Archive for the ‘property rights’ 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:

I sent the following note to 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
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”).

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.

Evidence of ethical and inethical behavior among bacteria

January 15th, 2010 No comments

See Michael Gilberson, co-blogger with Lynne Kiesling at  Knowledge Problem, discussing recent research:  “Cooperation and cheating among bacteria“.

I think we are beginning to see that ethical issues, that is, “problems” of cooperation between individuals, permeates life, and that evolution and experience provide differing capabilities for cooperative behavior across the spectrum of life.

Humans, being the most “advanced” and self-reflective of life forms, are privileged to include fights over “property rights”  and “objective” universal moral codes, etc. among our daily battles over how to advance our personal interests.

[The post title is tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but the study of the why and wherefor of cooperation is a serious matter, indeed. Perhaps it is the underlying theme of this blog.]

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/ (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

“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

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/ (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

“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

“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

“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.

Strange But True IV: NOAA proves govt CAN learn – and seeks to end tragedy of commons in fisheries by implementing "catch share" quasi-property rights!

December 21st, 2009 No comments

Fellow libertarians, O Cynical Ones, you might be surprised to note that, at least in some cases, it MAY be possible to educate thick-headed and corrupt government bureaucrats and political appointees about the reasons for policy failures, and the government MIGHT even actually decide to cean up  its act. While the task may be difficult, it is apparently NOT impossible; there is a silver lining; and persistence may pay off in greater local authority.

The case in point? Signs of hope that the US government is learning from the painful lesson of many disastrously managed fisheries, and is starting to empower fishermen to self-manage that the resources on which they rely, by setting policies that favor “catch share” programs. (I have blogged on the fisheries “tragedy of the commons” a number of times; serious problems continue.) “Free-market” enviro-libertarians have been making the case for such changes for thirty-odd years or so.

(BTW, this is exactly the point that Elinor Ostrom has been making for years, and why she was awarded the Nobel prize in economics. Further, as I have previously noted, even mainline enviro groups – those enviro-facists – have been specifically calling for “catch share” programs as a way to slow the disastrous tragedy of the ocean commons.)

Here are excerpts from a December 10 online release bu the , “NOAA Encourages Use of Catch Shares to End Overfishing, Rebuild Fisheries and Fishing Communities”: (emphasis added)

NOAA released today for public comment a draft national policy
encouraging the use of catch shares, a fishery management tool that
aims to end overfishing and rebuild and sustain fishing jobs and
fishing communities
. In doing so, NOAA recognized that catch shares are
not a panacea or one-size-fits-all solution, but are a proven way to
promote sustainable fishing when designed properly at the fishing
community level.

“We have made great progress in rebuilding many fisheries, but more
than 20 percent of our fish stocks have not been rebuilt, and even
larger proportion of our fisheries are not meeting their full economic
potential for the nation,” Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said.
“Catch shares is a tool that can help us realize the full economic and
biological benefits of rebuilt fisheries.”

Catch share
programs, which include Limited Access Privilege programs and
individual fishing quotas, have been used in the U.S. since 1990 and
are now used in 13 different commercial fisheries. Four new programs
will begin over the next year. 
NOAA estimates that rebuilding U.S.
fish stocks would increase annual commercial dockside values by an
estimated $2.2 billion, a 54-percent increase over current dockside
values of $4.1 billion, and help support jobs in the seafood industry
and across the broader economy.

“From Florida to Alaska, catch share programs help fishing communities
provide good jobs while rebuilding and sustaining healthy fisheries and
ocean ecosystems,”
said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce
for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Although this is a
national policy, our emphasis is on local consideration and design of
catch shares that take into consideration commercial and recreational
fishing interests.”

A catch share program differs from traditional fishery management by
dividing up the total allowable catch in a fishery into shares. These
shares are typically allocated based on historical participation in the
fishery. They may be assigned to individuals, cooperatives, communities
or other entities, who would be allowed to fish up to their assigned
Catch share participants also agree to stop fishing when they
have caught as much as they are allowed.

