Archive

Archive for the ‘Avatar’ Category

Avatar, tragedy of the socialized commons and crashing salmon stocks; how the dirty hands of government destroy wild resources

February 17th, 2010 No comments

It’s a sad, sad story, now being played out practically wherever wild salmon stocks once were abundant. (This version refers to the Pacific Northwest, particularly to events in British Columbia).

First, national governments wrest control over salmon fisheries from native peoples, and eliminate low-level, community-based management systems.

With new socialized ownership, it becomes eternal “open season” on salmon and newcomers (whites or whatnot) go hog wild, resulting in the classic “tragedy of the commons” race to catch salmon before others do, without regard to others or to future harvests.

The state steps in to regulate take, banning nets at river mouths — smart fishermen take their nets to sea. Governments find themselves compelled to further regulate seasons and fishing gear, as fishermen who have no ownership stake in the resource look for ways to beat restrictions and to beat out competitors for unowned fish. Natives who don’t join in the race are left with ever slimmer takes.

As no one owns the salmon and has no legal rights that can be enforced against upstream users, governments build dams to benefit farmers (and nuclear bomb production sites and industry), and developers and loggers begin to trash streams and rivers. Reacting to howls from interested citizens, states begin to pass laws limiting the rights of property owners to use and manage their properties.

Governments get into the salmon hatchery business as salmon stocks start to plummet, and endangered species protection laws get passed. Loggers, developers, farmers and industries with cheap hydropower vent anger over “capitalism-hating” enviros and legislators, even as governments eager to please favored constituencies (farmers over natives, naturally) divert water in summer from dams to farmers, leading to large fish kills in lower and warmer rivers.

As fish stocks continue to fall, enterprising businesses get licenses from regional governments to “farm” salmon by raising them in pens (using ocean water flows, and catching and grinding up five pounds of other fish to raise one pound of salmon). Farms begin to proliferate – and begin to be seen by fishermen as externality-generating machines: farmed salmon become plagued with sea lice, which spreads to migrating wild populations, concentrations of salmon pollute neighboring waters, wild salmon populations begin to fall drastically, and other “feed stocks” of salmon are adversely affected.

Alarmed local people and adversely affected fishermen and natives organize, try to get consumers to stop buying farmed salmon, and go, hat in hand, to petition (1) governments to stop licensing new “farms” and (2) farms to adopt much more expensive methods that would seal of the farms from the wild environment. Salmon farming companies assert that they have rights to pollute, and no legal responsibility for damages suffered by others – that licensing regimes eliminated common-law rights to sue for nuisance, etc. Farmers tell governments to be “fair” and that governments should “co-invest” to subsidize any new farming methods.

Predictably, as wild salmon dwindle and temperatures rise, no one seems to wonder what things would be like if governments stopped trying to “manage” the salmon and playing the middleman, but found some way to recognize property/harvesting rights and to enforce basic common law rights against nuisance, and stepped out of the way.

I made some of these points in an email I sent today to some parties at interest:

Ladies/Gentlemen:
 
I sent the following note to WildSalmonCircle.com when I joined their mailing list; some of you might be interested:
  
Yes, one of your chief enemies are the salmon farmers, but the
real reason for the problem is that the government – and not the First
Nation or any other fishermen – owns the wild salmon.
 
As a result, the First Nations, commercial and sports fisherment
and other supporters of wild slmon and natural ecosystems have NO
direct rights to protect the wild salmon and are largely relegated to
feebly petitioning government (and the farming companies, whose
managers are obliged to care first and foremost for profits generated
for owners), and have little or no ability to directly sue the
salmon-farming interlopers whose pollution is damaging your livelihood
and the greater Northwest ecosystem.
 
This is exactly the problem we see with many other
government-owned/managed resources – in Canada, the US, China, the
Amazon, developing countries – and it’s why Elinor Ostrom was given the
2009 Nobel Prize in Economics
. Solutions regarding common resources lie
in resource users having recognized rights and an ability to bargain
with others in the community. Where governments own resources, then
they deny to those whose livelihoods and ways of life are at stake a
voice in their own present and future. (In the case of salmon, this has
deep, “Avatar”-like roots in the historical pushing aside of native
rights
and resource management practices in favor of new,
Western-dominated governments.)
 
So, to First Nations and fishermen, I say – sue the farmers
directly for nuisance pollution – assert your rights! Don’t leave them
simply as another interest group petitioning government.
But also start pushing for direct, recognized property rights
in the wild salmon, which would end the “tragedy of the
commons” resulting from a free-for-all ocean take. Ending ocean take
and replacing it with traditional river-mouth-based harvests will
better protect the wild resource and give you stronger rights to make
claims on those upstream who poison and damage habitat. And take a page
out of the book of Target US, and organize a CONSUMER BOYCOTT OF ALL
FARMED SALMON. And work to eliminate all legislative grants to insiders of immunity to lawsuits for activities that damage the economic interests of others (i.e., that produce “nuisances”).
Sincerely,
 
Tom
 

Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, Avatar & the Climate (of distrust); or, Can we move from a tribal questioning of motives to win-win policies?

February 13th, 2010 No comments

“Whhhaaat the heck is TT up NOW?” I can hear some of you asking yourselves. Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, the movie Avatar and climate?

Just what elusive illusions am I alluding to here? (Stop playing, you say.) Well, brace yourself, and bear with me.

Roger Pielke, Jr. has a post up regarding a interesting recent piece by Bill Gates on how to address climate issues (I will address Gates’ piece separately). The comment section at Roger’s predictably fell into into the usual patterns of questioning climate science, and a mutual questioning of motives and rationality. I just happened to run into it, and was moved to try to post a few thoughts there.

Libertarians ought to understand why suspicions run rampant on climate issues – even as they can’t seem to get past it (despite my annoying, incessant and level-headed ravings). But many others are so wrapped up in Climate KombatTM that they never think to even to question WHY – why all of the hostility, why all of the circling of wagons, and why the lack of interest in examining root problems and possible win-win approaches?

Well, that’s what my “Avatar” reference is intended to shorthand (pardon an archaic expression; maybe I shouldn’t telegraph my antiquity like this!): that movie was all about thefttheft that we can see all around us even today as I have noted in a number of posts (even as we may be blind to those that advantage us) –  group advantage, and communal responses to threats. Communal responses involve perceiving threats and banding together with brothers to defend all that is good, sacred, holy and OURS. This, I posit, is not only instinctive and reflexive, but EXACTLY what the climate discussion is about, on many levels.

It’s just that the disputants have entirely different views on who is trying to steal what from whom, and what or who is the threat, on who is an enemy, who is a brother, what is to be defended, and on strategy and tactics (as well as how to be advance personal interests).

I penned a few thoughts at Roger’s (I note that both Roger and his father. climate scientist Roger Pielke, Sr. , are in the thick of the climate wars, their own positions frequently being misunderstood in the fog of war). Being a bit inspired and prolix, the Muses ran a bit long. Roger is pretty good at letting comments through but I thought I post a copy here; perhaps you will be amused.

Here is what I tried to post (cleaned up slightly and with additional links and emphasis), in response to several who said to the effect, “Why should we agree to anything, until it is established to our satisfaction that CO2 reduction is important?“, and to others who questioned the motivations of Roger and others:

Those who do not agree now – with either the AGW thesis/science or the good faith, motives, intelligence or rationality of those who profess concern about a clearly changing climate and about whether man’s activities pose serious threats to human welfare and to things
that we value – still have lots to gain from plenty of win-win policies, policies that
would advance the interests of those who profess to love free markets but that are now just sitting about unused because practically everyone is too busy fighting, vilifying and mistrusting to actually step back from the emotional rush of partisan battle, sit back and to
exchange their armor and weapons for thinking caps (more on
these policies at end of this comment).

Nobel-prizewinner
political economist Elinor Ostrom reminds us that one sine qua non for solving
any commons problem is TRUST [see my post here].

Sadly,
that lack of that trust – nay, distrust and active hostility – are what
characterize our “discussions” on modern-day politics, and especially
climate change (the “our” in this case being a complex one at many
levels).

