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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/12247/property-rights-and-whale-wars/

Property Rights and Whale Wars

March 18, 2010 by

Limiting the supply of whales only increases the price per unit of whale on the market. Fisherman who would normally seek other ocean inhabitants may actually be enticed to hunt whales, instead of fish, by the new, inflated price. FULL ARTICLE by Jeremiah Dyke


wilderness March 18, 2010 at 9:50 am

good article. Where there is property involved, including in ones person, and a conflict arises between the properties, then it would be more civil to actually reason through disputes and maybe come to terms that would avoid such conflicts, or at least incline to make them less, for one, taking advantage of what you say here:

“Limiting the supply of whales only increases the price per unit of whale on the market.”

Artificial constraints on supplies are only doing more harm than good to everybody, including the whales I would venture in this case, which can be said for other cases, including drugs, but maybe even the health care industry amongst others.


Mitchell Powell March 18, 2010 at 11:25 am

Just one question: are there actually any examples of private whale breeding? Other than the so-called “killer whales” I had been under the impression that whales had so far proved impossible to keep in captivity. They were, for me, one of the last examples of a case where an (at least utilitarian, if not principled) case could be made for state intervention.

DW March 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

I feel that this article is very incomplete. The problem is that the issue of whaling has more to do with animal rights than property rights. Any argument concerning “whale price inflation”, no matter how correct it is, will only bolster the attitude of conservasionists that humans are cruel and vicious beings to the planet. Privatising animals, no matter how convenient it is for settling disputes, will only enrage them. If you’re not a murderer, you’re a slaver.

I am by no means a hard-core animal rights activist, but I already am aware that this is a gray area. The main problem with natural animal property rights is that we humans are the ones inevitably dealing them out; hardly anyone cares if fleas or ticks are being massacred for instance. Majestic animals tend to get our sympathy. And if taken to the extreme, we’d go mad with the many competing boundaries animals have with each other; we can’t force every living creature “to play nice”.

For the sake of our sanity and self-respect, I’d much rather follow the human property right model. It’s not perfect, but it does offer non-violent alternatives to the reduction of animal suffering compared to some blatantly militaristic actions taken by some environmental extremists.

Prime March 18, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I would like to be a whale rancher.

DW March 18, 2010 at 12:10 pm

“Just one question: are there actually any examples of private whale breeding? Other than the so-called “killer whales” I had been under the impression that whales had so far proved impossible to keep in captivity. They were, for me, one of the last examples of a case where an (at least utilitarian, if not principled) case could be made for state intervention.”

I’m not too sure if it would be economical anyway even if you got rid of government altogether. Whales in general take up enormous quantities of both space and resources, which is why businesses like Sea World enjoy smaller cousins like killer whales and dolphins so much. While Blue Whales are not impossible to keep in captivity (after all, we build stadiums that can house thousands of spectators at once) for example, the business plan may not necessarily be profitable.

It’s like the movie Jurassic Park, except without the sabatoge. Even if Hammond pleased his investors enough to open the park, that wouldn’t necessarily mean he’d make money. In retrospect, he’d probably seek out government subsidies for an enterprise likely entirely dependent on incredibly wealthy customers in order to sustain the island operations. It probably would had flopped simply because it was too far ahead of its time.

Bas March 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm

The article discusses but does not provide an answer to one of the big questions associated with a transition to a libertarian system. How (and if) to divide up public property and assign ownership.

The question is also who “owns” the whales? Do the whales suddenly become New Zealand’s property when they swim into their territorial waters? If my neighbor’s dog decides to take a walk across my property line, I don’t automatically become the dogs owner. I can set rules about what happens on my property (the neighbor can’t kick it while it’s on my property) but I have no say on the dog’s ownership.

Just a few things to ponder over the weekend.