Under traditional
management programs, fishermen compete for a total allowable catch.
This has lead to fishermen racing each other to catch as many fish as
they can before the total catch limit is reached. This results in more
boats and gear than necessary, quotas being exceeded, increasingly
shorter fishing seasons, unsafe fishing and high levels of bycatch. It
also may result in too many fish brought to market at once, reducing
their market value to fishermen and coastal communities.

“Catch shares allow fishermen to plan their businesses better and be
more selective about when and how they catch their allotment, because
they know their share of the fishery is secure,”
said Dr. Jim Balsiger,
acting administrator of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
“They can plan their fishing schedules in response to weather, market,
and individual business conditions. Catch share programs help eliminate
the race to fish, reduce overcapacity and bycatch, enhance the safety
of fishermen and their vessels, and improve economic efficiency. They
also help ensure fishermen adhere to annual catch limits because the
value of their share is directly linked to the overall health of the
fish stock and its habitat.”

While catch shares are not
always universally embraced when they are first introduced, their
benefits have been well proven. “We fought against the program right up
until the time it passed,” said Alaska fisherman Rob Wurm, referring to
the halibut and sablefish catch share program, which began in 1995.
”But to my surprise, it really has worked well. It has created a lot of
stability, stopped the race for fish and changed the fishing
environment in ways that have made it safer and allowed us to avoid
bycatch.” …

Members of NOAA’s Catch Shares Policy Task Force, which includes
participants from each of the eight councils as well as NOAA experts,
provided significant input on the draft policy.

Among the policy’s components:

  • Development
    of a catch share program is voluntary. NOAA will not mandate the use of
    catch shares in any commercial, recreational, or subsistence fishery.
  • The
    individual fishery management councils will consult fishing communities
    to evaluate the data, effects, and enforceability of any potential
    catch share program before moving forward. In some cases, councils may
    find catch shares not to be the most appropriate management option.
  • NOAA
    will provide leadership and resources and work in partnership with
    fishery management councils, states and members of the public to help
    with the implementation of catch shares. This includes assisting
    fishing communities as they make the transition, and conducting
    regional workshops, online seminars, and other educational and outreach
  • Well
    thought-out and developed catch share programs will promote sustainable
    fishing communities by supporting good jobs, and promoting preservation
    of wharfs, processing facilities, and fuel and ice suppliers.
  • Catch
    share programs can be designed to set aside shares to allow new
    participants into the fishery, including new generations of fishermen,
    small businesses, or others.

NOAA encourages
those councils adopting catch shares to consider a royalty system to
support science, research and management as fisheries become more
profitable under the program. NOAA will also seek appropriated funds to
supplement what may be collected through cost recovery and royalties to
assist in the design, transition period and operation of catch share

Readers may note very close parallels between NOAA`s approach and the common principles for sucesssful management of open-access resources that Ostrom has identified.

Let`s hope that the US and other nations can use similar approaches to begin to manage any number of fisheries that are crashing or are under severe pressure around the world – due both to government-instigated commons problems and to races to catch fish in pelagic regions not subject to meaningful government control. We could use approaches that actually empower the fishermen, and end both government mismanagement and politicization and chaotic systems of widespread, roving and destructive “fish raiders”. The alternatives of fisheries that have crash and been placed under bans (under the CITES convention) and politicized deadlocks that we see for whales under the IWC are not very attractive.

So, we ARE making some progress.  Forgive me for suggesting that similar efforts by libertarians to play a productive role regarding energy policy might also eventually pay off?

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:
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

“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

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:

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:

– 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:

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.)

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.