This
DISTRUST is the natural product of many factors:

– the
lack of property rights in the atmosphere & of any legal recourse by
individuals against GHG emitters/albedo changers
, which together mean that –
unlike for other resources that can be bought, sold and husbanded – the
voluntary actions of individuals and firms via market exchanges simply are not
functioning, thus forcing climate concerns – and scientists and this discussion
– into the political realm;

 – in
the US, both parties have grossly MIS-governed and abused the public trust, via
political pandering, grasping for power at all costs (cynically sowing division
and cheapening discourse by selling war, hatred and suspicion, corruptly
selling favors to the highest bidders, and simply managing resources
incompetently). As a result, I think many people rightly feel that the US
government generally DOES NOT DESERVE our trust (this sentiment can be seen not
only in the TeaParty movement, but in calls by the likes of Larry Lessig for a
Constitutional Convention
to fix our corrupt, broken political system);

 – as
has been the case since corporations were created as the faceless profit-making
machines
of wealthy investors whose liability for the damage they do and risks
that they shift to others is limited by statute (
http://bit.ly/4CKFPh), those corporations that have
licenses to pollute under current law and whose climate-risk generating
activities are now FREE and unregulated work hard to protect their favored status
(via behind-the-scenes influence-buying of politicians and
“free-market” pundit/voice-pieces, and deliberate PR
smokescreen/mis-direction campaigns designed to GENERATE mistrust)
;

 –
likewise, other corporations/investors have been busy working to buy climate
legislation that will help to put money in their pockets
– while those who act
as spokesmen have not been voluntarily taking actions that show they put their
money (and life-style) where their mouth
is;

 – most
of the science has been funded by governments
, which makes it easier for
skeptics to dismiss it – and to ignore all of the sophisticated private
institutions and corporations that now strongly agree with the
“warmers”
(viz., notably virtually all oil & gas majors and
virtually all insurers);

 – the
fact that the chief “solutions” proposed by our Western governments
are coercive and ham-handed
, would serve to further drive basic manufacturing
to developing countries
that care even less than we do about respecting
human/property rights, would give further give domestic industry rights to
behave in ways that are seen as harmful, would provide benefits to a host of
favorite insiders while shifting costs to middle and lower income classes
, is being agreed behind closed doors (and written up
drafted by lobbyists in mind-mumbingly long and opaque legislation) and our leaders lack the moral and political courage to be straight-forward and transparent about the need and purposes of the legislative/regulatory actions;

 –
Mistrust is not only NATURAL, it’s something that we LOVE to do; there is an
undeniable human penchant for viewing issues in a tribal, “us against
them” manner, which reflects a natural cognitive conservatism that means
we subconsciously ignore information that contradicts our pre-existing mental
map of reality, and to a strong tendency to reflexively support our tribal
brothers and “comrades” and to defend our pre-existing views against
what we tend to see as “attacks” by “enemies”;

– this
leads to group-think, black & white views, hostility, self-justification and to strawmen that
ignores the real issues
: you know, “they have a religion”, we are
right and act in good faith, they are stupid, irrational, are evil and want to
destroy all we hold dear, versus capitalism is evil, those against cap and trade are
all pawns, of Big Oil and a host of other mantras regarding “truths” that respective group-thinks requires its members to hold as “self-evident”;

– while our moral senses are essential for managing our in-group interactions, unfortunately that lends itself both to moral outrage and to intolerance of the moral preachings and inconsistencies of others;

 – the
“climate” is enormously complex, will never be fully understood or
predictable,  the changes that we
are  forcing in it cannot be simply and
convincing demonstrated or understood by anyone
, the system has many
inputs/outputs and displays tremendous variability, has great inertia that is
played out on scales of centuries, 
millennia and eons, and we have NO OTHER EARTHS to run ANY independently
verifiable “TESTS” on … just a number of computer models – again,
funded by governments, and with innards none of us has any real ability to
verify, much less understand;

 –
finally, as climate change is a global issue, it cannot be solved unilaterally
by ANY single individual, group, community, corporation or government/polity;
the “community” that must address it is the community of nations, the leaders and citizens of which all having a welter of differing interests and priorities.

To be flip – Trust
me; it’s natural for you NOT to trust me! Don’t we ALL understand this? (Roger,
I’m pretty sure you – and Joe Romm – know what I mean.)

But the high we get from self-righteousness and group struggle is such an easy
evil, such an addictive self-drug.

Sadly,
it is a clear political tactic by many on the climate issue to treat it as a war, and
to deliberately sow mistrust and misinformation,
with the intention either to
defend turf previously purchased from government or to use government to cram
down preferred solutions. But I repeat myself.

Let me
end by noting that

 –
those who are concerned about climate change risks would do well by
fostering not anger but trust, and by seeking to use hammers only to build
bridges
;

 –
those who are concerned chiefly with the mis-use of government might do well to
re-examine how government has already been misused, and explore whether there
are ways to harness the passionate “delusions” of evil/stoopid
enviro-fascists to actually achieve goals that self-professed market cultists
(I’m one!) ought to desire
;

 – I
have humbly picked up my own hammer and started an exploratory
“task-force” of one, to look at the ways that corporate interests
have already mis-used government to lot in economic rigidity and market share,
and stand in the way of economic freedom and the massive wave of innovation,
investment and wealth-creation that would surely result if existing blockages
were removed. My
chief thoughts are here, intended initially as a plea to fellow libertarians
(who are deeply distrusting of enviro-facists like me who hope to disguise
their nefarious goals by falsely putting on libertarian clothing):

 http://bit.ly/ax3JB

A few
related thoughts at
http://bit.ly/aUOcWC (libertarians/climate) and http://bit.ly/bLX25X  (delusion).

 

Readers, thanks for your indulgence!

 

Avatar’s theme of self-determination proves too subversive and successful in China and is abruptly yanked by censors

January 19th, 2010 No comments

I noted in my previous post – Avatar resonates in China – where standing up for property rights (and against “progress”) can be downright subversive – that Avatar had hit a surprising chord in China.

Perhaps not so surprisingly. China’s censors have said they have seen enough of the band-together-and-fend-your homes-by-standing-up-to-bullies movie – which has been playing since January 4 to record breaking audiences – and have ordered all theaters to stop showing it after January 22, weeks ahead of its scheduled February 11 closing.

Avatar will be replaced by a state-approved movie on Confucius. As a result, Avatar will not be shown nationwide. (Avatar can continue to be shown only at the very limited urban locations with a 3-D projector – there is no 3-D version of the Confucius movie).

Most reports are based on the following report from Hong Kong`s Apple Daily (I was unable to find the original) (emphasis added):

China Film instructed all locations to stop showing the ordinary version of Avatar and to show only the 3D version. The Central Publicity Department issued an order to the media prohibiting it from hyping up Avatar. Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar:
first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from
domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced
removal, and may possibly incite violence.

A mainland source close to China Film confirmed that the company had
recently issued instructions ordering the 2D and film version of Avatar to be taken down this week, leaving only the 3D version still showing.

Because there are so few 3D cinemas on the mainland, the order effectively prevents the general distribution of Avatar. The source said that the order had come from SARFT [China’s State Administration of Radio Film and Television]: “It may be a political decision.” Reportedly, even the 3D version will only be able to screen for three to four weeks. Avatar premiered in China on the fourth of the month.

According to the source, the Central Publicity Department has
ordered propaganda departments to ensure that the media does not hype
up Avatar, and that they correctly guide public opinion. At the
same time, it instructed the entertainment news media to shift its
attention to the upcoming domestic blockbuster Confucius. Confucius, starring Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat, will premiere across the mainland on the 22nd.

More reports are here and here.

I imagine bootleg copies of Avatar, which were apparently on sale in China even before the movie opened, will soar.

Next up on the censors’ agendaLooks like Google.

Avatar resonates in China – where standing up for property rights (and against "progress") can be downright subversive

January 14th, 2010 No comments

It looks as if James Cameron`s Avatar movie –  which is seen by many in the West as predictibly shallow, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, pro-enviro and racially politically correct – has struck a home-owners` rights chord that is resonating in China, and may reinforce popular demands in China for the protection of private property rights against governments and politically well-connected developers.

These are “rebellious undertones“, claims the WSJ in January 11 editorial. This editorial, as well as coverage in WSJ`s China Real Time Report (January 8) and by Xinhua/China.org.cn (January 13), are worth a look.

Here are a few excerpts (emphasis added):

WSJ in January 11 editorial

This is standard politically correct fare for a Western audience,
conveying a message of racial sensitivity and environmental awareness.
In China, however, it has more rebellious undertones.

