The New York Times started the year in style, with a “green column” that appears to bemoan the rising affluence of the developing world, especially in Asia, since this fuels rising demand for illicit goods.
That rising affluence also fuels rising demand for ordinary goods and services that improve quality of life is, one presumes, secondary to the fate of the orange-spotted tokay gecko if one is a green columnist bemoaning the threat to endangered species.
That said, it is true that illegal goods are a vast market. To the extent that it can even be measured, the Center for International Policy's Global Financial Integrity programme estimated last year that illicit goods account for a $650-billion market.
Here's their top ten:
- Drugs: $320-billion
- Humans: $31.6-billion
- Oil: $10.8-billion
- Wildlife: $7.8 to $10-billion
- Timber: $7-billion
- Fish: $4.2 to $9.5-billion
- Art and Cultural Property: $3.4 to $6.3-billion
- Gold: $2.3-billion
- Human Organs: $0.6 to $1.2-billion
The most visible and long-standing “war” on illegal goods also accounts for the most profitable. Go figure. It clearly has not occurred to government officials that movies about the moonshiners of the Prohibition Era aren't just entertaining fiction. They are a history lesson. Ban something, and soon you'll get a thriving trade at astronomical prices, funding crime syndicates, and employing armies of gangsters with bigger guns and faster cars than the police. If alcohol were still banned, it would probably have topped the list.
The same is true for endangered species. It is absurd that poachers find it profitable to equip themselves with helicopters and automatic weapons, against which private game farm owners – and even the police – find it hard to defend themselves. Cattle and sheep are also poached, but you don't see paramilitary expeditions assembled for this purpose.
Since 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, known as CITES, which today counts 175 countries among its signatories, has been the primary means of banning the trade in products of endangered species.
As the anecdotal evidence cited in the Times column makes clear, it is largely a failure.
At its 35th anniversary dinner in 2010, Thomas Jemmi of the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office could cite only crocodilia, vicuña (a relative of the alpaca) and a few medicinal herbs as stories, from among 35,000 plant and animal species that are protected under the convention.
Considering the vast expenditure on combating the traffic in endangered species products, this should truly embarrass the CITES bureaucrats. But no. They believe they're doing “good work”.
This “good work” resulted in record rhino poaching in 2011, at a rate that really does threaten the survival of the species. (See my previous proposal to just farm them, in this regard.)
It was also an “'annus horribilis' for African elephants”, according to wildlife trade group Traffic.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace celebrated that it won a refusal for Namibia to sell ivory stockpiles, while bemoaning that local communities were permitted to trade in ivory carvings.
The poor shall starve, if Greenpeace gets its way, while the African elephant destroys ecosystems in national parks and game farms because of overpopulation.
By what logic is this “good work”? By what reason is it moral to stop someone from hunting, when it is either much more profitable than scraping by on backbreaking subsistence farming, or even the only way to survive? And if hunting is so bad for animals, why haven't commercially farmed animals been reduced to membership of CITES appendices and the IUCN Red List?
Ecomentalists are living in a fool's paradise. They cling on to expensive bureaucratic means for reaching goals that in over 35 years have proved unreachable by the means they propose.
Why would people who claim to have the best interests of endangered species at heart be so wedded to ideas that so obviously do not work?
Banning guns has never stopped illegal weapon trade, nor crimes committed with guns. Banning alcohol leads to moonshining and speakeasies, and restricting its sale or taxing it leads to unlicenced shebeens and smuggling. Banning prostitution leads to disempowered and abused sex workers, and human trafficking on a vast scale. Banning drugs has created the most profitable illegal business on the planet.
Of course, one obvious motive for advocating failed but extensive bureaucracies is that this affords many environmentalists with a well-paying career at taxpayer expense. Vast numbers of people have been moved to study “environmental science” with a view to working for groups like Greenpeace, Earthlife Africa, the IUCN and Traffic, and are dependent for their incomes on complex international treaty legislation such as laws that give effect to the CITES treaty.
That they turn out to be a completely useless drain on tax revenue, increasing poverty and encouraging crime, doesn't occur to their self-important little minds. Who'd like to think of themselves as deeply immoral, when you're “saving the planet”?
Besides, the “habitat protection” element of endangered species legislation, while doing nothing for the protected species, is a useful club to use against development and industry, which appeals immensely to the naïve socialists that are attracted to the green movement.
How useful green legislation is at crushing industry is illustrated by a fascinating story that broke in August last year. It perfectly captures the unintended side-effects of endangered species protection. Also writing in the New York Times, Andrew Revkin noted an armed raid by federal agents on the criminal enterprise of... Gibson Guitars. He seems mostly alarmed that such harsh action against a company that actually tries to comply with endangered species regulation will give ammunition to those opposed to regulation. He should be. It does.
“This isn't environmental protection; it's hostage-taking,” writes Kimberley Strassel in a thorough piece for the Wall Street Journal on the impossibility of complying with the well-intended but ineffective and ultimately counter-productive Lacey Act, which since 2008 bans certain wood species protected by laws designed to comply with the CITES treaty. But it's not just right-wing radicals like Wall Street Journal columnists who think so. Even the New York Times itself, which is hardly renowned for the kind of anti-government rhetoric Revkin fears, ran a piece in which Kathryn Marie Dudley points out the ludicrous side-effects of the pernicious ban.
So, we're destroying the businesses of luthiers and impoverishing traditional craftsmen the world over, all in the name of endangered species protection that doesn't work. Why?
One might hope governments wouldn't bow so easily to ecomentalist rhetoric, but consider that government officials tend to be power-hungry lawmakers, corrupt profiteers, or mindless automatons. None of these categories have any incentive to abolish the bureaucratic powers that ban or tax everything that moves.
It isn't their freedom or business that is under threat. It is ours. So before you reflexively demand that this, that or the other problem – whether real or imagined – should be met with a forceful ban, ask yourself whether a ban will even work. History suggests that bans rarely work, and that the unintended consequences usually exceed by a large margin the intended consequences.
And if bans don't even work, what good reason is there to incur their costs, by granting officials more power, smugglers more firepower, and criminal syndicates more profit?
You can still oppose whatever it is you have a problem with, such as mother-of-pearl or ebony guitar inlays (the horror!) without advocating stupid solutions that don't work.
Instead, support smart solutions that don't require costly regulation and take into account economic reality. Advocate solutions that are proven to work, such as extending property rights to forests and seas, and legalising trade in endangered species products.
Encourage breeding and farming programmes. Market the resultant goods as desirable and even environmentally friendly, because that is exactly what it is. If you value a rare wood, or a rare meat, why would you want to see its supply endangered?
High demand for goods produced under a strong property rights regime establishes a sound commercial basis and profit-motive for protecting, breeding, propagating and farming species that now fetch artificially inflated prices on the black market. As a consequence, making such goods legal reduces the motive for poachers and smugglers to wreak destruction.
It might not work all the time, but it's not like occasional extinctions are unnatural, or necessarily constitute a far-reaching ecological crisis.
More importantly, if it does work some of the time, that's already a far better record than the CITES treaty and national trade bans can claim.
Granted, sensible solutions based on property rights would put thousands of eco-bureaucrats out of work. The world's poor, the world's taxpayers, the world's luthiers and the world's musicians will be heartbroken.
In 2012, let's ban bans.
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey