Sentientist Economics – Nicolas Treich – Sentientism Episode 115

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Nicolas is a research associate at INRAE (L’institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement) and the Toulouse School of Economics. His work focuses on risk and decision theory, environmental economics, benefit-cost analysis and, more recently, on animal welfare. He has published scientific papers on subjects including the precautionary principle, the value of statistical life, and climate policy. He has organized several international conferences and written numerous articles for the general public, as well as reports on risk policy issues.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here everywhere else.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:31 Nicolas’ Intro

  • Economics, risk, environment, psychology, now non-human animals
  • “Trying to include animal issues into mainstream economics”
  • From anthropocentrism to sentientism in every field?

04:40 What’s Real?

  • Growing up in SW France
  • Catholic parents, but “religion was not very important”
  • Attending church
  • Not anti-religion but not a positive view either
  • “Religions have contributed to a strong divide between humans and animals… dominion… stewardship”
  • Surrounded by animals… dogs, cows in grandfather’s farm, horses
  • “I liked to view myself as an animal lover”
  • “I like to see myself as a scientifically-minded person”
  • Religious & naturalistic routes to anthropocentrism

12:08 What & Who Matters?

  • “We are raised to eat meat… and we don’t really question it”
  • “My vegetarian epiphany” 10 years ago on a date
  • “I was completely ignorant about what is going on in that industry [dairy, eggs, meat]”
  • “I didn’t see that when it’s quite obvious – and I have wrong beliefs – what happened in my brain, my mind & in society?”
  • Cognitive dissonance, meat paradox, psychology: “Every time I had new sources of information it was bad news”
  • A colleague, expert in the meat industry, asked “what’s the problem with animal welfare in the meat industry?”
  • “People don’t want to see, don’t want to know… even the experts”
  • “There is a demand for cognitive dissonance, but also a supply”
  • The evolution of morality, but why do we care about animals – some more than others? Extension of our compassion for humans, reciprocity?
  • Emotional / intellectual routes into moral consideration
  • Bio/ecocentrism/holism
  • “In economics, all research is anthropocentric”
  • Utility & welfare “Now we just need to plug animals in… conceptually it’s not really a revolution… but in practice it is a revolution”
  • Difficulties of assessing & comparing human / non-human welfare
  • Moral weights
  • Insect, plant sentience?
  • Instrumental vs. intrinsic value

30:10 A Better Future?

  • WEIRD vs feminist, development economics
  • Environmental economics & Dasgupta review
  • Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics
  • Ecosystem services, existential risk
  • “Economics is what economists are doing – and that is a bit shaped by who are the economists… there are biases for sure”
  • “Animals are not part of the agenda”
  • Nobel prize wins re: psychology, development, environmental economics
  • Is economics ultimately about value & therefore about the experieces of sentient beings?
  • Linking ethics & economics through value?
  • Economics isn’t just about “financial flows & markets”
  • Adam Smith, Riccardo, comparative advantage, info asymmetries, externalities
  • Jean Tirol’s Nobel prize: “It wasn’t about the power of markets it was about market power”
  • “The Morality of Markets”
  • “It’s a lot about value… and about incentives”
  • Sentientist Economics? “It’s only a matter of time” 🙂
  • “Conceptually it’s not so different”
  • Compassion & behavioural economics. Influencing pro-animal choices: fiscal instruments, nudges, information, norms
  • “We should attribute moral consideration to animals because they matter morally – even if people don’t care… but in practice humans have political power”
  • Future generations don’t vote either, but they matter
  • Re-working existing tools for all sentients (SDGs, UDHR…)
  • Ending animal farming, valuing wild animals (not just the ecosystems they live in)
  • 3 ways: Supply (e.g. regulation/standards: not optimistic – captured by animal agri interests); Demand (diet/consumption choices – but not so optimistic – social norms); Innovations/substitution (easier? – plant-based / cultivated meat etc.)
  • Capitalism / socialism / anarchism? “I’m not sure there’s a striking difference re: to animal treatment”
  • N.Europe as a lower inequality, more animal friendly model?

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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