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.
Published: November 20, 2009 11:54 AM

A note to Lew Rockwell regarding the reflexive irrelevancy of libertarians on the climate/big government morass

December 20th, 2009 4 comments

Lew Rockwell has a post up on the Mises Economics Blog – “The Left Fell into the Climate Morass” – that has just come to my attention. I`m not from the left, but as a right-leaning, free-market enviro, I offered Lew a few comments, which I copy below:

Lew, I think most of your criticism of the left and of environmentalists is apt, but “libertarians” have only to look in the mirror to see someone to blame for the lack of productive discourse on environmental and regulatory issues, and the reason why libertarians are being marginalized in the confused debate over the legitimate role of the state.

Libertarians in general continue to:

– ignore the opportunities created by widespread concerns about climate change risks to partner with both left and right to seek to undo counterproductive state/federal regulation:

– refuse to follow-up on their own analyses to dig more deeply to see that the roots of the disastrous cycle of regulation (and snowballing fights over the wheel of government) lie in the grant of limited liability to corporate investors, and the resulting externalization of risk and undermining of common law property protections:

– as Ed Dolan suggested, continue to act as the “conservatives” that Hayek despised by refusing to question the legitimacy of the favors provided to statist enterprises under the status quo, and turn a blind eye to the direct role that “libertarians” play in the gamesmanship such enterprises continue (such questions of motives being “ad homs” except when addressed to alarmists, in whch case it is “cui bono”):

– instead of acknowledging the legitimacy of concerns over man`s onslaught on nature and local communities (arising both from a lack of property rights problem and from the hand of kleptocratic governments) prefer a self-comforting irrelevancy, both on climate and on resource issues generally:

– rather than honest engagement, prefer a tribal hatred of misanthropic “watermelons” and a smug love of strawmen and ad-homs:

Time once again for some self-satisfied, but ultimately empty tribal holiday cheer?



Tragedy of the panicked enviro IV: not capitalism, but intensive use of unowned resources is the problem

August 28th, 2009 No comments

This is my third follow-up post to “Grist and the tragedy of the panicked enviro“,
where I try to clarify the institutional frameworks for understanding
and addressing resource problems, in response to confusion in comments
by others.

Posted 9:26 pm
27 Aug 2009

… [addressed to T Worstall]

In fact I do
understand what Hardin was saying. Hardin sets up a hypothetcial
situation and then sets about knocking it down. We call that a strawman

But you didn’t address my salient point. We live in an
era of the ascendency of private property and yet we have witnessed an
acceleration of the destruction of our natural heritage. Under the
management and control of private interests, we can witness the
remaining rain forests of south east Asia being raised for palm oil
plantations. Under the control and and management of private interests
we can witness boreal forests being decimated. In fact, over the past
fifty years as control and managenment of resources to pass to private
interests, we witness the acceleration of the their destruction.

The reality puts the lie to Hardin’s strawman argument.

issue of sustainability is not one of private or public ownership as
The Church and its followers would prefer to frame it. The issue is the
central role of profit above all else in our culture.

The free
market economy generates wealth by converting a living planet to a dead
planet; that is, by converting living ecosystems into commodities for
trade and profit. To the free market and its economists, a forest which
provides erosion control, flood control, climate and water
conditioning, habitat, sustenance, and any number of other services not
only to humans but all other species is only valuable in our free
market system when it has been converted to lumber or pulverized for
paper or some other use. That is the true tragedy of the commons. Not
ownership, but the short-sighted stupidity of people and especially of
those worship wealth without understanding its source.


Posted 2:29 am

29 Aug 2009

cyberfarer, I`m sorry, but this couldn`t be more wrong in its
understanding of WHY messes happen (and they undeniably do); the result
is that you (and Sacks) have no clue where to start in trying to solve

The free market economy generates wealth by converting a living planet
to a dead planet; that is, by converting living ecosystems into
commodities for trade and profit.

free market system is really simply people trading what they have to
others for what they want, and it works quite well where resources are
owned (either privately or by communities).  It can, however, be a
powerful engine of destruction for resources that are not owned – such
as for resources sourced where property rights are not protected or the
government (elites) “own” too much.  Thus our continued political
struggles over giveaways of public resources, the destruction of the
Amazon/Indonesian forests (and Philippine under Marcos), and the
collapse of fisheries that fishermen – often just guys trying to make a
living – have no rights to actually protect the resource.