That’s because Chinese local
governments in cahoots with developers have become infamous for
forcibly seeking to evict residents from their homes with little
compensation and often without their consent. The holdouts are known as
“nail households,” since their homes are sometimes left stranded in the
middle of busy construction sites. More often, however, they are driven
away by paid thugs. Private property is one of the most sensitive
issues in the country today, and “Avatar” has given the resisters a
shot in the arm.

 

WSJ`s China Real Time Report (January 8):

While the plot contains obvious allusions to colonialist
resource-grabbing, Li [Li Chengpeng, an apparently well-known blogger and sports reporter] instead sees “Avatar” as an allegory for the
exploitation of regular people by Chinese real estate companies.

In his post, titled “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” Li draws
a comparison between the tree where the Na’vi live and the homes of
people who resist eviction—known in China as “nail houses” because of
the way they stick up out of would-be construction sites (see articles,
with video, on the subject here and here).

Like the Na’vi, China’s nail house residents are often asked to
abandon their homes for little or nothing in return. Chinese real
estate developers, like the company in the film, are typically
quasi-governmental organizations, backed by the rhetoric of progress
and armies of hired thugs that can be brought in when negotiations fall
through.

“The developer sees the tree as an illegal building, its residents
as rabble rousers who don’t support municipal development and aren’t
willing to sacrifice for the greater good,” Li writes.

The post has been viewed more than 200,000 times and attracted
nearly 2500 comments, the vast majority supportive, since he put it up
Monday.

Others have jumped on the idea, including The Beijing News, which called the film “a nail house parable,” and twenty-something literary star Han Han, who defended
the film against charges its plot is weak: “For audiences from other
places, barbaric eviction is something they simply can’t imagine–it’s
the sort of thing that could only happen in outer space and China.”

So what lessons does the film hold for people in China facing
eviction? “Communication is worthless,” Li writes. “You can only fight
fire with fire.”

 

Xinhua/China.org.cn (January 13)

While most of the global audience are enjoying the dazzling 3-D experience of the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar, some Chinese see it from a very different angle: a successful battle against forced eviction. …

But in China, the story has aroused a
sympathetic response among many spectators, as they see in the film a
familiar social conflict — forced demolitions by real estate
developers and urban administrative inspectors.

“They are very much alike. For
instance, the conflict in the film also starts with land,” a posting by
“A Cup of Green Tea” said in an on-line forum operated by the
www.xinhuanet.com.

“When real estate developers want a
piece of land, the local residents must move away; if they decline to
leave, then real estate developers will resort to violent ways,” the
posting said.

Forced demolitions have always led to
opposition and resistance from local residents in China and have given
rise to the term “nail house” in China, in reference to a nail refusing
to be hammered down.

In southwest China’s city of
Chongqing, a couple battled for three years from 2004 to 2007 to stop
developers from razing their home. Their neighbors left one after
another, leaving their two-story brick building standing like a tower
surrounded by a 17-meter deep construction site. Their fight finally
came to an end in April 2007 with a negotiated agreement that
nevertheless saw the demolition of their house.

In June 2008, Pan Rong and her husband
stood on the roof of their house in Shanghai and threw Molotov
cocktails at the approaching bulldozer. Pan’s efforts to protect her
home failed at last when the bulldozer destroyed the walls, forcing the
couple out.

In November last year, a 47-year-old
woman, Tang Fuzhen, in the southwestern city of Chengdu, set herself on
fire to protest the forced demolition of her house and died later.

In both cases, the local governments insisted that the forced demolitions were lawful and accorded with regulations.

“I am wondering whether Cameron had secretly lived in China before coming up with such an idea of writing the story of Avatar, but with a promising ending in the film,” said renowned football reporter, Li Chengpeng, in a blog article on www.sina.com.

“In a word, I think the film is a successful eulogy of the fight of ‘nail houses’ against forced demolitions,” he said.

The Chinese central government is increasingly aware of the negative impact of and public discontent toward forced demolitions.

China passed its landmark property law in 2007, highlighting the protection of private property.

On Dec. 7 last year, five professors
from Peking University claimed in an open letter to the National
People’s Congress, the country’s top legislature, the Regulation on
Urban Housing Demolition Administration was unconstitutional and
violated the property law.

The existing demolition regulation
took effect in 2001, allowing forced demolition. The government has
finished a draft revision to the regulation.

The draft revision, with its content
still unknown, put more restrictions on the government’s administrative
power in demolition procedures, and was aimed at easing growing
tensions caused by forced demolitions, legal experts said.

“To audiences of other countries,
forced demolitions are probably beyond their imagination,” said young
writer Han Han, well known for his always controversial remarks, in one
of his blog articles on www.sina.com.

“So I think Avatar is a great movie. I give it a full mark of 10, also taking into consideration the 3-D and IMAX,” he said. …

However, “A Cup of Green Tea” voiced a
note of warning: “I strongly advise real estate developers and urban
administrative inspectors see the movie and learn from it.”

 

This relatively surprising reception of the Avatar movie in China is obviously something to be welcomed by all those who favor markets and freedom – as well by evil greenies (and Japanese and others downwind/downstream) who want cleaner air and water – since it is clear that  enforceable and transferrable property rights is one of the key mechanisms by which developing societies move along the “Kuznets environmental curve” from pollution to a cleaner environment.

Let`s also hope that the Chinese also start to recognize that their consumer demand is (like that of Western consumers) fuelling Avatar-like destruction elsewhere around the world, and choose to act as responsible consumers, by insisting that indigenous rights elsewhere by protected.

Avatar at Home? Those pesky Somali pirates have hampered the pillage of East African seas, leading to higher fish catches by locals

January 12th, 2010 1 comment

As a follow-up to my earlier posts (note: link fixed) on how the rape of East African fisheries ($200-300 million per year) & ocean dumping by Western nations led to the rise of Somali piracy, I just ran across this interesting recent report by AP (“Kenya fishermen see upside to pirates: more fish“) on how the presence of the pirates has boosted local fisheries.

What IS "property"? A few weird thoughts on evolution, society, "property rights" and "intellectual property", and the "principles" we structure to justify them

December 21st, 2009 2 comments

I copy here some thoughts I posted on two linked threads by Jeffrey Tucker and Stephan Kinsella in November [2009] regarding problems with intellectual property, as well as some relevant parts of the comment thread by Stephan and others:

My own view has come around to the idea that state-created IP is abusive and has been hijacked by rent-seeking. Firms and individuals that want to maintain information as property should do so without state grants, other than the use of courts in providing remedies for theft.

But that the idea of IP itself as “property” does not seem absurd to me in the least; the prevalence of the idea is an example of the way that communities adopt and internalize rules and apply them rather reflexively (and feel them morally) and is a testament to the capacity of humans to minimize tragedy of the commons situations (as Yandle and Ostrom have noted). The problem is simply that IP has slipped its moorings and become abusive to the point that we need to start working (via legislation, no?) to lessen the evident parasitism and abuse.
Published: November 19, 2009 7:57 AM

Stephan Kinsella:
TokyoTizzom:
These comments have an odd air to them–state created IP is “abusive”? It’s been “hijacked”? Libertarians talk about just and unjust, rights and rights violations. And IP was not hijacked by the state any more than taxing power or regulation of wage and working hour or outlawing cocaine was hijacked by the state. It’s not as if these things would occur in a free market.
Yes, let’s just work with the state to decree more unjust fake “laws” …. that’ll work.
Published: November 19, 2009 9:36 AM

TT:
“And IP was not hijacked by the state any more than taxing power or regulation of wage and working hour or outlawing cocaine was hijacked by the state. It’s not as if these things would occur in a free market.”

I’m not sure why you want to drum up disagreements; is it because I agree with you as a practical matter, rather than delving into principle? If we change anything here, it will not be so much as a result of principle as getting others, as a practical matter, to agree that IP has gotten out of hand.

In any event, I was referring to abuse by rent-seekers, not by the state.

Further, while I don’t see how we can possibly conclude that communities cannot, without use of a state, derive the equivalent of taxes, wage regulations or outlawing cocaine, how is this even relevant to a discussion of the legitimacy of IP?

