Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tiger Economics

From an interview with Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes at the Percolator Blog:

"Conservation NGOs benefit from the tiger’s charismatic high profile as a means to raise funds, and conservation scientists like to study tigers, so one could argue that they have an incentive to prevent them from becoming extinct. By contrast, rural people living near tigers have to deal with threats to their livestock and children, and human-tiger conflict is a serious problem over most of the wild tiger’s range. Rural people have less of an incentive to conserve tigers, especially when offered large sums of money for tiger carcasses.

I believe that the main challenge for tiger conservation is that people living next to wild tigers are the ones who actually control their destiny, and right now those people typically don’t benefit much from the presence of wild tigers. The people who do benefit are mostly far away and don’t have much real control over what happens to tigers. There is a mismatch between who pays the costs and who gets to benefit from tiger conservation.

For something to be an asset, it has to be owned by someone. Right now most wild tigers are typically ‘owned’ by governments, but that is a weak and dispersed form of ownership, which does not benefit or incentivize specific people who control the wild tiger’s destiny. Those people are typically rural subsistence farmers and poorly paid government employees.

By creating stronger property rights – i.e. more direct ownership of tigers – one could create ways for more specific groups, communities or agencies to control and benefit directly from tigers. Ways to benefit could include genuine “adopt-a-tiger” schemes, contractual agreements with local people, tourist viewing, and possibly trophy hunting (although this is currently banned). This would give tigers much greater asset value."


At 6/19/2011 11:20 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

Free markets fail when it comes to pollution and some environmental issues.

Price incentives still work, and that is why Milton Friedman advised taxing pollution.

Paying a poor family $X a year as long as a certain tiger lives may have merit. If soon you have 50 families with a annual stake in maintaining tiger habitat, perhaps good can come out of it. Give them guns and badges too.

In general, paying poor families to upkeep conservation areas make sense.

The problem is, Third World governments are hopelessly corrupt. In Central America, even property rights mean nothing if Chiquita banana wants your land.

Who Will Save The Tiger?

(Yes, I know it is panthers that live in the Americas, but I could not resist).

At 6/20/2011 5:47 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

agree. Tigers and wolves and grizzly bears and all manner of other endangered species have little to do with "markets" or "property rights" in the conventional sense that most perceive.

You can call the concept of trying to preserve species - whether magnificent or cuddly or totally the opposite (as many are) as a "do-gooder" idea that almost always requires people to give up some of their wealth in return for a feeling that their donation has gone for some perceived "good".

Some might believe that the whole idea of recognizing species that are endangered and taking steps to keep them from going extinct is misguided but providing "incentives" basically means that those "incentives" have to come from someone else - means someone's else s property rights and wealth.

"incentives" don't exist as money trees.

"incentives" are usually money taken from one property owner and given to another - under the premise that it's better for both of them.


At 6/20/2011 6:00 AM, Blogger geoih said...

Quote from Benjamin: "Free markets fail when it comes to pollution and some environmental issues."

More received wisdom from Benjamin. How many cows do you think are eaten every day in the world? How many tigers? Why are cows not going extinct?

The problem is that all governments are corrupt and the idea that you will create one that isn't is fantasy.

Who will save the tiger? The person that owns the tiger.

At 6/20/2011 6:10 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

re: "Who will save the tiger?"

who will save any plant or animal that does not have an economic use for humans?

Is it beneficial to humans to not let animals and plants go extinct even if they have no direct economic benefit to us?

not sure the role of govt in this issue any more or less than govt involvement in a wide variety of economic and market issues is germane unless one believes that preservation of a species can only be accomplished by govt.

At 6/20/2011 9:23 AM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...


Imagine if the do-do bird had survived--apparantly, a tasty and hardy animal, perhaps superior to the chicken. The GOP could have a new mascot too, as a bonus.

That free markets fail when it comes to pollution is classic economics. If I can produce a good more cheaply than anyone else, and my tailpipe is stuck in the Cuyahoga River, then I prosper.

We could sell the fishing rights to the Cuyahoga--and the issue of pollution and property rights is fascinating.

Who has the right to pollute my land, my water, the air on my property?

On endangered species, I am afraid the libertarians have little insights, and only hidebound ideology to offer. It's like asking Commies how do you invigorate an economy.