To the free market and its
economists, a forest which provides erosion control, flood control,
climate and water conditioning, habitat, sustenance, and any number of
other services not only to humans but all other species is only
valuable in our free market system when it has been converted to lumber
or pulverized for paper or some other use. That is the true tragedy of
the commons.

are only right in part, as all of these things have obvious value, and
people protect them privately or band together as groups to manage them
wherever they desire and can (and are not prevented by the government).
There is an awful lot of private and community conservation going on
around the world.  The absolute worst cases are where the resources are
owned by governments, with rights to exploit being leased to companies
that have no property rights and thus no longer-term rights or obligations. 

Not ownership, but the short-sighted stupidity of people
and especially of those worship wealth without understanding its source.

absolutely ownership; people and groups compete for resources, and can
preserve valuable ones only when they can PROTECT them by excluding
others (i.e., owning) them

You, like Sacks, think that the only
way to solve problems is to radically change either capitalism (while
ignoring worse destruction takes place outside of free market regimes)
or human nature.  Sorry, but this is blind and stupid, and ignores the
fact that local traction is available for most problems.

See the case of the Amazon, for example:

highly recommend you start studying (not simply free thinking), which
will make your very legitimate concerns much more effective.  I mean,
even the environmental groups are calling for better property
rights/protection for fisheries, species, forests and water.  Are they
stupid and evil too?

A Human-Precipitated Mass-Extinction?; a libertarian discussion of preferences about things unowned

July 16th, 2009 No comments

For the benefit of the curious and/or idle reader, I`m cross-posting from my little-used personal blog a short post on the above topic and the ensuing conversation.

(I note that my inaugural post at this LvMI-hosted blog covered a related topic:   “Too Many or Too Few People? Does the market provide an answer?“.)


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Planet’s First-Ever Mass-Extinction Precipitated by Humans

Should we be alarmed at the current massive die-offs being noted in the animal and plant kingdoms? After all, new species arise and old species die off all the time. Its just nature taking its course, right? Not necessarily. What’s different about this die-off is that this is the only such event precipitated by a biotic agent: humans.

read more

posted by TokyoTom at 1:35 AM
James Rothfeld said…
Wrong. One of the largest extinctions in the history of our earth was when oxygen from photosynthetic life forms began to reach levels that were toxic for anaerobic life forms. Granted, the victims were mostly bacteria and some other simple life forms, but – extinction is extinction.

So, humans are not the first biotic agent to lead to massive extinctions.

4/23/2009 01:43:00 AM  


TokyoTom said…

James, thanks for honoring me with a visit and comment.

Of course, I mainly blog at LVMI – – and I`m not really quite sure what I did that caused this post (which is the intro to a longer piece that I didn`t write) to go up, but in any case I appreciate the engagement.

You have a valid point about the great switch from anaerobic to aerobic life, which many people seem to forget about, but:

– obviously the main comparison is which other great extinction events (caused by meteors/ volcanic/ climate events) that affected complex vertebrate and other life, not archaea or bacteria;

– the event you speak of actually CONTRIBUTED to the development of more complex life;

– there is plenty of anaerobic life still around and being discovered (even in rocks miles down), and we really have very little idea as to whether the switch to aerobic life caused any kind of massive loss of anaerobic species; and

– what we are now doing to the oceans – via “dead zones” resulting from fertilizer run-off and further changes expected from warming and pH changes will result in areas not “dead”, but occupied by less complex abearobic bacterial communities.

4/23/2009 03:20:00 AM  


James Rothfeld said…
Now you are weaseling out, Tom! You did not specify that you were only referring to complex vertebrae, but only seemed to talk about extinctions in general. I think this is arbitrary and obfuscates the point: the point is that extinctions are caused by all kinds of events, and at the time of the event, they are not horrible for most life forms (horrible being a function of going extinct).

