Tag: animal

Vegans Would Fare Much Better as Libertarians

By Bryce Jackson | Vermont

I love animals and I hate subsidies (as well as other taxpayer-funded entitlements). So in this, my debut for the glorious 71 Republic, I am tackling both, as well as the group (or at least the most vocal part of that group) that played on my emotions for a year while I lived among them as one of their own. That group, of course, is vegans!

The un-empathetic in this group would tell you that there is nothing from an animal that you cannot get from plants, which is sort of true… we will get to that in a second. This is, of course, is in the nutritional sense, and doesn’t account for the need for leather goods, though I am man enough to concede that there are better materials than leather at this point in time. They will show you videos of abuses at the largest of America’s mega-farms that I can only describe as horrendous and blood-curdling. They are difficult to watch. And while some are genuinely edited so as to be taken out of context, the evidence is clear that there is a clear lack of accountability and care for the well-being of these creatures.

For the record: most humans only need to consume about 50 grams of protein a day. It doesn’t have to be consumed all in one meal either. Americans (and much of Western culture) consume way more meat than is needed. I am not saying you shouldn’t eat whatever you want. These are just basic facts about human diet and metabolism. Vitamin B12, on the other hand, is best found in animal sources but can still be obtained via other methods. (Generally, this is as a supplement.)

So after detailing all of that, why would I then refer to some vegans as lacking empathy? Well, it’s simple really: they are playing on the emotions of people who very often have little choice but to eat animal products. It harkens back to a day shortly after the suicide of celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain. I was reading his Wikipedia article (no, I didn’t use Wikipedia for research… stay with me) when I came upon a little factoid that I had not previously known.

Mr. Bourdain was an immense critic of vegetarians and vegans. This was common knowledge for his fans apparently, though I don’t watch a lot of television anymore and had missed this. He was quoted as saying that “vegetarianism is an American luxury”. As someone who is currently in the “starving artist” phase of his writing career, I can tell you with utmost certainty – that is a fact!

But why is that? Why is it so difficult for the poor and marginalized to eat healthily? Bad lifelong habits aside, I know many working class people who have tried (and failed) but couldn’t keep up with the added costs of a plant-based diet. The very cost of production in meat versus crops favors crops by a substantial margin, especially when it comes to grains that (once dried) have a remarkably long shelf life.

The answer is simple: subsidies!

Specifically, the agriculture subsidies that make good food more expensive (because the farmers actually have to produce a sell-able crop) as opposed to garbage food from large agribusiness (who often gets a bigger subsidy if they produce diddly squat). Of course, the justification for this is the protection of the workers at these large farms. More employees means more jobs lost if the business goes under. And while I am certainly sympathetic towards anyone who struggles to maintain market viability, we should probably look at the numbers of those affected before we even begin to consider protectionism (because that’s what this is) as the solution.

Leading up to the industrial revolution, most households (outside of major cities) had some tie to local agriculture. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2008 only 2% of the United States population was directly employed by agriculture. That percentage is less than the percentage of voters who voted for Gary Johnson in 2016! Does that seem like something we should subsidize if we aren’t even guaranteed a product in return? I certainly don’t think so! And if I was a vegan, I would oppose this more, given that much of our agriculture subsidies go towards crops that feed the very slaughter animals that they themselves will never eat.

So why aren’t more vegans libertarian? Is it the preconditioning of our protest-oriented society; taught that you need to “fight for your rights” like a heroic revolutionary? Perhaps (I suppose), but I think it is something else… and it is just as bad as the authoritarian laws vegans ask for to protect the animals that live in these often unprofitable establishments.

Ag-Gag Laws!

As soon as vegans began infiltrating these larger facilities to capture their cruelty and indifference, conservative lawmakers jumped into the fray, initiating something that should scare every liberty lover on this planet – laws that punish whistle-blowers with jail time (among other slightly less harsh penalties) for giving proof of the misdeeds by these agriculturists. Now I would never argue that a business owner doesn’t have a right to bring a lawsuit against someone who lied on an application specifically to hurt his/her business. But to say this industry (and only this industry, apparently) should be protected against bad press with the threat of taking someone’s freedom is so monumentally wrong that I am left stymied as to why more libertarians and constitutional conservatives haven’t spoken out against it.