Care to clarify the following?
me: “The problem is simply that IP has slipped its moorings and become abusive to the point that we need to start working (via legislation, no?) to lessen the evident parasitism and abuse.”
You: “Yes, let’s just work with the state to decree more unjust fake “laws” …. that’ll work.”
I’m not following you – what is YOUR proposed course of action for rolling back IP? Are you expecting everyone to simply ignore the state and IP laws? Seriously, I’m missing something.
Tizzy Tom
Published: November 20, 2009 2:06 AM

TT:
It seems to me that Stephan – as most libertarians who focus on principles – fails to ground his fine edifice on or link it into what we understand of the continual saga of competition and cooperation in Nature for acquiring, using and protecting scarce resources, and man’s ascendant path.

Basically, “property” is simply the name we give to the resources that we are able personally to protect, as well as those which – via sophisticated shared mechanisms that continue to be developed within communities over time – we can protect, plus our recognized share of common assets.

In a state of nature, very little is secure, as most life forms have limited means of securing or maintaining exclusive control over assets. What one predator catches, another often soon steals. Different species have developed different ways of coping with the ongoing struggle, utilizing varying degrees of cunning, speed, strength and cooperation.

Humans have triumphed over the rest of nature because we have found sophisticated ways of balancing individual initiative and moderating intra-group struggle with cooperation, and devised methods to acquire, use and defend resources.

Property has been a key tool, but we can readily see that our “property” has its roots in the ways that our cousin creatures invest energy in marking out territory, fighting (individually or in groups) to protect their young, and growling over bones. At the same time, we can see that animals treat each other as dinner, make calculated decisions as to when to “steal” resources that others are guarding, and as well find advantage in cooperating, both with relatives of their kind and with others.

Our need to defend property from other groups has fed our inbred mutual suspicions of “others”, and our ongoing battles, both for dominance within groups and to acquire the resources held by rival groups, – and has led directly to states.

Bruce Yandle has addressed the ascendance of man through methods such as property to facilitate cooperation and to abate ruinous conflicts over resources; he has an interesting short piece I’ve excerpted here: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/11/20/bruce-yandle-on-the-tragedy-of-the-commons-the-evolution-of-cooperation-and-property.aspx

To tie this in more closely with Stephan’s battle with libertarians and others over IP, I note I have further discussed the ways that groups have, in order to strengthen group cohesion and dampen conflict, of developing and inculcating mores; formal religions are obviously just one branch of this tree:

– see my discussion with “fundamentalist” here: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/08/30/a-few-simple-thoughts-on-the-evolution-of-moral-codes-and-why-we-fight-over-them-and-religion-liberty-and-the-state.aspx

– and my discussions with Gene Callahan and Bob Murphy on whether there are “objective” moral truths, or simply a felt need on their part to find some: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=callahan+moral

These are relevant because they explore not property per se, but our related need to make our property rules stick, by tying them to “sacred postulates” of one kind or another. The problem with this, of course, is that it makes us difficult to abandon what we all pretty much assumed was sacred, like IP. (Of course it also makes even discussing property quite difficult at times.)

TT
Published: November 20, 2009 9:13 AM

• Lord Buzungulus, Bringer of the Purple Light
TokyoTom’s latest post is, frankly, bizarre, and I fail to see that it has anything do with the issues of property rights and IP.
Published: November 20, 2009 9:19 AM

• Stephan Kinsella
Lord B– re TokyoTizzom — I kind of agree.
Tom: I really am not sure what you are asking. You seem to be rambling in a sort of New Age libertarian “we’re all practical moderates can’t we just get along Rodney king” kind of way, “can’t we just have incremental improvement, kumbaya”.

Maybe I’m misreading you. I just can’t follow this amorphous way of thinking.
Published: November 20, 2009 10:43 AM

• TokyoTom
LBBPL & Stephan:
Sure, it’s a bolt from the blue and kinda past my bedtime, but it’s not so hard:

The deep roots of “property” are not in principle but in simple competition, physical defense of assets valuable enough to make the effort worthwhile, and in the grudging recognition by others – more willingly offered by those who share bonds of community – that yielding to others’ claims may be more productive than challenging them.

This is as true for rest of creation as it is for man. While we have developed property to a a very sophisticated degree, at its core property remains very much about the Darwinian struggle to survive and prosper, violence, theft and calculations as to when challenging control over an asset is not worth the effort.

To the extent we’re past that, which is quite a ways indeed, property is a social construct that is flexible (though rigidified in various ways, including legislation) and based primarily on practical considerations as to what parameters best engender wealth and respond to shared purposes by minimizing free-for-alls, externalities, free-riding & rent-seeking and facilitating voluntary transactions.

Elinor Ostrom has spent alot of time documenting sophisticated local community property rights, all of which at the end of the day all supported by threats of sanctions and violence against rule breakers and outsiders. http://bit.ly/2caqUr

It’s natural that we feel strongly about what we consider to be ours, but this feeling is a gut one that is not in essence grounded on principles deeper than our sense of fair play and just desserts in a community to which we feel we have bonds of common purpose.

And we have a natural tendency to dress up our shared institutions – such as property rights – in moral precepts.
But we always remain subject to problems of theft, especially so as our bonds of community and shared purpose loosen. Libertarians are absolutely right to keep shining a spotlight on how the state has become an instrument of theft.

As for IP, as specialized knowledge can be quite valuable, it seems quite possible for me to imagine a society that developed IP and enforced it mutually, as a way to minimize high costs for protecting trade secrets.But such rules would not be enforceable against other societies, unless resort is made to government. And it seems clear to me that there are substantial rent-seeking costs now associated with state-granted IP.

To roll things back, just the argument that things are out of control and IP is now grossly abused and counterproductive is good enough for me, but I wish you luck in wielding arguments of principle. That’s the great thing about being a pragmatist.
TT
Published: November 20, 2009 11:54 AM

Third-World land theft & the tragedy of the commons: Mother Jones ponders, "Conservation: Indigenous peoples’ enemy No. 1?"

November 26th, 2009 No comments

[Post note: Anybody see the movie Avatar? Well that’s how native people perceive conservation efforts – as helping governing elites to steal their lands.]

The Mother Jones magazine has been running a series of on-line articles which exemplify how some progressives are exploring the ways in which various parts of the environmental/conservation agenda in developing countries have been counterproductive, adversely affected indigenous peoples, favored Western companies and played into the hands of local elites.

The articles are worth reviewing, as they reveal that enviros are starting to realize that protecting nature in the developing world requires protecting the property rights of indigenous communities.

One such article, by Mark Dowie, appeared in Mother Jones` on-line edition on November  2. The headline reads, “Conservation: Indigenous people’s enemy No. 1?”, the sub-header states, “For centuries we’ve displaced people to save nature. A huge project in Africa offers a chance to turn that around.” Dowie, an award-winning investigative journalist, is an author of several books published by the MIT Press, including his most recent, Conservation Refugees – The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples.

Dowie`s thesis is that, until recently, conservationists have typically taken the approach that the best way to preserve tropical forests and other wild ecosystems, the right approach was to establish pristine reserves from which people were excluded, and describes the change in strategy in the context of a new series of parks that the government in Gabon, central Africa. Dowie notes that the traditional approach – of establishing government-owned and -administered parks free of native residents – has a long, and long-forgotten history in the US (emphasis added):

But there was another, more historically significant opportunity
facing Gabon that day, one that Fay merely hinted at in his
presentation and Sanderson didn’t mention at all. It was the
opportunity their own industry, transnational conservation, had in
Gabon: to do right by the thousands of tribal people living inside
those emerald patches, by allowing them to remain in their homelands
and participate directly in the stewardship and management of the new
parks. They would then not be passive “stakeholders” relocated to the
margins of the park, the typical fate of indigenous peoples who find
themselves in conservation “hot spots,” but equal players in the
complex and challenging process of defending biological diversity.
The
goal of such a policy would be the concurrent preservation of nature
and culture; Gabon just might come to signify a happy ending of a
tense, century-long conflict between global environmentalism and native
people, millions of whom have been displaced from traditional homelands in the interest of conservation.

It’s a century-long story of violence and abuse that began in Yosemite Valley in the mid 19th century,
when the Ahwahneechee band of Miwoks were chased about, caught on, then
forcefully expelled from a landscape they had cultivated for about 200
generations.
Militias like the vicious Mariposa Battalion were sent
into Yosemite
to burn acorn caches and rout native people from remote reaches of the
Valley. After the militias came the nature romantics who mythologized
the vacated valley as the wilderness it never was, then lobbied state
and federal governments to create a national park. They got their wish
in 1890, and the remaining Indians were removed
from the area, with a
few allowed to remain temporarily, as menial laborers in a segregated
village of 20-by-20-foot shacks.

Yosemite’s Indian policy spread to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde,
Mount Ranier, Zion, Glacier, Everglades, and Olympic National Parks,
all of which expelled thousands of tribal people from their homes and
hunting grounds so the new parks could remain in an undisturbed “state
of nature.”
Three hundred Shoshone
Indians were killed in a single day during the expulsion from
Yellowstone. This was the birth of what would come to be known,
worldwide, as the Yosemite model of wildlife conservation. In Africa
it would be renamed “fortress conservation,” and like so many other
products from the North, the model would be exported with vigor to all
other continents. …

Teddy Roosevelt also proclaimed that “the rude, fierce settler who
drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt
to him… It is of incalculable importance that America,
Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red,
black, and yellow aboriginal owners and become the heritage of the
dominant world races.”

Our own history of theft from natives aside (which I have addressed tangentially in the context of the near-extirpation of the bison herds and the ongoing gross mismanagement and destruction of the salmon), what indigenous peoples in their right minds would not be opposed to the complicity of conservationists in continuing the process of the older colonial theft of their lands, even if the purpose was to “save” the land?  I won`t explore this now, but the record of “development” is replete with many examples – old and new – of such kinds of theft, with local ownership replaced by government ownership and a resulting “tragedy of the commons”-type of race to plunder “government” lands for valuable resources – oil and gas, minerals and timber.

Dowie notes the natural rise of indigenous opposition to “conservation” projects:

One consequence of creating a few million conservation refugees
around the world has been the emergence of a vast and surprisingly
powerful movement of communities that have proven themselves stewards
of nature (otherwise conservationists would have no interest in their
land), but were turned by circumstance into self-described “enemies of
conservation.

In early 2004, a United Nations
meeting was convened for the ninth year in a row to push for passage of
a resolution protecting the territorial and human rights of indigenous
peoples. During the meeting, one indigenous delegate rose to state that
extractive industries, while still a serious threat to their welfare
and cultural integrity, were no longer the main antagonist of native
cultures. Their new and biggest enemy, she said, was “conservation.”
Later that spring, at a meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia,
of the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping, all 200 delegates
signed a declaration stating that “conservation has become the number
one threat to indigenous territories.”

Then in February 2008, representatives of the International
Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) walked out of a Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) annual meeting, condemning the convention
for ignoring their interests. “We found ourselves marginalized and
without opportunity to take the floor and express our views,” read
their statement. “None of our recommendations were included in [the
meeting’s report]. So we have decided to leave this process…”

These are all rhetorical jabs, of course, and perhaps not entirely
accurate or fair. But they are based on fact and driven by experience,
and have shaken the international conservation community. So have a
spate of critical studies and articles calling international
conservationists to task for their historical mistreatment of
indigenous peoples.

The Mother Jones article looks like an excerpt from Dowie`s new book, which MIT describes as follows:

Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially
protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely
at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About
half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous
peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for
generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story.

This is a “good guy vs. good guy” story, Dowie writes; the indigenous
peoples’ movement and conservation organizations have a vital common
goal—to protect biological diversity—and could work effectively and
powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve species and
ecosystem diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two
forces have been at odds. The result: thousands of unmanageable
protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing
on their ancestral lands or “assimilated” but permanently indentured on
the lowest rungs of the economy.

The punch line of the book summary?

When conservationists and native peoples
acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and
cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and
much more effective paradigm for conservation.

I am quite sympathetic with Dowie`s thinking, but it seems to me that he could make use of a little more intellectual framework, such as (i) the Austrian/libertarian awareness of the frequently negative role played by the state and of the usefulness of property rights (as I noted in this earlier post about the destruction of the Amazon), and (ii) Elinor Ostrom`s research into successful management of open-access, common-pool resources by communities, including natives.

I left the following comments for Dowie at Mother Jones:

Mark, great article. It`s good to hear
that the broader conservation community is waking up, but groups like
Survival International have always tried to protect indigenous
peoples`s rights.

I`m afraid the headline is a bit of a distraction, because of course
the broader development effort as a whole has been much more
destructive, by even more widely putting power into the hands on
central elites, who often behaved kleptocratically.

Regardless of the broader background, it`s surprising that you
didn’t see fit to link your topic to the whole problem of the “tragedy
of the commons”, which is often tied to the nationalization of
resources, which deprives users of any control over the resources they
depend on. Elinor Ostrom has extensively studied this problem in
developing countries and elsewhere, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in
economics precisely for pointing out how “government” is often the
problem and not the solution:

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=ostrom

I commend this effort by Dowie, and note some other interesting articles at Mother Jones:

GM’s Rainforest Racket: People with some of the world’s smallest carbon footprints are being displaced—so their forests can become offsets(“There is another vexing question inherent in
preserving forests: What happens to the people who use the land?
Efforts to protect biodiversity in the dwindling wildlands of the world
have increasingly run into a discomfiting tension between the impulse
toward absolute preservation and the needs of people—many of them
indigenous—who have lived sustainably in forestlands for decades or
centuries. Such tensions are playing out in the new economics of carbon
offsets.”)
Better REDD Than Dead: The byzantine politics of paying countries to save trees: (“Indigenous people around the world, many of whom have been displaced
through preservation efforts, are demanding “free, prior, and informed
consent” before new restrictions move forward. Some also want tribes,
like the Guarani in Brazil, to be compensated for preserving forests
for centuries.”)

Bruce Yandle on the tragedy of the commons, evolution of cooperation & property, and the struggle against government theft

November 20th, 2009 No comments

[I note that this is one of my earlier Avatar-themed posts. 2010/02/15]

I`ve often referred to Bruce Yandle, a “free-market environmentalist” who is dean emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus at Clemson University`s College of Business & Behavior Sciences, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Economics at the Mercatus Center, a faculty member with George Mason University’s Capitol Hill Campus, and a Senior Fellow at PERC – the Property and Environment Research Center (a free-market environmentalism think tank which has great links to his many works).

I`d like to draw attention attention to one short paper by Yandle which I find insightful in providing a perspective on the evolution of prperty rights and problems with resource management which arise from government owenership, even as he has short-shrifted the importance of community property mechanisms, which Nobel Prize-winner Elinor Ostrom has so extensively researched and documented (as I keep noting).

Yandle`s paper, The Commons: Tragedy or Triumph?, was published by the Foundation for Economic Education in its April 1999 online edition of Freeman. Here are few portions (emphasis added):

The feeder is a commons, but not just for hummingbirds. Bees are
attracted to it as well, and oddly enough, they can drive off the
larger hummingbirds. So even if the dominant bird is able to deflect
competition from other members of the species, that is not enough to
protect the nectar, and the defense itself is costly in energy burned.
The feeder contents are never secure.

Hummingbirds have no way to stake a claim to the feeder. So far as
we can tell, hummingbird communities have no constitution that reflects
socially evolved rules for establishing a social order. Most likely, a
long process of adaptation and selection has generated a hummingbird
capable of living in a world where nourishment is a common-access
resource, a commons. Hummingbirds live a life of flight, engaging in a
constant search for nourishment to feed their high-energy lives and, at
times, fighting for temporary control over valuable resources.

Human Commons

We all know the tragedy of the commons story. Wonderfully written
by Garrett Hardin in 1968, the highly stylized rendering is about a
pasture devoid of rules, customs, or norms for sharing.[1]
It is open to all comers. In this never-never-land, shepherds logically
add sheep to their flocks as long as doing so adds an increment of gain
for the particular flock. Uncoordinated in their effort, and unaware of
the effects of their individual actions on others, the unconcerned
shepherds collectively destroy the pasture. What could be a story of
plenty, if only the shepherds understood, turns into a story of
poverty. The passive shepherds are like hummingbirds. [Yandle has this wrong; Hardin posits competing shepherds who don`t talk w/ each other,and so look after only their narrow self-interests.]

As Hardin artistically puts it: “Therein is the tragedy. Each man
is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without
limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which
all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that
believes in freedom of the commons.”

Garrett Hardin’s words beautifully bundle aspects of an endless
human struggle to form communities, accumulate wealth, and improve
well-being. With that phrase—tragedy of the commons—the essence of the
challenge hits us squarely between the eyes: When there are no property
rights—formal or informal—that limit use of a scarce natural resource,
human action leads inevitably to untimely resource depletion and
destruction.