At 6/20/2011 9:46 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

"who will save any plant or animal that does not have an economic use for humans?"

what is the economic use of the family dog?

owning a dog has serious negative cash flow implications. you feed it, take it to the vet, waste time walking it, clean up poop, and all manner of other negative sum money activities.

yet look at how many dogs there are.

there is no economic use for a chihuahua or a pug at all, yet there are a million of them.

this would seem to indicate that you are leaving something out of your argument.

not all decisions are driven by purely financial motives.

At 6/20/2011 9:50 AM, Blogger BlogDog said...

Mitchell and Webb rather make the same point (and bloody well) in their vegetarian sketch. "There might be a few polar bears left if people wanted them for breakfast."

At 6/20/2011 9:53 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

i think you are also missing the thrust of this idea.

i like tigers. for no particularly good economic reason, i prefer a world with tigers in it.

i am willing to put my money where my mouth is and sens a $1000 check to the save a tiger foundation. lot's of people feel this way as can be sen by the level of donations to conservation groups.

that money can be used to give the locals a financial stake in protecting the tiger. now, instead of being a net cost (in safety and livestock consumption) the tiger becomes a profit center for them.

it is important to remember that economic decisions at the individual level are made to maximize utility, not profit. you would maximize your income if you worked 100 hours instead of 40. few choose to do this. that's because other things than money have value as well. free time, living at the beach, tigers, or whatever can all provide utility and hence sometime trump profit maximization.

At 6/20/2011 11:59 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

begs the question....

is it up to govt to save the tigers?

or is it up to voluntary philanthropic people?

what is the economic interest of govt preventing extinction of plants and animals whether they be tigers or snail darters?

At 6/20/2011 12:23 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Want to save the tiger?

Tiger-burgers are obviously the answer as geoih succinctly pointed out...

I got to question the idea of sending some small portion of one's personal wealth to some 'save the tiger' outfit...

It might make sense if said outfit was buying up vast tracts of land that supported tigers and their prey...

Considering that about 38 square miles is needed for a pair of tigers (trying to remember something from college) that means there needs to be a lot of land going into programs like 'save the tiger'...

At 6/20/2011 12:58 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I don't think making a comparison to pollution is valid as pollution has no value...or negative value...unless you happen to be a 3rd party who profits by cleaning pollution.
Wildlife has a value and I don't see how creating a system in which wildlife is more valuable to the locals alive than dead is ideological.

If the goal (saving wildlife) is the same, the ideological thing to do would be poo-poo new ideas, even when the old ones aren't working, because the methodology doesn't fit your world view.

At 6/20/2011 1:09 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

@mike - you you don't think pollution has a negative value?

do you think pollution can harm property rights?

At 6/20/2011 1:19 PM, Blogger morganovich said...


first off, that is the wrong use for begs the question. sorry, but it's a pet peeve of mine. begs the question does not mean raises the question, it means to assume the initial point.

regarding private vs public tiger saving, why does it have to be one or the other?

personally, i think it's too important an issue to leave to corrupt and ineffective government, and therefore would happily contribute to a charity that i thought really preserved them.

the problem with most conservation charities is that they are just lobbyists. they take your money and use it to hector governments to erect laws and regulations. these rarely work well. the government can say "no shooting tigers" but if one keeps eating your goats, you may not care, especially if you are in a remote area and unlikely to be caught.

such bans are just price supports for poachers. they do nothing to induce the locals to preserve tigers.

i like the nature conservancy. unlike the sierra club and other political groups, they take your money, use it to buy land, put it in a trust, and make sure it cannot be developed.

that strikes me as useful, just as paying locals to care for protect tigers does.

your "purely economic" argument misses the point. there is no purely economic reason to save wild tigers just as there is no such reason to own a pug. people do it because it makes them happy. individuals maximize utility, not economic welfare.

At 6/20/2011 1:28 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

tigers are very visible and tangible animals. There are dozens/hundreds of other much lesser known that most people have no clue about but they are also on the verge of extinction.

So.. that was were I was headed with my question about government and it's role.

what is Govt's presumed role in preventing animal and plant extinctions verses 'voluntary' charities?

I agree with you about the Nature Conservancy and I think it is interesting... Why does the Nature Conservancy "conserve" rather than just be another developer of land?

Is the NC about philanthropy who saves only those things that have visibility to the public or do they try to preserve anything that is endangered?

Why would they try to save things that are endangered when there is no public support for them?

Why would you expect the NC to be any more or less careful with your money than the Fish and Wildlife service?