But it is what has convinced me that big government involvement in how we produce food in this country is why we now have a large minority of our populace (both vegan/vegetarian and those of a more commonplace diet) demanding equal amounts of government intervention in trying to prevent animal cruelty. And while I can admit that is a laudable cause, it is ultimately pointless. Most states have some sort of regulation in place where the state-sponsored authority in question has to notify the farm ahead of time of the impending inspection, making anything other than whistle-blowing an act of total futility.

So they infiltrate, risk prison in many cases, and the business suffers and possibly even goes belly-up. Who wins in that scenario? The state of course! We seasoned libertarians have long since known that more regulations produce more victims. And in this case, even the animals that are being treated like the tightly coiled mass my dogs leave in my yard every morning are included in the victimization!

In order to gain the evidence, the infiltrators have to stand by helplessly and watch as baby pigs deemed “useless”, are swung by their hindquarters and smashed head first on the nearest hard surface. Dead animals that didn’t ask for this life, good-hearted/ill-advised souls trying to save sentient creatures from undue pain, and workers who often have little choice but to work at these places (lack of competition due to the subsidies) – now all suffering terrible fates while the state brings in more tax dollars to bail out the farm owner and keep the infiltrator in a cell.

President Calvin Coolidge opposed agriculture subsidies because he knew that farmers were never going to be rich (at least not without government protection). If I started driving right now I could be at the farm where Silent Cal grew up in less than an hour. I sometimes wonder what he would think. About the recent farm bill that just passed – loaded with pork spending and bailouts. About a country that used to be self-sufficient but now has to buy crops from other countries. And about the misfortunes of vegans, forced to pay in towards food they will never eat, while not having the same favor returned to them.

Maybe the reason more vegans aren’t libertarian is that we haven’t been vocal enough in opposing everything I just described. It’s certainly not a hot-button topic. Appearing to oppose poor farmers is certainly not the way to gain votes. This is not common discussion in any libertarian social media group… but perhaps it should be!

These subsidies not only force people that don’t consume the end product to fund it, they also, more importantly, squash the small family farms that the writers of the original agriculture subsidies of the 1920’s were trying to help. So forget animal cruelty. Forget freedom of speech (the aforementioned “Ag-gag” laws). This is crony capitalism at its worst and given the leftist nature of many vegans, I guess I can see why they are distrustful of those that call for smaller government (who then often support big government for the rust belt vote). Though the latter distinction wouldn’t apply to we libertarians, the former certainly does.

In a day when the party that bears the name of our shared ideology is being infiltrated by pseudo-communists, consistency on small government and free-market capitalist principles matters now more than ever… for everyone from the small family farmer just trying to put his little girl through school, to that very little girl who has decided she wants to help animals rather than eat them.

As libertarians, we owe them both a more consistent message.

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Part IV- Humans and Animals: Possible Solutions and Justice

By. Joshua D. Glawson

With many of the issues previously mentioned, I have specified concerns about ‘Justice’ for animals. This includes using animals for consumption and for other practices. The best solution, however, lies not in banning the buying or selling of ivory or horns, nor in banning hunting. The most practical solution is noted by CITES and the Cato Institute. Their solution is to make the trading of these goods legal, create private land that holds these animals in an open area while providing food and water for them in regions that are conducive, and treat them as cattle. In essence, this is what helped to save the American bison from reaching extinction.

The American bison, also known as buffalo, were estimated to be in the 60 million population range throughout North America prior to 1800. By 1900 that number dwindled to a measly 300 due to over-hunting, overconsumption, disease, and predation by wolves. In the mid to late 1800s, companies were making fertilizer out of bison skulls. They also used the skins for coats. Moreover, buffalo meat is continually a revered product for meat eaters.