But people are not hummingbirds. People can build institutions that
take the edge off frantic commons behavior. People have unwritten and
written constitutions that help to establish social order. People can
and do accumulate wealth. People communicate, invent lines of kinship,
and develop customs, traditions, and rules of law that limit
anti-social behavior. People define, enforce, and trade property
rights. People can and do avoid the tragedy of the commons. Indeed,
instead of living with tragedies, people triumph over the commons. But
the triumphs are never perfect or complete. There is always another
commons to manage.

The Ascent of Man

I wish to put forward the notion that encounters with the commons
form the fundamental stimulus that yields, instead of tragedy, what we
today call civilization.
The ascent of man from a primitive existence
with no wealth accumulation to life as we know it is fundamentally a
story about triumph over, not tragedy of, the commons. Let me explain.

Our very existence as human beings is defined by evolved
institutions for avoiding tragedies. We have names, which serve the
economic purpose of identifying us as parties to contracts and
agreements. Those names, first and last, form webs of communication
that reduce the social cost of assigning responsibilities and
liabilities. They enhance truth-telling and promise-keeping; they raise
the cost of engaging in anti-social behavior. They limit a tragedy of
the commons.

We have abstract symbols of ownership—deeds, titles, and
contracts—that define spheres of autonomous behavior. We speak of our
homes, our cars, our clothes, our families, and our pasture. Even
language has evolved to provide a possessive form that accommodates
triumph over the commons.

We write and observe contracts, wills, and marriage agreements that
define relationships, identify turf, and conserve wealth. We accept
evolved bodies of law and law-enforcement activities to assure the
integrity of our agreements. We carry papers that enable us to acquire
property, extinguish debt, cross borders, drive vehicles, and
communicate effectively with strangers. And we have locks, keys, walls,
fences, brands, and encryption devices, all this in an effort to avoid
a tragedy of the commons.

Property rights define who we are and what we have. Property rights
guard others from our unwanted advances and prevent us from
contributing to a tragedy of their commons.

Avoiding a tragedy of the commons is costly. The benefits must be large. …

The tragedy is found where for reasons having to do with power,
intolerance, or cost, human beings have not yet defined private
property rights. Or, as we shall see, where evolving property rights
encouraged by man the institution builder have been destroyed.
What was
once a triumph can become a tragedy. …

What about fisheries? How can we avoid a tragedy of the commons
there? Long before the Europeans arrived on the scene in the Pacific
Northwest, Native Americans had figured it out. Small tribes in what is
now Washington State had salmon fishing rights.
Don Leal tells us that
“in some cases, the tribe owned the rights; in others, families or
individuals or a combination owned the rights.”[5]

And what happened when the Europeans arrived? You guessed it. Leal
tells the story this way: “Instead of recognizing the well-defined and
enforced fishing rights, the U.S. government allowed newcomers to place
nets across the mouth of the Columbia. This quickly depleted salmon
runs, so traps and weirs were banned—only to be replaced by purse seine
boats powered by internal combustion engines. The race to catch salmon
moved to open waters. Ironically, from the country where private
property is considered sacrosanct came a socialistic legal system
driven by politics and military power.”[6]

What had been private property was turned into a commons. What had been
an institution-builder triumph became a political tragedy. …

For centuries before anyone in the United States thought much about
environmental quality, our common law defined and protected the
environmental rights of ordinary people.[10]
Enforced by judges in courts across the land, common law protected the
right of downstream property owners to receive water and air in
undiminished quality for reasonable use.
At common law, rivers could
not be treated as open sewers if doing so imposed costs on downstream
rightholders. Industrial plants could not blow smoke and emissions onto
the land and property of ordinary people. The record is filled with
cases, here and in Canada, decided under English common-law traditions:
where farmers sued industrial plants and won; where citizens of one
state sued polluters in another state, and won; and where common-law
judges ordered polluters to clean up or shut down. There are also cases
where this did not happen, where judges turned away from
property-rights enforcement and behaved as policy makers. But when the
judges got it wrong, their decisions affected a small number of people,
not an entire nation. [I note Walter Block disagrees strongly and views this change in common law as leading to the rampant pollution that set the stage for federal legislation.] This, of course, changed with the advent of
legislation.

Prior to the passage of federal pollution-control statutes, every
major city in the United States had taken steps to define public
property rights to air quality. Many states, including California, had
taken a river-basin approach to the management of water quality, this
in addition to the use of common law. Multi-state compacts were
forming. By the 1960s, environmental quality was improving rapidly in
many locations. The property rights institution builders were on their
way to avoiding a tragedy of the commons. Common law was converting the
commons to private property.

This was changed with the passage of federal legislation that
effectively nationalized air and water quality in the United States.
What was becoming private property was made public property, almost a
commons. The new system of command-and-control regulation allowed
polluters to operate legally if they had a permit. With permits in
hand, new polluters could enter already crowded river basins. The new
regime provided political access to industries and municipalities that
hoped to postpone the day of reckoning in common law courts.

This work sheds light on mankind’s struggle to avoid the tragedy of
the commons. It tells us that at very low levels of income, what might
be called stage one, human beings cannot afford to do much about
property-rights enforcement and the commons. They live in a world where
custom and tradition sustain them. As incomes rise and losses from the
commons expand, stage two is entered. Fences go up, and rules are set
for protecting the commons. Finally, in stage three, markets evolve
along with rules of law that define spheres of private and public
action. Private rights replace public control, and the triumph replaces
the tragedy of the commons.

[Yandle ignores government mismanagement here, and how Western markets and Westernized leaders have seamrollered native institutions.]

Life for mankind began on a commons where tragedies were
commonplace and the incentive to improve was powerful. Out of the
struggle to survive and accumulate wealth evolved markets, property
rights, and the rule of law—a triumph on the commons.

But just as bees compete with hummingbirds in the struggle to
control access to nectar, institution builders who seek to support
markets and property rights compete with others who seek to
redistribute wealth. Actions to redistribute wealth blunt the incentive
to protect property rights and create wealth. This converts triumph to
tragedy.

Capitalism, the destructive exploitation of the Amazon and the tragedy of the government-owned commons

May 25th, 2009 5 comments

Searching for solutions to problems is admirable, but the effectiveness of such efforts will be limited if they are based on a faulty or incomplete understanding of the problem.  

Many of those who have some familiarity with the “tragedy of the commons” paradgim outlined by Garrett Hardin can identify a free-for-all when they see one, but fail to understand the perverse role that governments often play in perpetuating such situations.  While there may be a productive role that government can play in ameliorating destructive exploitation, it is undeniable government involvement can be counterproductive as well.

Further, while modern markets and technological advances certainly increase the pressures on “common”, open-access resources, trying to change “capitalism” or “global trade” systems may be much less productive than addressing the institutional failure at the location of the particular resource.

These thoughts come to mind in connection with ongoing discussions regarding the application of the “tragedy of the commons” paradigm to fisheries and to climate change.  Unfortunately, what passes for discussion on climate change (and other environmental issues) is too often people talking past each other (frequently with all of the hallmarks of a tribal battle):  some correctly see a looming commons problem that they believe requires government regulation but ignore the risks of pork, partiality and wasted resources in the policies themselves, while others, not anxious for government to expand its regulatory purview, downplay or dismiss the resource problem and focus on the downsides of government action or the motives of those calling for government action (while ignoring those invested heavily in a status quo that is replete with moral hazard).

To further illustrate, I take the liberty of copying below portions of a discussion with Myanna  Lahsen at Roger Pielke, Jr.`s Prometheus blog in 2007 (emphasis added):

Concluding paragraph of the linked Lahsen & Nobre paper:

“While solutions to sustainability problems in the Amazon in some cases might be found through technology, the problems themselves are responses to national- and global global level economic structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance, and unsustainable, short-sighted extractive approaches to natural resource management. To truly understand and address environmental degradation in the Amazon, one must thus strengthen understanding and recognition of the connections between sustainability problems and global and regional structures of power and inequality, including the impact of capitalism and liberal globalization on environmental practices, standards and policies (Bunker, 1985; Campos Mello, 2001). Unsustainable uses of the Amazon, and the associated land-related violence, human rights violations and exploitation in the region, are influenced directly or indirectly by global markets in (and, hence, global consumption of) export commodities such as soybeans, meat and timber. Recognition of such connections render evident that the causes of local-level problems in the Amazon and their solutions are, in practice, far from purely local, suggesting that the most deep-cutting solutions depend on systemic changes at the global level.

