Tragedy of the Commons

I have been a Tiger-lover for years, going back even before my days at Princeton.  Over the years, I have given to various tiger defense funds, generally with a feeling of hopelessness.  The total dollars someone can gain from stripping a tiger of all of its lucrative parts is almost drug-money high, due to the popularity of tiger bits in various Asian "medicines."

This proposal from Barun Mitra, as quoted by Cafe Hayek, is the first one I have seen that might have a chance.  He proposes to allow ownership and commercial farming of tigers, to give incentives to breed and preserve the species.  This is a classic tragedy of the commons problem, where current lack of clear ownership of the valuable assets (here, tigers) lead to harvesting without heed to the long-term value of the asset.

At present there is no incentive for forest dwellers to protect tigers, and
so poachers, traffickers and unscrupulous traders prevail. The temptation of
high profits, in turn, attracts organized crime; this is what happens when
government regulations subvert the law of supply and demand.

But tiger-breeding facilities will ensure a supply of wildlife at an
affordable price, and so eliminate the incentive for poachers and, consequently,
the danger for those tigers left in the wild. With selective breeding and the
development of reintroduction techniques, it might be possible to return the
tiger to some of its remaining natural habitats. And by recognizing the rights
of the local villagers to earn legitimate revenue from wildlife sources, the
tiger could stage a comeback.

I've met a lot of World Wildlife Federation folks in my life, and can say that few of them trust capitalism and many hate it.  My gut feel is that these guys would rather see Tigers die off than end up as commercial herd-beasts, so I am pretty sure this proposal will never, unfortunately, get adopted.


  1. Technomad:

    I've read that there are about as many privately-owned tigers in the US as there are wild ones in Asia.

  2. dearieme:

    Tigers are beautiful creatures. The remedy for their plight is presumably to try the market experiment, while licensing the shooting of WWF activists.

  3. darkbhudda:

    Yep, it was private ranchers who brought back the black rhino from extinction. They wanted it for hunters, but were so successful they released surplus back into the wild.