In the 1870s, it was clear that bison were becoming rare and their value was extremely high on the market. In 1905, American citizens came together to initiate a protection organization for bison, the American Bison Society. By 1919, it was estimated there were 12,521 bison. This number grew exponentially once private companies began breeding them as cattle for consumption. Although the original initiative was a joint effort of government and private citizens, the largest growth was via the private sector. Today, it is estimated there are around 500,000 bison in North America. That is a drastic improvement from 300.

This same process could be implemented in areas of Africa and Asia by privatizing land, building fences that can keep elephants in, providing enough food and water for them, and selling them off as cattle throughout the world for human consumption. This would decrease the value of tusks and elephant meat, while helping to maintain a larger population of elephants. A practice such as this also disincentives poachers because of decreased profits. However, it would increase the job market in that region for taking care of elephants and all of the processes necessary for a market of trade for elephant goods. This is similar to the concept of decriminalizing drugs, as it would create fewer violent criminals, but many more jobs.

Ecology cannot determine a precise number of a species. It can only specify their relations with their environment and other species. We humans naturally utilize what is around us, sometimes to the eradication of other species. I cannot say this is good, especially if more use from them would benefit us further. The world of nature is constantly in chaos, detrimentally, and in harmony, symbiotically. We are a part of that same cycle and we are able to reason far more expediently than other animals. So, if we are able to get use out of animals, we will. Same, in favor of animal rights activists, if we can get the same use out of plants as animals, that lessons the need for animal consumption. Yet, if people still choose to use animals, I cannot fault them for it.

As far as the topic of domesticated animals is concerned, the best solution for giving them anything close to a human right would be under property rights. If a dog is owned by someone, that dog is then the property of that owner and if anyone were to steal or harm the dog, the case can be taken to court. If the same dog hurts another person’s dog, the owner of the victim will have a claim against the attacking dog.

In matter of ‘Justice,’ humans can go to a court and claim their grievances, other animals are unable. If one dog attacks another, it cannot explain what took place. In order for a court to be unbiased, a jury or judge must be able to understand both sides in a human case, and the evidence must be insurmountable for either side. In order to not muddy the water of ‘Justice’ further than we already struggle with, strictly keeping domesticated animals under human property rights will be the best possible voice for animals.

Now, animal rights activists may respond that the same was once said for women, children, slaves, elderly, and the mentally disabled. They may point to so-called evidence in nature or in domesticated animals to suggest animals have “morals,” “ethics,” or a sense of “Justice.” Perhaps they have some inclinations to these things under a different meaning. But, it is not evident that all of the other species share it, and it is between their species and the species they choose to associate with, to a much less effective degree than our own species is capable of.

Thus, I revert back to the fact that only humans have “rights.” ‘Justice’ is a human construct to give protection and to ensure recompense for the individual, not a collective, and these “rights” are strictly negative in the sense that we do not directly harm other people. Rights are a moral claim to not be infringed upon by others. It is my belief that only humans have morals, ethics, rights, and Justice.

Equally so, the world will never be a perfect place and simply wishing others that do not agree with one’s agenda no longer exist makes one part of the problem. Moreover, harming others who do not agree with oneself will not solve the world’s problems. No utopia will exist by wishing away problems and ridding the world of those that use animals for consumption. Vegetarianism, veganism, and animal rights activists need to understand that they are free to make a personal preference, but forcing that on others only infuriates others. By forcefully intertwining our morals, ethics, and Justice with that of other species, it would further complicate our position as individuals in the world. It would become a constant burden in courts, and destroy the very fabric which protects each of us – ‘Justice.’

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Part III- Humans and Animals: Big Game Hunting

By. Joshua D. Glawson | United States

Delving into the issues of big game hunting, I have found many protests against the killing of elephants for their ivory tusks and rhinos for their horns. Big game hunting involves hunting the “big five“: lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants, and Cape buffalo.I agree, this issue appears as though an especially major waste to kill an animal solely for its tusks or horns. Consequently, some animals have been hunted to extinction, while others are on the brink of becoming extinct. We, in the West, do not typically know what it is like to even have such large and majestic animals roaming about freely to the extent in African and Asian countries. However, we also do not know what it is like to constantly be starving, in need of clean water, constantly struggling to survive, etc., as much as they do.

