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Ivory poaching and the law of supply and demand

Ivory is valuable and this leads to poaching (which is another way of saying ‘seeking more supplies of rare ivory’).


The US government had decided to reduce the global supply of ivory by destroying six tonnes of the stuff.

“These stockpiles of ivory fuel the demand,” said Dan Ashe, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “We need to crush the stores of ivory worldwide.”

And when supply is reduced, what happens to prices and therefore the motivation to secure new supplies? Anyone?

Surely if they wanted to reduce the incentive to poach ivory, rather than crushing their stockpile, they should have flooded the market with it. But of course Dan Ashe and his ilk work for governments and thus know nothing of this ‘economics’ malarkey.

20 comments to Ivory poaching and the law of supply and demand

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    As always, a Simpson’s quote springs to mind involving Homer trying to sell Bart’s elephant:

    Blackheart: Mr. Simpson, I think you’ll find this amount more than fair.
    Lisa: Dad, I think he’s an ivory dealer! His boots are ivory, his hat is ivory, and I’m pretty sure that check is ivory.
    Homer: Lisa, a guy who’s got lots of ivory is less likely to hurt Stampy than a guy whose ivory supplies are low.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Princess Anne, whom I had not had down as one of the world’s great intellects, recently displayed a slightly better understanding of economics and a more thoughtful concern for what will actually promote animal welfare. According to a charity called World Horse Welfare, “thousands of Britain’s horses and ponies [are] at risk of abandonment and neglect.” Princess Anne is a patron of this charity, and spoke at some event for its benefit. She dared to suggest that horse owners might take better care of their animals if they believed they could sell them for meat, causing vast outrage.

  • Laird

    Yes, the decades-long War on (some) Drugs has certainly reduced worldwide supplies, hasn’t it? Such a resounding success certainly deserves to be emulated by exporting the strategy to another venue.

    “Mr. Ashe said keeping the stockpile could feed consumer demand for illegal souvenirs and trinkets.” Breathtaking in its idiocy, even for a bureaucrat.

  • CaptDMO

    And like petroleum supplanted the “market” for whale oil, where is the “trendy” replacement for the ivory market? Ivory is good for WHAT, that plastic (even “corn” plastics) doesn’t exceed in utility?

    Hasn’t “renewable” (including formerly-know-as-food) energy freed up enough of the (formerly-known-as-economically-irretrievable)petroleum supply for “desirable” accoutrements, you know,just like the Emperor’s new ones, to further replace “old” resources?

    Oh, wait. ANYBODY can own some of THOSE!

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    CaptDMO, good point. Reduction of the supply of a type of goods whose value arises only through the pleasure some people feel at owning something rare … that is even more certain to increase the price of that material than the reduction of the supply of a type of goods where rarity is incidental to the appeal.

    Poor elephants.

  • llamas

    It’s like these people actually revel in the destruction of things of beauty, value and utility. Note that a lot of the destroyed ivory was in the form of finished product – sculptures, artworks, trinkets of all sorts.

    It’s like they believe that destroying the ivory somehow un-kills the elephant.

    They could have sold the ivory to an eager, willing market, raked in a vast profit, and used that money to fund meaningful efforts to prevent poaching. But no, far better to destroy all that accumulated value.

    It reminds me of cash-for-clunkers. Let’s take millions of cars, with billions of dollars of retained value and utterly destroy that value. Let’s make poor people, who rely on a healthy used-car market, pay more for their cars because we arbitrarily eliminated a huge chunk of potential purchases from their options. Only an economic cretin could see this as being a good idea.

    If you truly want to destroy the trade in illegal ivory, there’s a simple solution – make the elephants private property, make the new owners responsible for them, and let people hunt them. Pretty soon, you’ll have all the ivory and all the elephants you can handle. Community property has enough issues at the best of times, when the community property is a two-ton eating machine that wolfs down your entire maize crop in one night and crushes your outhouse as it’s leaving – what did you expect would happen? Elephants get killed because millions of poor, brown people have to live side-by-side with them – because it makes rich people far away feel good. You don’t have to kill the elephant to get the ivory – the locals kill the elephant, to kill the elephant – because there is no upside for them to have elephants around, only downside. Break that link, and the killing of elephants will stop. Make them a profit-center instead of a liability, and soon, the locals would be raising elephants in herds like sheep.

    But affluent Western do-gooders, who have never swung a hoe in their lives, simply fail to grasp this simple economic truth. They simply ride though in air-conditioned Land Rovers, never stopping to think why the poor locals would find it in their best interest to kill what they came to see. They think it’s all ‘Out of Africa’, when in fact it’s just economics.



  • The obvious replacement for rare ivory is farmed ivory.

  • dfwmtx

    Yeah, and watch the animal rights activists go apeshit over factory-farmed elephant ivory.

    My guess is the ivory was destroyed because someone wanted to raise the price on his secret stash of ivory he’s selling on the side.

  • Sigivald

    If “we” really wanted to stop elephant poaching, we’d start raising elephants for ivory, as Mr. Gibbs says.

