September 04, 2007

Economic illiteracy among biologists

A recent acquaintance of mine, who is an economist, told me on our first conversation that he and his fellow economists believed that biologists, or scientists in general, were complete economic illiterates with whom it was very difficult to have a reasonable talk. I have just stumbled upon an example that would confirm their opinion.

Science reports that CITES has allowed two one-off controlled sales of tusks from poaching seizures and from elephants that died of natural causes. A wildlife biologist who was a director of the Kenya Wildlife Service has this to say:
These two sales will put a huge amount of ivory into the Japanese market, igniting a high demand for ivory, which the legal market will be unable to sustain. That means more poaching.
Economic common sense tells us the opposite. The sales will make tusks cheaper. That means less poaching.


  1. To be fair, I'm under the vague impression that a fair number of economists are ecologically illiterate. I don't know from experience, not knowing too many economists, but I'm thinking specifically of E.O Wilson in The Future of Life, where he contrasts the diametrically opposing aims of economists and ecologists.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Dan. You are quite right. Ecological economists come to mind. And Jeffrey Sachs. Cruel me!

  3. Marcelino, I disagree. Both poaching and price will increase. If a legal market for ivory is essentially allowed to exist due to dumping of black market goods and despite laws against poaching, then the sale of that ivory will only encourage more poaching. As poaching becomes more difficult, the eventual decreased quantity that arrives to market will demand a higher price. Though stress of the point is how the article states a "huge" amount of ivory will flood the market. There will likely never be enough to satisfy the demand generated by the legal sale.