Essentially, Westerners are judging the means in which certain people in African countries make a living by using animals for parts. Such judgments are oddly arrogant and naive. In Zimbabwe, for instance, where some of the big game hunting and poaching exists, the average annual income is around $909 USD as of 2016. The unemployment rate is soo volatile and measurements are insanely unreliable that organizations have ranged that rate anywhere from 4% to a whopping 95%. Before they ended their currency in 2009 and switching to USD by 2015, their inflation rate by mid-November, 2008, reached around 79,600,000,000% making $1 USD equal to around $2,621,984,228 ZWD.

Some other countries where big game hunting occurs are Namibia, Kenya, and South Africa. In Namibia, the average annual income hovers around $6,000 USD with a 34% unemployment rate. $1 USD is equal to about $13.75 NAD today. Namibia’s economy is said to be on a constant downward spiral with little hope in the near future. In Kenya the average annual income is around $1,143 USD with an 11% unemployment rate, and $1 USD is equal to about $101 KES today. Kenya’s economy is doing even worse than Namibia, and is on a perpetual downward slope. Lastly, in South Africa the average annual income is around $12,260 USD with an almost 27% unemployment rate, and $1 USD is equal to around $13.73 ZAR. Keeping in mind the struggling economic situations of this region of the world, it is easier to see how people can result to hunting and poaching, especially when the benefits far outweigh the losses.

The current market estimate for elephant tusks, which are made of ivory, is around $730 USD per kg, 1 kg is equal to a little over 2 lb, and the average African elephant tusk weighs anywhere from 23 to 45 kg, or 51 to 99 lbs; some alpha bull elephants known as “tuskers” can weigh around 100 kg, or 220 lbs. This means one elephant with two tusks, just counting the average market price in USD times the weight in pounds and times two, can bring in anywhere from $74,460 USD to $321,200 USD. If your average income is around $900 USD per year in Zimbabwe, that is over 8 years pay for you and 9 of your friends for the $74,460, and up to a little over 35 years of work for you and 9 of your friends for the $321,200.

You can do the math to continue the enormous positive impact this has on the families and the regions these are sold, and the incentive to kill elephants for their tusks. The elephant meat can fetch anywhere from $1 USD to around $5.55 USD per pound with an average of 1,000 pounds per elephant, equaling $1,000 USD to almost $6,000 USD per elephant in meat alone. In many of these kills, if the hunter came from a Western nation to hunt on these hunting reservations, they take little-to-none of the meat, and that meat is then either sold by the company running the operation or donated to local villages. This practice is standard across all of the animals killed on these big game hunting expeditions.

Many Westerners will then respond that this is still wrong to kill elephants, because these are glorious and majestic fauna who are kind and loving, and they see humans as cute puppies. Well, according to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), that is not entirely correct.

In fact, in most areas of Africa, elephants are seen as giant rats who destroy fences, destroy and eat crops around 200 to 600 lbs per day. They also threaten the lives of especially farmers, where around 200 people have been killed in the past 7 years in Kenya alone, and drink around 50 gallons of water per day. This has a detrimental impact on people living in these regions, threatening their livelihood almost daily. Due to constant drought in these African nations, elephants are often on the move for more water and food and will go into populated areas to get necessary sustenance. However, that comes at the expense of people within those areas, such as loss of precious clean water, food, crops, property damage, and at times the people’s lives. Thus, big game hunting is often in protection of much-needed natural resources.

Rhino horns are another thing people hunt for, and it is an ongoing issue in these regions and others. The price tag on rhino horns ranges from $60,000 USD per kg to $100,000 USD per kg, and the average weight of 1.5 to 3 kilograms, or 3 to almost 7 lbs; this means one horn can fetch from $90,000 USD to $300,000 USD. The drive for such an item is really found in Asian medicine, especially found in Vietnam where the idea is that if the horn is grounded into a powder and put into medicine it will help fight cancer.

The same is true for lions and tigers being killed for their bones, teeth, and claws. The bones are ground down to powder for alternative medicine, while the teeth and claws are used for jewelry. Of course the heads and skins of lions and tigers are also a prized possession for those in that market.