Mitchell Powell March 18, 2010 at 1:13 pm


Thanks for the reply. The question then becomes, If private whale ownership has no ability to produce profits, how will allowing the privatization of whales be at all better than the current situation? Will it not simply result in the killing of all free-roaming whales? If this is so, then privatization of the larger whales is absolutely meaningless and the net effect of extending property rights to whales would be no different than simply allowing them to be killed out of existence.

Inquisitor March 18, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Barring some argument that whales have rights… what’s the significance of some of them going extinct? Conservationists can always pour money into prevent it absent business models to keep it going, but if they don’t… what’s the problem? I think that premise needs examining before saying the gov’t ‘should’ do anything.

Mitchell Powell March 19, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I wasn’t trying to argue that there is any significance to whales going extinct. That premise definitely needs to be examined. What I am asking is whether there is any factual basis behind the assertion of Jeremiah Dyke, that whale populations could be maintained by private farming.

Todd March 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm

This is an example that illustrates a gap in the pure libertarian point of view: long term consequences of actions that result in permanent damages and indirect externalities.

Whale breeding, even if possible (I am skeptical about that), would be unquestionably expensive. I suspect that if let run its course, it is far more profitable to hunt whales to extinction, take your “winnings” and leave the table. In the end, the natural world is diminished dramatically and a few folks walk away wealthy and move onto to other things.

I don’t have an answer other than government intervention (maybe on community property grounds???), as much as I hate that as an answer. So far, I haven’t seen any other compelling answers as to how to honor freedom and yet not let that freedom destroy something irreplaceable.

Inquisitor March 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm


You. Are. Going. To. Have. To. Show. Why. This. Merits. Gov’t. Intervention.

You’re assuming it being justified. WHY?

Jeremiah Dyke March 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm

The question is not whether whale breeding would be profitable, but, would whale lovers cover the costs of the proceeds if it wasn’t profitable? A charity business could be accomplished if there were an adequate supply of donors.

Conservationists, without a government to run to, would need to pay for their passion.

Either with or without the privatization route, the conservationists could/should turn their direction from waging a war on supply to a war on demand.

Inquisitor March 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Thank you for injecting some logical thinking into this commentary… rather than assuming “LULZ TEH GOVT MUST PROTECT TEH WHALEZ!”

Nate March 19, 2010 at 9:36 am

An exert from the Center of Biological Diversity website
“Ships and boats, the only ocean-bound entities that rival whales in size, can also kill the giants of the sea in an instant when they hurtle through whale habitat. In fact, collisions with ships are the one of the most frequent causes of premature death for several highly endangered marine mammals, including the North Atlantic right whale, the blue whale, and the Florida manatee. Each of these species is already so depleted that the loss of only a few individuals can mean the difference between recovery and being pushed further toward extinction. The numbers are staggering: In Florida, as many as 90 manatees a year are dying from boat strikes; in California waters, as many as seven blue whales have died since 2007 from suspected collisions; and in the Atlantic, half of all right whale deaths are caused by ship strikes. These deaths are all unnecessary — collisions can be avoided by changing shipping routes to avoid areas where whales congregate, using existing technology to alert captains to nearby whales, and, most effectively, implementing mandatory speed limits for ships. Slowing ship traffic not only prevents lethal collisions with whales and other creatures; it also reduces air pollution”

Although the CBD petitions for government involvement, there is no reason why private ownership could not accomplish these.

Gil March 19, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Whale-watching is much more profitable than whale-hunting however looking at whales doesn’t mean you ‘homestead’ them. Whale-watchers are merely observing the commons. There’s nothing to stop their afternoon being ruined by whale-hunters arriving at the same time and hunting them before their very eyes. If anything whale-hunters are ‘homesteading’ the whales by taking their carcasses on board.

wombat99 March 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Right-winger Dyke tries to attack regulation with the fantastical notion that whale breeding would be practical. When readers point out it wouldn’t be, he implies in his reply today that whaling should be deregulated and if environmentalists don’t contribute the billions needed to farm them, they can go extinct for all he cares. He certainly won’t give a cent. The brutality of the capitalist mindset was never more clearly demonstrated. It descends from the antiquated notion of the Book of Genesis that God created animals for our use — and we can even wipe out an evolutionary line millions of years old, never to return, if some whaler can make a couple of bucks for a couple more years.