Ms. Lahsen, allow me to make a few comments. Roger has just steered me here from a different thread.

 

1. I think you are absolutely correct that the incentive structures of funding institutions and the individual incentive structures of the scientists involve are key reasons why so little applied science connected to developing sustainable practices in the Amazon has come out of the LBA. But they are not the only reasons.

Few scientists take naturally to politics. Even when important public policy issues are at stake, the efficacy of those scientists who do choose to step into the policy arena may be severely limited, as is clear from the climate change debate in the US. Decision-makers act or delay action based upon perceptions of self-interest and the interests of constituencies they identify with.

Scott Saleska alludes to this when he refers to the travails of Hansen and the changing official agenda of NASA.

This problem is even more acute in the Amazon, where land tenure and land use practices are highly politicized, and where speaking out in ways that affect the strongest interest groups is outright dangerous, not merely to one’s career, but to one’s health.

2. There are plenty of scientists who engage in applied science – but mainly with respect to fields of application where there is a strong demand from the private market. I suspect that the only area where applied science is in significant demand in the Amazon is for agricultural science and technology in the areas that have been converted to soybean farms. Interest in silvaculture and ecosystem protection may grow if groups interested in preserving forests or growing trees can find a greater voice, both politically and legally.

3. In your conclusion, you rightly refer to international factors that fuel “sustainability problems” (viz., deforestation) in the Amazon, but these are very thinly sketched out and deserve greater attention. But even more importantly, I think you misunderstand the relative importance of the various institutional failures that are driving the destruction of the Amazon, and are wrong to conclude that “the most deep-cutting solutions depend on systemic changes at the global level”.

While global markets create incentives for some to cut and export logs and others to burn forests and raise cattle or crops for export, the rest of the developed world faces the same the markets and still does not destroy its forests – in fact, forests are growing in the north. Trying to tackle Amazonian deforestation by destroying export markets, “capitalism” or “liberal globalization” is simply Quixotic (if not counterproductive), and the implication that embargoes should be placed against Brazilian products derived from forest destruction are objectionable not only on grounds of practicality but morally – shall we beggar Brazilians to protect the forests that we find more valuable than they do?

The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon (or in other tropical ares), or where there are indigenous peoples and others who do, these rights cannot be effectively enforced. Most of the Amazon is government owned, but the government does not care (and is probably incapable even if it desired) to protect its forests against politically well-connected cattle and farming interests. As is frequently the case when the government “owns” resources, those resources are very vulnerable to depredations by national elites.

The result in the Amazon is that forests are essentially a free resource that can be easily taken from the public treasury and converted into private wealth – and local interests that wish to protect forests (from rubber tappers like Chico Mendez to indigenous peoples and their sympathizers, like priests and nuns) are dealt with brutally and with essential impunity , as you have recognized. Like the open and secretive ways that fossil fuel interests have made efforts to protect their free use of the open-access atmosphere, we can expect that entrenched interests in Brazil will try to forestall measures that eliminate their free plundering of public forests and forests titled to the powerless.

While there is indeed a problem that there is no mechanism presently in place by which wealthier nations could pay Brazil to protect the Amazon, such steps are being discussed, but will still require effective enforcement on the ground to be at all meaningful.

Accordingly, rather than looking to “systemic changes at the global level”, one should recognize that the causes of local-level problems in the Amazon and their solutions are, contrary to your conclusion, in all tractable senses purely local to Brazil [and other Amazonian countries].

The destructive exploitation of the Amazon is a paradigmatic case for the problems of sustainable development everywhere. To have wealthy societies, we must have instititions that eliminate destructive exploitation by establishing clear and enforceable rights (whether private, collective or public) to property.

This means that one effective investment in research will be towards low-cost technology that helps resource owners on the ground to identify their property, to provide warnings of trespassers, and evidence that can be used to bring private or public proceedings to protect property.

Respectfully,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at January 17, 2007 10:36 PM


Dear Tom,
You frame the problem as a strictly local one, and we beg to differ.
Global consumption patterns drive natural resource use. Growing demand for soybeans in China, and to feed cattle in Europe in the wake of the mad cow disease scares, is centrally driving soybean production in the Amazon, for instance, which has greatly accelerated deforestation in the Amazon in recent years. The oscillations in deforestation rates correlate closely with the prices of soybeans on global markets.

Yet another global, systemic cause of deforestation as well as human rights abuses in the Amazon is neoliberalism, which has weakened national governments, especially in Latin America, as we mention this in the paper and back up by reference to scholarly studies.

Finally, we take issue with your suggestion that “The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon.” As indicated in critiques of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” theory, private property is not a solution. Indeed, much of the destruction of the Amazon is on private lands.

Respectfully,

Myanna Lahsen and Carlos A. Nobre

Posted by: Myanna Lahsen at March 6, 2007 09:11 AM


Hi Mayanna,

You write, “Finally, we take issue with your suggestion that “The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon.” As indicated in critiques of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” theory, private property is not a solution. Indeed, much of the destruction of the Amazon is on private lands.”

Here’s a website that says:

“In Brazil, 65 percent of forested area is in public hands, but the proportion reaches 75 percent in the Amazon region. According to Azevedo, the new law, accused of “privatising” the forests, seeks precisely the opposite: to combat de facto privatisation through illegal means. Currently, more than 80 percent of illegal lumber production comes from public lands.”

So that website is saying 75 percent of the forested area in the Amazon region is in public hands, and that 80 percent of illegal lumber production comes from public lands.

Do you disagree with either of those numbers? If so, what do you think the numbers should be?

Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 6, 2007 07:24 PM


Oops. This is the website that had those figures on land ownership and illegal logging:

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=32558

Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 6, 2007 07:29 PM


Myanna and Carlos:

Many thanks for the response.

However, you misinterpret me. First, I have NOT said that the problem is a strictly local one, and I completely agree that global consumption patterns are closely tied to natural resource use. Any rational observer of the international economy will see not only that market economies are great at creating wealth where private transaction occur relating to OWNED resources, but are also great at the destructive exploitation of resources that are not effectively owned or protected.

The Amazon is a classic case of the latter. There are essentially two possible approaches to the problem – one can try to put a stick in the gears of the global markets for foreign resources (by destroying export markets, global “capitalism”, “liberal globalization” or “neoliberalism”), or one can focus on trying to ensure that Amazonian forests are more effectively owned and protected.

Which of those seems to you like a more manageable task? (And if you chose the former, don’t forget the ethical questions I posed to you on them.)

I don’t think that the problem is an easy one at all, and I commend you both for trying to tackle it. However, I think that solutions, if any are to be found before the Amazon is gutted, will most likely be found in trying to ways to help people on the ground identify and protect resources that are important to them – and in trying to co-opt the wealthy elites who are essentially plundering Brasilians’ “national wealth” by using brazen physical power.

How can this be done? Imaginative people can think of many ways. A few come immediately to mind. One is to push the Brasilian government (and foreign aid agencies) to stop subsidizing the development of physical infrastructure like roads and power, so that those who would profit from destruction have to pay all of their own costs. It would help to identify clearly those who are converting forests, but this is not strictly necessary if taxpayers can be made aware that they are being fleeced twice – in the theft of government property and in the subsidization of it. Perhaps the government could even be persuaded to get out of the land ownership business altogether, and have all of the land auctioned off to the highest bidders. Police forces, courts, land registration offices and technologies that help identify land and trespass would all be beneficial. Markets can also be harnessed to tap “green” demand for sustainably owned and maintained resources, thus further empowering natives.

Please also understand that I am not advocating solely “private” ownership. Community ownership of resources may be quite effective. But government ownership of resources is simply a recipe for those resources to be ripped off – literally or figuratively – by those with the best politcal connections/the powerful, and at the expense of the little guy/disenfranchised.

Some focus on the demand side can also work – if PR light can be shed on the home economy firms colsest to the exploitation. But this is very difficult to do, as one purchaser can easily be replaced by another, and there’s always the Chinese, who really don’t care what we might have to say.

I’m happy to expand/expound further if you’re inclined.

Posted by: TokyoTom  at March 16, 2007 05:40 AM

 

Bison and the Theft of the Commons

December 16th, 2007 No comments

[Updated, as noted]

[I now view this as my first “Avatar” post. February 15, 2010.]

