29 July 2015 at 6:01 pm 9 comments

| Peter Klein |

rs_300x300-150728134433-600.Cecil-The-Lion.jl.072815No doubt you’ve heard about Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot the lion, “Cecil,” in Zimbabwe, pushing aside Sir Tim Hunt as the Internet’s Most Hated Person. (Aside from calling Palmer cruel and depraved — even wishing his death by bow and arrow — some are labeling him a sociopath, which makes me wonder, are lions now considered members of society? Orgheads?)

I don’t hunt and have no particular emotional attachment to lions, so I find the outrage level bewildering. However, I think this can be a teachable moment. Specifically, there are lessons here about trophy hunting and endangered species. Not surprisingly to anyone who has studied property-rights economics, there is evidence that allowing trophy hunting is a good means of protecting endangered species. This is a version of the general argument that defining and enforcing property rights in scarce resources, including wildlife, provides incentives for individuals to protect and maintain those resources. (You’ve probably heard the quip that the world isn’t running out of chickens and dairy cattle.) Groups like PERC have produce dozens of studies on endangered species and private conservation more generally and there are plenty of nerdier papers too. If Cecil’s unfortunate end helps stimulate thoughtful discussion on how to avoid the tragedy of the commons, then he will not have died in vain.

Entry filed under: Ephemera.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Howard Aldrich  |  29 July 2015 at 7:00 pm

    You’re a brave man, Peter…

  • 2. gv  |  29 July 2015 at 10:31 pm

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on whether polycentric governance (Ostrom’s work) has made Hardin’s commons obsolete.

    The “thoughtful discussion” you mention might be stimulated here sounds like “small talk” between users of the resource that allows communal management.

    However, I wonder if the internet hasn’t allowed people to have influence from “too far away” from the reality of the resource.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  29 July 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Great question. I see Ostrom’s ideas as complementary to Hardin’s, not contradictory. Ostrom shows how a rich variety of local, bottom-up arrangements can solve commons problems; she doesn’t deny that such problems exist. In any case, if the government decrees that the underlying resource cannot be owned — by individuals, groups, or local communities — then the commons problem cannot be solved, even via polycentric governance. Incidentally, some of the work on African elephants proposes that villages, not individuals, hold the property rights, which seems to me a very Ostrom-like solution.

  • 4. Charles McMillan  |  30 July 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Nothing like missing the point, an american dentist paying a fortune to two guides to lure a protected animal off the parkland so an egotistical dentist can get his trophy. Not much wonder people like him give Americans a bad brand, even more paradoxical with the US president on African soil.

  • 5. Peter Klein  |  30 July 2015 at 4:50 pm

    As opposed to the thousands of Americans wailing and gnashing their teeth over poor Cecil, while expressing zero interest in the plight of humans in Zimbabwe or the rest of Africa? See https://www.yahoo.com/news/lion-zimbabweans-ask-amid-global-cecil-circus-140822692.html.

  • 6. Umut Koc  |  30 July 2015 at 4:59 pm

    “If you’re a meat eater and want Palmer to face that plight, fine. After all, he probably eats chicken too, and kills lions, so he’s got one up on you. But his total moral wrongs aren’t what’ll land him in prison. The lion killing is — and you do something even worse. If you think he belongs behind bars, ask yourself: Do I do things that justify the same punishment for me?” http://www.vox.com/2015/7/30/9074547/cecil-lion-chicken-meat

  • 7. gv  |  3 August 2015 at 12:33 am

    Thank you for your answer regarding Ostrom.

    I am confused about the role of property rights in the Hardin and Ostrom views. In Hardin’s case, the solution seems to have been that assigning property rights to the commons would resolve the tragedy. It seems Ostrom instead addressed use rights rather than property rights based on empirical observation of alternative governance forms to markets and government. For example, in a common pool resource like a fishery, individual fishers are not given property rights over specific fish. Instead, they are given use rights to the fishery that are sometimes negotiated through polycentric governance, which is different from market solutions (property rights) and hierarchical solutions (government). Any comments on this distinction would be appreciated.

    I am intrigued by the idea of village-level property rights. Do villages own specific elephants? Can they sell their elephants to other villages or people? How do villages make decisions about how to use their property rights?

    This reminds me of the U.S. state of Colorado’s raffle to obtain a permit to hunt various iconic mammals in that state. A select few conservation organizations get permission to sell raffle tickets to win a permit, and the organizations keep 25% of the raffle proceeds as a funding source. In that case, it seems the government has decreed that no one has property rights over the species–unless you count the government itself–yet this governance system seems to work.

  • 8. Rafe’s Roundup 13 August | Catallaxy Files  |  12 August 2015 at 6:01 pm

    […] Maybe Cecil did not die in vain. On Organizations and Markets by Pete Klein. […]

  • 9. Dick Langlois  |  17 August 2015 at 5:16 am

    At this writing I am visiting the University of the Witwatersrand for a few days. It is hard not to think about lions in South Africa; but I am also reminded of Keynes’s remark that economics ought to settle down into being a profession like dentistry. I don’t think he had the killing of lions in mind, but I am staying far away from game reserves just to be on the safe side.

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