If It Can’t Be Sold, It’s Worthless
Thom Lambert offers this post on a “property rights” theory of endangered species protection (in essence, creating a market to increase supply). The arguments (also found in this Times’ opinion piece) are standard neo-classical economics. Trading, not regulation, increases supply of “goods,” therefore permitting endangered species to be “farmed” by hunters and others will ultimately “manage” them toward a sustainable population. “Some objections might be raised to this scheme,” to quote Daniel Farber’s An Economic Analysis of Abortion, “but rigorous analysis shows them to be unfounded.”*
Even though the arguments are hoary, I still feel torn about this issue.
On the one hand, as Lambert observes, some empirical evidence suggests that prohibitions don’t work well to preserve populations against development pressure. On the other hand, (1) the approach is useless for species that are commercially worthless (the owl, for example); and therefore (2) it has all of the problems of ordinary market valuations, and produces irreversible results (extinction) among the losers. (For a really good discussion of this problem, I recommend Matthew Scully’s Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. The chapter on hunting, economics, and commodification is amazing.)
*The fun goes on in Farber’s footnote: “One commentator has said that this approach ‘seems almost pathological in its disregard of the moral values on both sides.’ . . . That commentator’s work evidences all too clearly a lack of rigorous economic training.” 3 Const. Comment. 2 (1986)