The argument that the aerobic extinction contributed to more complex life forms does not really get us anywhere, since there is no reason to assume that higher life could not emerge out of anaerobic life. What can be said is that the aerobic extinction contribute to the emergence of complex aerobic life, but that’s simply proving the assumption, or whatever logical fallacy we are dealing with here. The likely reason anaerobic life is rather simple these days is that it is forced to live in rather confined environs, including the gut of aerobic life.

The world’s oceans seem to have passed through a number of anoxic events, and those life forms that made it through the malaise probably did quite nicely as competition was greatly reduced. I’m sure life as such will make it quite nicely through the next one as well. Whether we humans will make it through it remains to be seen, though I am actually quite optimistic (pessimistic??) that they will. In smaller numbers, but nonetheless.

I think it is too early to judge whether or not the current extinction will in fact be a disaster. I am in fact not even convinced we are really going through a particularly dramatic extinction – the claim about dozens or even hundreds of species going extinct is based on some pretty speculative reasoning.

As far as I know, there have only been about 300 or so documented extinctions in the last few centuries. I also don’t think the the extinction of species limited to very small local habitats should really be counted: if the only place you can find a particular animal is a small island or a specific mountain, I suggest the species is done for no matter what.

I also don’t think that anybody has yet established a relationship between species extinction and human survival (and don’t start with the buffalos – the populations at First Contact were human artifacts).

But, back to the dead-zones in the oceans: I am amused that few ecologists have yet made the link between agricultural subsidies and fertilizer run-off. The link is so blatant and in your face, this oversight is almost telling.

In any case, I came by your blog because that’s where clicking on your name at Crash Landing gets me.



4/23/2009 06:32:00 AM  


TokyoTom said…
James, I was not weaselling out, but expanding on a point that you also acknowledged: “Granted, the victims were mostly bacteria and some other simple life forms.”

The fact that remains that if there is a wave of extinctions underway as a result of the rise of opportunistic and technological man (with various man-related extinctions starting millenia ago), this is clearly different from prior catastrophic extinctions, which resulted from external physical impacts on the planet. That`s the comparison being made, and reference to the initial shift to oxic life forms is interesting, but irrelevant.

“there have only been about 300 or so documented extinctions in the last few centuries. “

This of course tells us little, since even now we have no comprehensive catalog of life.

“I also don’t think the the extinction of species limited to very small local habitats should really be counted: if the only place you can find a particular animal is a small island or a specific mountain, I suggest the species is done for no matter what.”

I fear you are right as to the “no matter what”, but your conclusion that the extinction of localized species “shouldn`t count” is a value judgment. Good Austrians will recognize that others have equally valid preferences. Biologists and others familiar with the dimishing diversity of life express a deep sense of loss.

4/23/2009 11:50:00 AM  


James Rothfeld said…
Tom – I was just teasing about the weaseling in any case. What I am trying to get at is your last point: whether or not any of this is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. Every activity has externalities – whether good or bad depends on the judgment of those affected, physically or otherwise, including emotionally.

So, yes, localized species extinction is certainly not good for the species affected or those who care about them. Maybe the world would be a better place with dodos and woolly mammoth in it, but maybe not. Who can tell?

I’m sure nomads think settled societies with their strict geographic borders stink, but farmers have little sympathy for dirty herders and their stomping herds.

Will the world be worse off if the only life forms to survive are those that serve human needs? Aesthetically, I would say no, but then again, those who will live in such a world will hardly miss what they have never known.

I don’t lose sleep because there are no more Aurochs, even though I think they were really amazing animals. I also don’t miss the dinosaurs, though other might differ.

In the end, it’s all a question of preference – and who am I to say that my preferences are any more worthwhile than those of others.

