Unfettered Global Capitalism

A recent Washington Times article by a Senior Fellow at the CATO Institute caught my eye this week.  BANDOW: Obama’s ivory-trade regulatory overkill – Washington Times.  

I’m a free-market, private property advocate, but this report about President Obama’s move to ban ivory sales in the U.S. doesn’t dig deep enough into what is really transpiring in Africa.  I am disappointed that the article misses the point about our national security interests.  Having lived in Kenya last year during the Westgate Mall massacre, I can tell you there were several observations about Al Shabab’s involvement in elephant poaching and killing rhinos for quick cash to buy weapons and ammunition.

Another omission was the fact that sports hunters, individual Americans, will be permitted to bring their ivory trophies back to the States.  Each hunter can kill two elephants per year under the proposal and keep the tusks as long as they are not commercialized.  Actually, this is not a change from the previous rules.

And I have to take issue with the claim that it is easy to determine the age of ivory. There are many ways new ivory can treated to look old.   The end-stream-market-price is as high as the price per ounce of gold.  Demand and price motivates counterfeiters.  The flow of merchandise to high-end stores from Manhattan to low-end garage sales and flea markets in Arizona and Colorado continues unabated.  The U.S. is the second largest consumer of ivory.  China is the first.

The last issue I have with the CATO article is how it dismisses the problems another country experiences in controlling animal crime.  It is troubling to see a respected bastion for conservative American ideals and thought demonstrating such lack of civility, or is it humanity.  What right do we have to weigh-in on the topic of killing iconic animals to the brink of extinction when a country like Kenya is demonstrating the will to stop the slaughter?  I can only assume the Institute’s argument rests on the belief that private individuals can, in the pursuit of happiness, kill these animals, 1) because they can afford to do it and, 2) it is a positive function of the free market and invisible hand, that forces of capitalism will generate conservation funds to save the rest of the species.  Regrettably the past 50 years of Kenyan independence doesn’t support this notion.  Kenya embraces democracy and socialism.  In the gap between democracy and socialism there is the ugly head of corruption.  The rules don’t play out the same way under these circumstances.

Let me point out that Kenya does not permit hunting.  Yet, the demand for ivory is so strong, curbing the slaughter of animals in Kenya is very very difficult to accomplish.  Last month, January 2014, a rhinoceros was killed in Nairobi National Park for its horn. Some people were bold enough and knew enough about the landscape to enter the gated and guarded park, find the rhinoceros, kill, butcher and escape. The park shares its boundary with the largest city in East Africa.  How does this happen? Where does it end?

Poaching ends, in part, with symbolic gestures like banning the sale of ivory in the United States, to show solidarity with other countries, that America stands behind efforts to save the species.  The truth be known, if you read the small print, real antique ivory like a world-class collection in Denver, Colorado, is safe from destruction and eligible for sale.  So  to is the right of hunters to bring legally harvested ivory back to this country.

Support the ban.  Stop the criminals.  Find the middle.

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Photo: D.Gies 2010, Tsavo East National Park, Kenya

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