    Yes, it’d take decades to have an effect, but it would work.

    (The important thing, of course, is to avoid caring about animal rights activists. Screw ’em. I prefer actually having elephants, and their posturing means “less elephants” and more expensive ivory.

    I wouldn’t mind having a market in ivory again; I do historical re-creation, and ivory’s a damned useful thing. And if paying for it preserves elephant populations? So much the better.)

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    The good thing about farmed ivory vs. poaching, is you don’t need to kill the elephant’s to take their ivory. Give it a couple of years and it grows back and you can harvest it again.

    The poachers couldn’t compete with that, because once they kill an elephant it’s gone. They also need to go out and look for one without getting caught, whereas the farmer would know exactly where his elephants were.

  • veryretired

    It never ceases to amaze me that the people here can’t really get it through their heads that these people aren’t looking for solutions.

    The fact that privatizing elephants would rationalize and insure their survival is exactly the reason it’s not ever considered by those who control policy about these things.

    If it solved the problem, what would these “oh so concerned” types ever find to occupy themselves?

    Any time you see one of these unbelievably stupid proposals about some policy question, try to remember—they don’t actually want plans that will work effectively, they want plans that will increase their particular niche in power and resources.

    Unintended consequences, negative incentives, and all the other elements of these policy issues that seem so bizarre to us aren’t really bugs to the tranzis.

    They are desirable features to ensure their continued power and influence.

    One must keep one’s true priorities in order at all times.

  • jerry

    Second EVERYTHING veryretired said !!

    Another example of this is Paul Weston and his ( their ) anti-whaling crusade.
    Regardless of how you feel about their ‘intent’, tactics of tossing chemicals onto the whaling ships to taint or simply ruin the whale carcass is simply stupid.
    Once the carcass is rendered useless, what does the ship and crew do ?
    That’s right, finds and kills ANOTHER whale !!!
    Brilliant Paul !!
    But then, if whaling stopped completely, today, what would Paul and his ilk DO to get attention and show that they are more pure and have much loftier goals and thoughts than the rest of us unwashed riffraff ??

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – whilst elephants remain without a private owner, they will be slaughtered.

    It is the same with forests (for example the forests of Brazil after the big landowners of the rubber trade were crushed by “Progressive” government) and everything else.

    If people want things (including animals) preserved they must accept private ownerships.

    Stunts such as burning ivory just make things worse.

    Of course (as veryretired has pointed out) clever Progressives KNOW it (statism) makes things worse.

  • Deep Lurker

    It’s the prohibitionist mindset: The goal isn’t to reduce poaching, with reducing the black-market demand for ivory being a means to that end. Instead, a ban on ivory is embraced for its own sake, with “reduce poaching” merely being an excuse.

    The preferred prohibitionist tactic is to raise both the black-market price and the black-market cost as high as possible, and also to lower the quality of the goods as far as possible. From that point of view, destroying the ivory makes sense. It makes sense to reduce the supply and increase the black-market price, rather than admit that owning ivory objects might sometimes be legitimate.

  • William O. B'Livion

    If “we” really wanted to stop elephant poaching, we’d start raising elephants for ivory, as Mr. Gibbs says.

    Or start paying more for the poachers head than he can earn selling the ivory. It won’t completely dry up the market, but it’ll drive the price up a lot.

    I suspect strongly that the ivory destruction (which has been in the news here a bit) was two things. First was simply getting rid of hte stuff so the agency involved could stop inventorying, guarding, paying for storage etc. 6 tones of ivory trinkets isn’t a HUGE amount of stuff as government agency inventories go, but there’s lots of room for more corruption (pilferage etc.). It might also have been just to make room for the next shipment.

    I think the second was to use the destruction as a publicity stunt to “raise awareness”.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    If scientists can grow organs from stem cells, surely we’ll learn how to grow ivory to order, without any actual living elephant being involved!

  • Surellin

    I saw this story on the television – they were grinding up all this ivory right on camera. I almost wept at the waste and flagrant stupidity.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The fact of the matter is that plastic is not a terribly good substitute for some things.

    The best example might be piano keys. Ivory retains its dry feel, and gives a slight purchase to the player’s fingers that plastic does not.

    As another example, it is true that artists can produce amazingly good simulated ivory, but again, it still does not look quite like the real thing.

    It’s quite possible that many people actually prefer the look of the simulation, but that’s not the point. I’m just trying to correct the misapprehension that the only value of real ivory lies in its rarity.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Now, I want to join with everybody else in wishing the lowest rung of the Warmer Place for the criminals who destroy the already-harvested ivory out of some stupid theory that if there’s no supply there’ll be no demand. Kreist on a crutch!

    Although, to be both realistic and honest, there is some truth to Mrs. Ashe’s statement. We ARE dealing with human psychology here, and people who simply couldn’t live without, say, a Dior dress still walk the earth now that M. Dior is with the angels. I think it’s probably true that there’s less of a demand for minor “trinkets” of ivory than there was when they were more widely available. Many factors determine popular fashion, and affordability (which is mediated by, among other things, availability) is one of them.