Here’s another question I was wondering about, by the way, and it’s serious – if a change in technology would bring about economic ruin for a particular region and its population, simply because it would make their only product useless, would the inventor/users of this technology have to compensate the people who were damaged? Would the users of word processing software have to compensate print employees for lost jobs? Would users of the internet have to compensate newspaper workers for lost jobs? I’m not being funny, it’s an important question that is directly relevant for the question of property rights in the context of environmental change. I am sure you see the relevance. I have no real answer to this (except gut opinion). Any thoughts?

4/24/2009 05:48:00 AM  


TokyoTom said…
“Maybe the world would be a better place with dodos and woolly mammoth in it, but maybe not. Who can tell?”

I agree completely that this is a question of human judgment. However, we should acknowledge that we are bumping some species off the planet and squeezing others drastically (and many to a completely unknown degree).

“Will the world be worse off if the only life forms to survive are those that serve human needs?”

Are you confident that the species that don`t survive don`t serve human needs? Many we simply have no clue about, while others, such as whales, dodos, passenger pigeons, Steller sea cows and numerous crashed/crashing fisheries have been extinguished and are threatened not because of lack of utility, but simply because nobody owned them.

How much more shall we destroy, for want of investment in property rights/commons management?

” would say no, but then again, those who will live in such a world will hardly miss what they have never known.”

Only partly true, as some of the world that we have been losing has been and will be documented.

“would the inventor/users of this technology have to compensate the people who were damaged?”

Not in a libertarian order. But I fail to see the relevance to “environmental” problems, either those that involve activities that damage the persons or property of others, or damage resources that are communally owned or are owned under regimes that fail to protect the resources. Care to clarify?

5/19/2009 01:04:00 PM  


James Rothfeld said…
My basic point is that every action has effects at least one person would perceive as injurious to their well-being, and would prefer that it rather not happen. If we were to refrain from all such actions, we would probably lose the freedom to act at all. Fundamentally, I want to argue that a ‘negative externality’ that cannot be dealt within a libertarian order has to be simply accepted as a given along the lines of ‘shit happens’.
If we cannot find a non-libertarian solution to an environmental problem, than so be it. That’s my only point. Nothing more, nothing less. Which is why I agree that in a libertarian order it’s your tough luck that you lose your job because somebody else is smarter. It also means that if, for example, people using a specific aquifer cannot agree on a libertarian solution to its management simply have to suck it up. Or that if I live on a nice piece of land with a pretty view, and my neighbor erects an ugly building with garish design elements spoiling my aesthetic enjoyment, I’ll have to suck it up – unless the two of us can agree on a solution.
I think some environmental problems have no libertarian solution. I don’t know which they are, but maybe we simply have to accept that.
For example, there may be no libertarian solution to fighting asteroids about to hit our planet. Maybe we could collectively deal with it, but maybe not enough people can be bothered – or believe in it – and so the few who care simply have to deal with the fact that they will die, well-knowing that a solution was at hand.

To repeat the point: in my hierarchy of needs, freedom comes before security. If the price of freedom is to live in a world that will experience dramatic changes in climate, and if the only way to avoid is were to give up my personal freedom – then I’ll accept the dramatic changes in climate.

That’s my only point.

5/20/2009 09:55:00 AM  


TokyoTom said…
Thanks for the clarifications, James.

I`m not so far away from you, but come to different conclusions: where there are obvious commons problems, those who care about the problem should obviously work to resolve them.

This includes libertarians who are personally most interested in individual freedom, freedom that is imperilled by the state-heavy “solutions” that often underlie the problem (to the benefit of entrenched insiders) in the first place.

Far from leaving the field of battle to others, libertarian ought to be proactively trying to mediate, lest what they value most highly be trampled.

5/20/2009 10:51:00 AM  


 James Rothfeld said…
Seems we ran out of disagreements 🙂
5/20/2009 09:47:00 PM  

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.



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.


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?


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:

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