So, when there is severe drought, it is a cultural norm, it is difficult to leave or build fences strong enough, these animals are destroying crops along with the drought, people’s water is evaporating and being drank in large amounts by these animals, there is little-to-no work and the pay is low, these animals have plenty of edible meat, and the price tag on them is soo high, it is easy to understand that these people see far more pros than cons when it comes to big game hunting.

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Part II- Humans and Animals: Defining Justice

By Joshua D. Glawson | United States

On social media, there are often pictures of gruesome images with recently killed rhinos, elephants, lions, primates, etc. With these images typically comes a plethora of heated comments and arguments, opinions about the well-being of the animals, threats against the lives of the humans responsible, and haughty judgments from a First World nation to that of those of a Third World nation.

Animal rights activists, especially the radicals, scream about the “morality” of such an act as killing a rhino for its horn, or killing elephants for their tusks. The pictures that anger them the most are of Westerners who paid to kill animals for trophies. These animal advocate extremists will go at no length to find out who the Westerner, or specifically the American, is and then to threaten the big-game hunter’s life. In 2015, in Zimbabwe, Dr. Walter Palmer of the US killed “Cecil” the lion, and once his picture caught on the web the extreme harassment and threats began. He had to close his dentist office for a while as the threats against his life persisted. The activists felt ‘Justice’ was necessary for the death of the lion.

However, from a philosophical understanding of jurisprudence and the origins of Justice, it is not possible for nonpersons to partake in Justice as it is only a compromise between people as an intraspecies agreement as opposed to interspecies. The Eighteenth Century philosopher David Hume believed animals could also be rational, perhaps to a lesser degree than humans, but are still incapable of being a part of the legal and ‘Just’ parts of human society.

In contrast, the leading vegan and vegetarian philosopher of modern day, Dr. Peter Singer, argues that bestiality is permissible so long as it does not harm the animal, but animals outside of humans should be treated the same when it comes to limiting pain. Throughout Singer’s work he explicitly claims humans are not equal to other animals, but we humans should not partake in “speciesism,” and we should all adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle because he believes human suffering to be equal to that of animal suffering.

I do agree that animals feel pain and pleasure, although I would argue that it is not to the same degree as humans. While the varying degrees do not determine equality or inequality under the law, it does argue there is a fundamental and natural difference between humans and other animals. This also does not provide enough reason that humans ‘should’ change and limit or eliminate animal use and consumption.

Often in philosophy, law, and even in daily life, people use the word “should” as meaning ‘ought’ or ‘obligation,’ yet conflate the two unbeknownst to them. It is typical for us to read past such a word as ‘should,’ and think nothing of the use or mention. If the word was meant as ‘ought,’ then it is a moral personal choice to make; if the word is meant to be interchangeable with ‘obligation,’ then Singer is either suggesting a deity will punish those that do not oblige his vegetarian or vegan code of ethics, or a legal system will punish. An ‘obligation’ would indicate there is a backlash from one’s actions.

Perhaps, being a secular utilitarian, he equates humans to other animals and believes it is not in humans’ best interest to use animals for human consumption, and the ‘obligation’ arises from the possible negative consequences as “punishment” for consuming animals. A natural consequence would not be ‘Justice,’ as it must be intentional at bare minimum.

Certainly then, the only form of ‘Justice’ possible is an objective one; and as controversial as it may be, it is equality under the law for humans and humans alone. If ‘Justice’ sprung forth as a natural ideology of protection for the division of individuals, it is still only a human idea. To take this human idea and force it upon animals as a means of thinking it benefits the animal, we can easily come up with plenty more that we can force upon animals such as obeying all laws, animals respecting other animals, social norms, customs, paying taxes, not using the restroom in public, wearing clothes, respecting property rights, and so forth. No matter the case, ‘Justice’ is established for humans in general, and animals are unable to reciprocate the necessary parts ‘Justice’ requires to maintain.

