, and said nothing about making sure that their breeding stock was healthy - because they didn’t have to.

If you decide to buy a mobile phone from a particular company, and they then confess that it catches fire and explodes, so for your safety you shouldn’t use it, it’s perfectly reasonable to decide to not buy another phone from them again, because you did, after all, plan on buying another phone in a few years’ time. If you decide that, because you dislike Nestlé’s efforts to promote baby milk, or Amazon’s attempts to screw over other publishing companies, you’re going to boycott Nestlé or Amazon, well, other brands are available.

But you don’t have this choice when faced with a buying decision you’ll make at most a handful of times in your life, and that you’ll share with nobody else. Unless you’ve decided that it’s your life’s ambition to live in the same place for 40 years, and own a succession of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, how are you going to be able to tell which are the good and bad breeders?

And unless you’re stunningly unlucky, are you ever going to deal with a funeral parlour more than two or three times, ever? No - so in the US and the UK, costs are rising. You can hope that industry trends will mean a reversal of the trend eventually, but that’s as much wishful thinking as paying attention to the IMF forecasts: they might well be right, but would you bet on it? No.

So: what do we do about industries like dog breeding (or funeral parlours), where dodgy vendors sell to many people but will hardly ever have repeat customers or word of mouth? The social-democratic response is obvious: regulation enforced by the courts. What do libertarians say?

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This page contains a single entry by Sam Kington published on November 29, 2016 6:06 AM.

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