Did the NC develop the list of endangered species or did the govt?

Is there a private organization who draws up it's own list of endangered species that is different from the govt list?


At 6/20/2011 1:52 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

i'm not sure about private endangered lists.

there are certainly many private animal conservation groups.

the question of "then who will stand up for the nematode worm" as opposed to some kind of charismatic megafauna like a whale or a tiger is sn interesting question.

it also might lead one to ask if we should do so at all.

species go extinct all the time. always have. 90%+ of all species that have ever lived on earth are extinct.

one might be led to ask "so what"?

it a world without a passenger pigeon or a brontosaurus really so impoverished?

sure, velociraptors are neat in movies, but do you want one in your neighborhood?

do we care about the extinction of the tarpan as long as we got the horse?

why assume that the current species diversity of earth is good or optimal or even desirable?

people have a tendency to assume that we must protect the status quo in all of nature be it climate or biodiversity. but all of nature is change. such things NEVER stand still.

will the disappearance of the panamanian golden from make any difference in your life at all or in the fate of humanity or earth? did you even know there was such a frog?

just because things exist is not a priori a reason to preserve them.

shall we ban together to make sure that at least some polio survives and protect the AIDS virus?

At 6/20/2011 1:58 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

then why worry about the Tiger?

is it any more or less significant than a nematode?

Should we be concerned about extinctions?

If science says that we should - does that imply a govt role?

Now if you want to equate individual money spent to save the tiger in the same way that individual money spent to go to Vegas... then economic "benefit" might be more subjective, eh?

At 6/20/2011 2:11 PM, Blogger Ian Random said...

I think it was a Dirty Jobs episode where the gator farm gets wild eggs and raises them. They release half of the hatchlings back to the wild and slaughter the rest. People are willing to pay to hunt even in the US. I think I remember John Stossel interviewing some animals rights nut and they pretty much are willing to let them go extinct to avoid any cruelty (hunting). I wish I could find it, but a coworker told me story about 20 years ago that someone bought a bunch of rare animals and hosted hunts until they were shutdown.

"There are more tigers in captivity in Texas than in the wild globally."

"It is believed that about 12,000 tigers are held in captivity..."

At 6/20/2011 7:31 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Looks like the tiger needs some elephant policies from Carpe Diem's post on June 8.

At 6/21/2011 5:33 AM, Blogger geoih said...

Quote from Benjamin: "That free markets fail when it comes to pollution is classic economics."

Keep on saying it and maybe you'll convince yourself.

If somebody owned the Cuyahoga River, or many people owned many parts of it, rather than it being considered a public good under the control of a corrupt government, then you wouldn't be allowed to get away with polluting it.

You're using a failure of the state to justify more failures of the state. It's not very convincing.

At 6/21/2011 5:41 AM, Blogger geoih said...

Quote from jaundos: "Tiger-burgers are obviously the answer as geoih succinctly pointed out..."

That would probably work, but there are probably many better solutions. Most of the world's dog population is owned by humans, very seldom eaten, and apparently surviving quite fine.

If there is such a large desire in the world to "save the tiger", then maybe all those people should get together and buy the resources and develop a process necessary to do it, rather than expecting everybody else to do it for them.

At 6/21/2011 6:01 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

tiger burgers implies that you domesticate a wild animal so that in it's transformed version - it would have economic value.

Tigers are not good to eat.

Domesticating them to "save" them is no better than putting them in Zoos and breeding them to "save" them.

So there is a lack of understanding as to what exactly we are trying to "save".

a better analogy that better shows the context would be what is known as "bush meat" - which is the meat obtained by killing rare and endangered Apes.

or the Ivory taken by killing elephants.

or the organs sold by killing bears....

Would domesticating any of these animals so as to provide a ready market for what they are being killed for be an acceptable solution?

Let's say you believe that we should.

What would you do - go over to where they kill the apes and set up an APE farm that butchers and sells "bush meat" to the locals who are killing them in the wild?

Oh wait... those locals don't have any money to start with.... and that's the reason why they are killing the apes to start with.....

While we're at this - there is another irony - in this country.

We have deer running amok now that we've gotten rid of their natural predators....

so.. why can we not have a "market" in deer?

It would seem to be an obvious win-win but it does not happen, why?