This is where some will respond that the same can be said for infants, elderly, and mentally disabled. However, infants have the potential capacity to become full-fledged persons while their being and assets may be held in trust by their guardians; the elderly were full-fledged persons and while they are of mental capacity they determine who shall handle their assets and life, etc.; and the mentally disabled are continually held in trust by their guardians acting in responsibility of their well-being.

Furthermore, ‘Justice’ is based on property rights. As the philosopher John Locke suggested, we have property intrinsically within ourselves as our Life and well-being, property in our Liberty and actions, and property extrinsically from ourselves as in goods or things in the world. Animals do not possess these things, and we cannot force that upon them. Even if they did have these things, there was never a means to negotiate a contract with animals from our species to other animal species.

Simply put, those that scream for ‘Justice’ for other species outside of humans are either misunderstanding the very concept of ‘Justice,’ or they are intentionally misapplying it and are advocating for the subjective and varying concept of “social justice.” Perfectly stated by lauded economist F.A. Hayek, Justice is an attribute of individual action. I can be Just or unjust towards my fellow man; But the conception of a ‘social justice’- to expect from an impersonal process, which nobody can control- to bring about a ‘Just’ result is not only a meaningless conception, it’s completely impossible.”

Hayek’s work on the topic of ‘Justice’ suggests that if one puts a word in front of the word ‘Justice’ then it is no longer ‘Justice.’ Justice does not require anything else with it, it is either equality under the law for everyone, or subjective infringements will begin to deteriorate the entire process.

Nevertheless, organizations like PETA, have continually asked for so-called “Justice” for animals killed in hunting. For example, with the case of Cecil being killed by Walter Palmer, PETA’s President Ingrid Newkirk released a public statement on July 28, 2015, in regards to Palmer, “…he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged…” Yet, no one has done anything in regards to the legal and moral issues of threatening the life of the man.

Set aside the concept that these animal rights activists believe humans to be equal to other animals, and that they desire some imaginary system of ‘Justice’ that also incorporates equal animal rights, the point is that we do have a ‘Justice’ system and it was originally created by people, for people. So, to threaten a fellow person’s life automatically negates ‘Justice,’ and removes the unbiased impersonal third-party, i.e. the governing body to judge the case as to negate prejudice. Extrajudicial actions, such as summary executions, are what was seen in the Jim Crow South of instant punishment without fair and equal trials via lynching.

What these activist groups do not seem to realize is that their concept of ‘Justice’ as seen through the monster of “social justice,” is nothing new. For some reason, there is a common misconception that Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) are only left-leaning individuals, when in fact they can be right-leaning as well.

Politics aside, “social justice” does more to harm the fabric of society and ‘Justice,’ itself, from the left and the right. Written in 1940, in his work Interventionism, An Economic Analysis, Ludwig von Mises wrote, “The ‘progressives’ who today masquerade as ‘liberals’ may rant against ‘fascism’; yet it is their policy that paves the way for Hitlerism.” Indeed, it was on these social and subjective agendas that Hitler, who became mostly vegetarian by the end of his life, rose to power, verifying that “social justice” can equally be found on the political right or left. And as cliché as it may be to bring up Hitler anymore, his being a vegetarian at least indicates just because someone is a vegan or vegetarian, it does not make them a better person.

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Government Conservation Leads To Black Markets

By Isaiah Minter | United States

As animal rights activists across the country mourn the death of Sudan, formerly the world’s last male northern white rhino, environmentalists continue to demonize the rhino horn trade. WildAid CEO Peter Knights said: 

We can only hope that the world learns from the sad loss of Sudan and takes every measure to end all trade in rhino horn. While prices of rhino horn are falling in China and Vietnam, poaching for horn still threatens all rhino species.

Knight’s take on the issue, while certainly well-intentioned, is misguided. The simple exchange of rhino horns in the market is not a threat to all rhino species:  horns can be removed without actually killing the rhino, and if done right, the horn will grow back. Rather, the current system of horn trade that is managed by the government is a threat to all rhino species, as rhinos are deliberately being killed just for their horns. In other words, while government action has only exacerbated the effects of horn trade on rhino populations, it does not have to be this way.