Vanmind March 18, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for the laugh.

Inquisitor March 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm


Mitchell Powell March 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm

The idea that animals are subordinate to humans is brutality? What alternative is there? Some sort of system in which animal life is not considered subordinate to human life–perhaps a system in which disease-carrying mosquitos are not to be deprived of the blood of third world children?

No, only the most brutal of people are unable to take the subordination of animal needs to human needs for granted.

Gil March 20, 2010 at 12:59 am

Why can’t humans care for some species and not treat them trading chips? Besides if a system could give property rights to whales then could the same system give property rights to mosquitos? A genocidal maniac could own malarial mosquitos and then sue and jail those who dare to spray pesticides and drain swamps because the mozzies and their habitat are his private property. Then again if there can be no respect across species then there’s nothing immoral for an alien species to arrive and use humans for their needs and/or recreation (e.g. “Predator”, “V”, etc.).

Peter Surda March 20, 2010 at 8:05 am

Ownership of animals doesn’t only result in privileges, it also results in responsibilities. If, hypothetically, your mosquitoes cause problems on other people’s property (e.g. spread diseases to other people), you would be liable for damages.

Of course, in your example, you neglect to explain who owns the swamps.

Michael A. Clem March 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Isn’t the conservation of whales similar to the elephant question? Sure the oceans are a commons, as opposed to being in a particular country, but the basic economics doesn’t change. Jeremiah Dyke raises points that conservationists need to address.

Sheridan May 8, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Great point about the elephant only I think the people who want to deal in ivory should own the elephants and the plus side is, there is no need to kill the animal to collect the tusks. Once the tusks are removed, however, they don’t grow back so the best thing to do is donate it to a zoo and write it off as a charitible donation.

The answer seems clear, remove the ban on ivory, ivory traders will captivly breed elephants to harvest their tusks to sell, ivory prices will fall, the poachers will no longer see the gain as greater than the risk of prison. Who knows maybe even the poachers will go honest and bring in money to build their nations. And given the tusks don’t grow back it would be cruel to relaese them into the wild without them and a a charties could start to work on prosthetics that do the same job with donations from conservationists.

Michael A. Clem March 18, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Sorry – forgot to add this: Or similar to forestry. If there’s money to made, the last thing companies would want to do is eliminate their supply. Property rights gives them the incentive to conserve the supply while at the same time profiting from it.

Gil March 19, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Whale products have alternatives therefore it wouldn’t matter if they went extinct. Anyone who worked in the commons would know it would only be a temporary thing anyway.

Bas March 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

There’s nothing wrong with capitalism – it’s the basis of the libertarian system. The problem is arbitrary “selective” capitalism by the government, i.e. the Japanese whaling fleet, whaling under the disguise of “research” funded by the government.

In a truly free market, the price of whale products would have already skyrocketed – making whale farming feasible (if possible), or slowing down consumption of whale products due to high prices, giving the whale population a chance to recover.

wombat99 March 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm

“In a truly free market, the price of whale products would have already skyrocketed – making whale farming feasible (if possible), or slowing down consumption of whale products due to high prices, giving the whale population a chance to recover.”

What nonsense. The US had zilch regulation of passenger pigeon or bison meat in the 19th century, but the short-term thinking of the US capitalist mindset led to the extinction of one and the near-extinction of the other. Prices certainly didn’t go up enough to make anyone think longer than the six-month outlook of the average American.

Inquisitor March 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Are you done whining? You’re going to have to show why this is a problem (and why this is so wrt whales) and provide more evidence than assertions pulled out of your rear.