At 6/21/2011 11:16 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

"then why worry about the Tiger?"

because i like tigers.

i have no illusions that the world could not exist without them, but i prefer a world with them.

the world could get along fine without ferrari f430's too.

but enough people like them that they are willing to keep such an endangered car around.

i start from the position of liking tigers and being willing to put up money to protect them. there is no economic rationale for doing so, just a personal preference. at the end of that day, many personal preferences are not rational. what's rational about liking ice cream sundaes or tractor pulls?

At 6/21/2011 11:19 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

regarding tiger burgers-

no, they would never work.

do you have any idea how much it costs to feed a tiger per pound of meat ultimately produced?

tigers eat meat. very few things we eat are strict carnivores (apart from fish, but generally, they are caught in the wild).

the economics of raising a carnivore are ruinous to say nothing of the safety risks inherent in having a "tiger farm".

and all this presupposes that tigers taste good, which i doubt.

no one is going to pay $150 for a tiger burger that is tough as a retread and tastes bad.

At 6/21/2011 12:28 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

what about a "market" in "urban deer"?

At 6/21/2011 12:39 PM, Blogger Mike said...

What I was saying is pollution has no value and/or a negative value to most.

Also, I do believe there is a market in deer. It's called hunting and it's quite popular. They also have deer season and hunting restrictions...I'm not a hunter, but that tells me deer numbers are not bullet proof.

At 6/21/2011 12:56 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

well.. I think pollution CAN have a cost.

for instance, the guy upstream dumping Dioxin or PCBs into a stream can indeed cause home to other property owners.

As for urban deer - and a market.

Not talking about individual hunters "harvesting" but rather a business that kills deer and markets the meat .... to grocery stores and restaurants...

why don't we see this?

A business could call itself DeerSlayers and come when called... kill the deer .., and then take it to be butchered and turned into deer roasts and burgers... and probably sold for less per pound than beef since the feed is "free".

At 6/21/2011 1:16 PM, Blogger Mike said...

A negative value is a cost.

As for the deer. I would assume that the traditional ways of getting venison to restaurants must be much cheaper (certainly more predictable). Since you can't shoot a deer who wondered in to the middle of an apartment complex without endangering the residents, the effort needed to capture such an animal would probably be more costly than we'd imagine....and who knows when you'd get another one....even if this was practical, the public wouldn't stand for private companies running through their backyards, chasing a deer for their profit.

At 6/21/2011 1:24 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

so ... pollution can have a negative value/cost?

so... pollution CAN harm/cost property owners.. correct?

on the Deer -

technology is grand.

if animal control folks can safely kill rabid raccoons and other wildlife why not deer with tranquilizer darts or stun guns?

Why not "spotlight" them at night with laser sights ?

I'm pretty sure the means to do this exists but what I'm doubting is that there is a "market" for deer beyond the exotic offerings in restaurants.

it would sure seem like a win-win because of the economic damage caused by urban deer.

At 6/21/2011 2:52 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I think you're reading what I'm writing but not considering what I'm saying.

Yes. Pollution has costs for most people. That is why I said it's not a good comparison to wildlife. Wildlife has, at minimum, sentimental/esthetic value to most people, beyond their actual costs. Pollution does not possess such properties.

I am not saying trapping urban deer can't be done. Yes, animal control can trap them, but people would not stand for private business acting as animal control when their profit motivation is meat. There would be far too many instances of debatable nuisance. In other words, my neighbor may call the Venison Vigilantes every time he sees one around our golf course. I wouldn't like that at all. I guess I don't understand, you've said there should be a market, but you don't think it's a viable market beyond exotic offerings (which already exists). You may be answering your own question...if deer products were extremely popular or valuable, there would be a market or they would be gone.

Unfortunately for tigers and elephants, I think you (and most animal protection groups) are missing the larger point. These animals are going away....gone forever. Is it the most palatable idea to keep them around for ivory or skins? Not to most of us. However, the realistic alternative is probably, which do you prefer?

At 6/21/2011 3:02 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

I think I agree that comparing the wildlife dilemma with pollution is not a good comparison.

and yes.. I don't think there is a "market" for deer meat - even as we slaughter them on the highway.

We have in my neck of the woods a program that allows hunters to donate deer to the needy - but it has to be subsidized because no one wants to actually pay for the venison and it has to be butchered and prepared by someone who wants to be paid.

The folks who do this are folks who already operate pig and cattle farms with on-site slaughtering facilities.

but it's not really catching on.....


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