Conservation: Speculators Do It BEST
I often ask my students, “How many of you are in favor of conservation?” Every hand goes up. I then ask, “How many of you are in favor of speculators?” and almost no one raises his hand. The students see conservation as a noble activity that prevents people from squandering resources now to insure that adequate quantities will be available in the future. On the other hand, they see speculation as the greedy hoarding of valuable resources now in order to gouge those who will need those resources later. I attempt to explain that if they are serious about conservation, they should also applaud speculation. The speculation that results from private property and the desire for profits is the most powerful force for beneficial conservation.
Speculators make money only if they conserve wisely—buying resources (holding them off the market) when they are less valuable and selling them (making them available) when they are more valuable. If speculators don’t conserve enough, they pass up profitable opportunities to buy low and sell high, and if they conserve too much they lose money by buying high and selling low. The speculator who consistently makes mistakes is soon relieved of the money necessary to continue speculating.
For example, at the first indication that next year’s Brazilian coffee crop will be devastated by a frost, speculators will immediately purchase raw coffee beans to store them until next year. Consumers will still see plenty of ground coffee in the stores, but suddenly the prices will be higher. What consumers don’t see is that coffee prices will be lower next year than they otherwise would have been because they are higher today, and that their reduced consumption today will be more than compensated by their greater consumption later. The complaint will be that greedy speculators have unnecessarily driven up prices. Interestingly, the universal complaint against speculators that they cause current prices to be too high is really a complaint that they conserve too much.
The important point is that anyone who believes he has better information on the future value of resources or commodities than is reflected in market prices can both profit personally and benefit society by acting on that information—if he is right. So when conservation is left to speculators, far more relevant information from far more people with far more at stake is acted on than if conservation is left to government.
~University of Georgia Economist Dwight Lee