Friday, July 31, 2015

Thoughts on Cecil the Lion

For the most part I couldn't care less about the murder of one specific animal in Africa, but perhaps due to the Minneapolis connection this story sparked some interest. A few disorganized thoughts:

1. One of the most powerful commentaries I have read was this article, taking a fairly hardcore libertarian market-driven analysis of the whole situation. Essentially the idea is that because there's no firm ownership over lions, nobody is strongly incentivized to protect them. Because demand for lion killing exists, 'the black market finds a way' and these cats are hunted and killed regularly. I'm quite sympathetic to to a policy regime that introduces the use of market mechanisms into complex environmental situations, and in this case I think it probably would be effective (though commoditizing lions would probably degrade their allure). It's important to remember, however, that private ownership and state command-and-control are not the only solutions. There's a whole spectrum of interesting institutions that could help both lions and people.

2. A friend on facebook posed the question: "When does the argument that the demand for xyz immoral undesirable activities should be legalized, taxed and regulated fall flat?" I think this is a great example of why I don't identify as a card-carrying libertarian, although I have many policy overlaps. A simple (and perhaps unfair) response to this question would be murder. Murder shouldn't be legalized and taxed - it should be banned and deterred using the utmost authoritative power. That's probably a limit case that libertarians would agree with, but something on the margin might be voluntary cannibalism. It's not obvious why libertarians would oppose this, but I'm quite happy with government using its power to stop two consenting adults from engaging in this act.

3. The fact that people love lions and don't care about other animals around the world that are being killed and mistreated is strange. Lots of philosophers and thinkers have discussed this issue, but to me it mostly boils down to theories of ecosystem management. As I've previously discussed, 'historical fidelity'--trying to keep an ecosystem looking the same--is only one priority. Protecting lions might have a nice economic benefit from tourism, but who knows if there are other management approaches that might shift resources away from lions but yield a healthier or more resilient ecosystem.

4. I hope Cass Sunstein or Peter Singer weighs in on this little media item, but everyone should know that despite the existence of animal welfare laws, the current requirements of legal standing prevent a huge amount of abuse from being acted upon. The obvious solution is to allow animals to sue in court. With human proxies, of course.

5. The fact that a high-paid dentist feels the need to go to a wild, relatively undeveloped place and kill an animal established in the cultural zeitgeist as a ferocious top predator merely provides further evidence to me that the human propensity for glory, honor, exploration and adventure isn't properly being fulfilled by modern liberal democracy and capitalism. While the system has lifted untold numbers out of subsistence poverty, it's clear that a subset of the population, mostly at the very-low and very-high ends of the socioeconomic distribution, would be well-served by an escape hatch from the mundanity of global capitalism. The obvious solution is to dramatically increase the total resource investment of the earth's output into space exploration technologies. Developing this ability to explore space would enable disillusioned folks with an appetite for risk to strike out and fulfill their glorious desire to explore and gain meaningful recognition.

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