My attention was drawn today to a letter to the editor published by The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), an organization of free-thinkers who pioneered what is now known as “free market environmentalism” and which is the nation’s oldest and largest institute dedicated to original research that brings market principles to resolving environmental problems.

The letter, by P.J. Hill, Professor of Economics at Wheaton College and a PERC Senior Fellow, addresses an interesting article titled “Bisonomics” by Brian Yablonski in the Fall 2007 issue of “PERC Reports” on the growing private market that has led to a remarkable expansion of bison herds in North Americahttp://www.perc.org/perc.php?subsection=5&id=900.

[Update: According to the bison industry webpage, (i) bison producers can be found today in all 50 states, every Canadian province, and in several countries overseas, (ii) the Department of Agriculture reported in 2002 that approximately 4,000 private ranches held 232,000 head of bison across the United States, (iii) approximately 25,000 additional animals are kept in public herds, and (iv) the Canadian herd is estimated at 150,000 head.  This is an amazing comeback for a species that hovered on the brink of extinction in 1900.  http://www.bisoncentral.com/index.php?c=63&d=71&a=1087&w=2&r=Y

However, in the lower 48, only the 4000-head Yellowstone herd is genetically pure.  While there are  no “domestic” breeds, ranched bison all carry cattle genes, largely as a result of efforts to make hardier breeds of cattle.  Efforts to further domesticate bison continue.]

In explaining the near extirpation of American bison herds in the late 1800s, Yablonski rather conventionally describes this occurrence as “one of the great environmental catastrophes in our nation’s history” and “one of the starkest examples of the tragedy of the commons. No one owned the bison. Those who were not the first to capture the economic benefits of a bison lost those benefits to someone else.”

Professor Hill challenges this conventional wisdom and offers what seems to be a new twist:

“Yablonski …  errs in saying “the tragedy of the bison is one of the starkest examples of the tragedy of the commons.” A tragedy of the commons occurs when a resource is consumed more rapidly than it would be if well-defined and enforced property rights existed. In other words, the institutional framework leads to over-use. The primary reason bison did not remain abundant on the Great Plains after 1880 is not because they were unowned, although that fact might have sped up their slaughter. But, bison were a costly way to convert grass to meat in comparison to cattle, and if there would have been rights to bison on the parts of nineteenth century ranchers most of them would have been killed and cattle would have replaced them.

In the 1880s, a buffalo hide (the only part of a bison that could be easily shipped to eastern markets) was worth $3 in Miles City, Montana. A cow was worth $20 to $25 (see The Not so Wild, Wild West by Anderson and Hill 2004). Ranchers understood the economics of bison ranching versus cattle ranching and hence made no efforts to stop the hide hunters.

(emphasis added). http://www.perc.org/perc.php?subsection=5&id=1022

But is this really a new insight, or merely stating the obvious, while ignoring the ethnic and natural resource war of which the bison slaughter was part and parcel?  What follows below is part of an email that I have sent to PERC, cc: to Mr. Yablonski and Prof. Hill (with slight editing):

I see that P.J. Hill has commented in a letter that the near extinction of the bison was NOT a “tragedy of the commons”; his paper on this [“The Non-Tragedy of the Buffalo Commons”] carries the argument even further: www.isnie.org/ISNIE05/Papers05/hill.pdf
This deserves a much more detailed response, but suffice it to say that Mr. Hill’s analysis suffers from the very curious omission of a blindingly salient issue – the conflict between a hunter-gather Indian society and a much more technologically advanced white society.  The Indians were simply incapable of protecting the land and the resources that previously they had unquestionably occupied and possessed.  The slaughter of the bison was part and parcel of the elimination of the Indians as the lords of the Plains.
Once an eastern/white market for buffalo skins was established, the Indians, like the bison, stood no chance, and the rest of Mr. Hill’s argument is also fairly obvious.  Bison are powerful animals, not tame like cattle, and can be ranched today only with difficulty, through costly measures not available 135 years ago.  Their hides had value, but they themselves were a nuisance and a competing grazer.  Killing them was a free-for-all on land that was not owned or protected by whites, and on land that was, the skinners provided a service.
Finally, of course, removing the bison also had a value to the white government and settlers in removing emphatically their competitors for the land, the Indians.
Wikipedia summarizes:
“In August 1867, Grant appointed Sheridan to head the Department of the Missouri and pacify the Plains. His troops, even supplemented with state militia, were spread too thin to have any real effect. He conceived a strategy similar to the one he used in the Shenandoah Valley. In the Winter Campaign of 1868–69 he attacked the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes in their winter quarters, taking their supplies and livestock and killing those who resisted, driving the rest back into their reservations. By promoting in Congressional testimony the hunting and slaughter of the vast herds of American Bison on the Great Plains and by other means, Sheridan helped deprive the Indians of their primary source of food.[39] Professional hunters, trespassing on Indian land, killed over 4 million bison by 1874. When the Texas legislature considered outlawing bison poaching on tribal lands, Sheridan personally testified against it in Austin, Texas. He suggested that the legislature should give each of the hunters a medal, engraved with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged-looking Indian on the other. [40] This strategy continued until the Indians honored their treaties. Sheridan’s department conducted the Red River War, the Ute War, and the Black Hills War, which resulted in the death of a trusted subordinate, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. The Indian raids subsided during the 1870s and were almost over by the early 1880s, as Sheridan became the commanding general of the U.S. Army.[41]
Sheridan’s said the following to  Texas legislature in 1875: “These men, the buffalo hunters, have done in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary; and it is a well-known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for the sake of lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle, and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of an advanced civilization.”
(emphasis added)
Far from a simple tragedy of the commons, we had a deliberate war, and a slaughter, driven by a white market demand, in a no man’s land from which Indians had been driven.
Dr. Hill simply addresses the question of whether those whites who established and could enforce property rights would prefer bison or cattle – and he hardly needs any firepower for that, as the comparison of bison to cattle for purposes of white markets is an open and shut case in favor of the much more docile (and less powerful) cattle.
One wonders whether Dr. Hill would venture similar arguments that the removal of native americans from their land in the Amazon and conversion of the “public land” to cattle ranches and soybean plantations (and palm oil plantations in Indonesia) is not a problem of the identification and enforcement of property rights, but is also simply a matter of economic efficiency.
Sincerely,
Tom

(emphasis added)

[Update: I couldn’t stop myself from noting here a few thoughts]

P.J. Hill concludes in his paper that:

“There was no tragedy in an economic sense in the killing of the bison; it was simply a rational economic act by people who wished to maximize the value of the grass on the Great Plains.” 

Bison herds both consumed the grass and disrupted cattle production so their removal was an economic necessity, not a tragedy or a waste of resources.”

“The history of the American bison is one of rational individuals operating under an institutional framework that did not create a tragedy of the commons. It is true that property rights were not well defined and established for buffalo on the open prairies, but since they were not a valuable resource, property rights entrepreneurs put little effort into establishing rights, and if there would have been well-defined and enforced property rights, cattle would still have replaced bison as the primary converter of grass on the Great Plains.”

(emphasis and italics added)

P.J. Hill is right to say that the near-extirpation of the American bison was not a pure “tragedy of the commons”, but I disagree strongly with his reasoning. What occurred was NOT simply, as Hill describes, the replacement of a wild, open-access ecosystem with “more productive” individual cattle ranches, farms, towns and railroads inextricably tied to distant markets. Rather, what occurred was just as much the usual tragedy when an indigenous people with community-property systems encounter a more numerous and more technologically advanced society – namely, the prompt swamping of the native community-property system and outright theft of resources.

Once one accepts P.J. Hill’s premise that the Great Plains rightfully belonged to the white newcomers, then his conclusions naturally and logically follow.  But one is not seeing history clearly if a cold analysis does not also consider the the broader clash of peoples, which the Indians were fated to lose (a la Jared Diamond‘s “Guns, Germs and Steel”).

More than a little disturbingly, Hill’s references to “people”, “rational individuals” and “entrepreneurs” are references only to the white newcomers, and not those who were dispossessed.  Rather startlingly, one can get a clearer picture of how many in the much more powerful white culture contemporaneously viewed the subjugation and removal of the American Indian from what had once been their domain by simply replacing Hill’s references to “bison” in the quoted paragraphs with “Indians”.

I do not mean to attribute such a view to Dr. Hill, but I do think that his failure to consider the issue of a clash of owners is a fatal flaw in his apparently dispassionate, reasoned academic analysis.