Instead of approaching rhino conservation with more government force and control, we should pursue free markets and property rights. Of course, none of this is pure ideology speaking, the southern white rhino is a testament to the wonders of this approach. However, before I address the role of the market in saving the southern white rhino, it is necessary to understand the situation rhino populations face, along with the government’s role in the said situation.

The Current Situation

To quote award-winning zoologist journalist Fiona Macdonald:

Right now, there are only 29,000 rhinos left on the planet, most of which are in South Africa. It’s an incredible drop from the 500,000 that roamed Earth at the start of the 1900s, and sadly, the majority have been killed as a result of poaching, which increased 9,000 percent (yes, you read that right) between 2007 and 2014.

That means more than 1,000 rhinos are now killed illegally each year for their horns. Most of these end up in Asia, where they can reach up to US$100,000 per kilogram on the black market. Those prices are driven by the fact that many countries see rhino horn as a status symbol, and in Vietnam it’s believed (with no evidence whatsoever) to cure cancer.

When rhino horns are more expensive than gold, the rapid rate at which rhino populations are declining should not come as a surprise to anyone. However, it may come as a surprise to many that government prohibition, not the vague notion of human greed, is to blame for the devastation inflicted on rhino populations.

The plain fact is, government banning a commodity does nothing to reduce the demand for it. In Asia, where horns are used for traditional medicines, the black market is alive and well. Black markets form in response to government prohibition: after the prohibition of drugs and prostitution, one would’ve hoped we had learned our lesson. Clearly, we have not, leaving yet another animal species to pay the price for our foolishness.

In banning the trade of rhino horns, the government has not only artificially inflated the price of the commodity but has also prevented the owners of rhinos to sell their horns on the open market. Thus, in order to meet the high demand of horns and capitalize on the high-profit opportunity, poachers routinely kill wild rhinos in wildlife reserves.

However well-intentioned politicians and animal rights activists may be, they ignore the question of incentives. Governments cannot abolish greed, we must not kid ourselves into believing that political actors are selfless and omniscient individuals. However, there is a crucial distinction to be made between public and private action:  the market harnesses greed and internalizes costs while government amplifies the destruction of greed and socializes costs.

The careers of politicians do not depend on the welfare of rhinos, therefore they have little incentive to preserve them. But private owners, who do depend on the welfare of their rhinos and vice versa, have every incentive to preserve them.

The government approach is the very source of the waste, mismanagement, and destruction that exists in the modern horn trade industry, the market approach the cure for the outlined ails. As an example, let us look to South Africa.

Yes to Property Rights

In 1900, the southern white rhino was the most endangered of the world’s rhinoceros species. Hunted to the brink of extinction by English and Dutch Settlers, swift action was taken in the mid-20th century to preserve the species. Courtesy of state-owned parks and a successful breeding program, the white rhino population was 840 in 1960. But, wildlife market institutions were still failing, as private ranchers had little incentive to breed rhinos.

Prior to 1991, all wildlife in South Africa was un-owned property, thus in order to benefit off any wild animal, it had to be captured, domesticated, or even killed. This condition was reversed following the Theft of Game Act of 1991, which allowed for private ownership of any animal provided that it could be identified according to specific criteria.

By securing property rights and allowing market prices to operate, this policy changed the entire incentive mechanism of private ranchers: they were now encouraged to breed and care for their rhinos, ensuring a continuous stream of cash, as opposed to the destructive past manner of shooting them on the spot. By privatizing ownership of animals, decision-makers directly bore the cost of their actions. In the decades since this policy, white rhino populations have flourished.

Market incentives and secure property rights are the most reasonable and proven model for African rhino conversation. In order to promote and preserve this model of free-market environmentalism, there must be government oversight, thus there is a role for government to play. But it is a limited role that creates a framework under which private ownership and voluntary exchange can flourish, not an active role that creates a framework under which corruption can flourish.

Nevertheless, governments across the globe have endorsed the latter model, which in turn has devastated the five species of rhinos. I hope I speak for all environmentalists when I say it is imperative that we put our governments back on the former model: not just for the sake of white rhinos, but for endangered species across the globe.

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