Richard Moss March 18, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Why do collectivists continually conflate gov’t policy with absolute property rights? The Bison were nearly exterminated as a matter of gov’t policy. The gov’t claimed ownership of western land and anyone could kill as many Bison as they wanted. It encouraged killing Bison to destroy the Plains Indian population on behalf of the gov’t subsidized railroads. How is this consistent with capitalism? How is gov’t subsidized land consistent with private ownership? Railroad man J. Hill did not rely on gov’t subsidy to build his railroad, and rather then have the gov’t to slaughter Indians on his behalf bought the land he needed from them.

Inquisitor March 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Please don’t hurt his brain with facts.

Gil March 19, 2010 at 11:23 pm

The Passenger Pigeon died from Capitalism. As the pigeon was getting rare there was legislation (e.g. forbidding raiding of the nesting sites) passed yet it entirely ignored.

Michael A. Clem March 23, 2010 at 10:06 am

What? You mean government regulation wasn’t effective? So if the anti-capitalistic regulation didn’t save them, how is that the fault of capitalism?

Sheridan May 8, 2010 at 9:24 pm

While I agree in principle that govt. doesn’t do a good job most of the time I’m not sure the bison analogy is apt. Yes the govt. did, at the request of their contributors, encouraged the killing of bison but what did the govt. do to cause whale populations to plummet before the IWC? I checked, granted I may have missed something, and I found nothing.

Mitchell Powell March 19, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Bison populations are maintained in part thanks to the capitalist economy that allowed me to eat delicious bison meatloaf last summer, thereby freely contributing to the conservation of bison. They were killed with government encouragement.

Passenger pigeons, despite the wombat’s ignorant accusations, were the object of two bills in the 19th century which banned their killing. Both bills were ineffective for the doubtfully beneficial goal of preserving a single type of pigeon, as are the great majority of efforts at legislating solutions to problems.

DW March 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm

“Thanks for the reply. The question then becomes, If private whale ownership has no ability to produce profits, how will allowing the privatization of whales be at all better than the current situation?”

First, I never said it’s unprofitable. Anything can be profitable if the business plan is modelled well. But putting this aside, let’s assume that all attempts to “farm” whales will remain a failure. That must automatically mean that whaling is the more profitable alternative. That being said, it does not necessarily follow that traditional whaling will “result in the killing of all free-roaming whales”; as the supply of whales decreases it becomes increasingly more costly to acquire them, making cheaper alternatives to whaling (such as oil) more attractive. The same principle applies to any commodity, from gold to silver. It’s the result of prices forming from the laws of supply and demand that allows for goods to be rationed without a centralized authority.

The problem with having government involved in whaling is with the unforseen consequences. Governments almost always operate on the the threat of violence. Should whaling be as rigorously fought against as our Federal government does with “the war on drugs”, it would create a black-market for whaling that is frought with violent criminals who feel well equipped to face the challenge. Similar black-markets already exist in many regions of the world concerning the illegal fishing of certain species. While the whales themselves would probably do better (after all, it’s not like the supply of illegal drugs has been diminishing!), it’s trading one problem for a deadly poison.

On the matter of privatizing the ocean, it’s a very difficult proposition. But I like to think that if cattle ranchers could privatize an entire herd under their personal protection, in spite of the fact that such herds would move across vast amounts of land under their observation, that the whaling industry could theoretically do the same with whales. And you don’t see cattle being on the endangered species list now do you.

billwald March 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Not one commentary I have seen on this issue has mentioned well established rules of navigation.

Michael A. Clem March 18, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Not one commentary I have seen on this issue has mentioned well established rules of navigation.

Perhaps because the collision would seem to have been deliberate, and not merely a navigational error of some kind? After all, it was between a whaling ship and a whale-conservation ship.

Samuel Clemens March 18, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Let us consider the possibility that whales and dolphins may be the only other intelligent life on Earth. Whaling then becomes a matter of genocide, and has no relationship to either property rights or animal rights. If whales and dolphins go extinct, that is the common fate of all species, including ours; but, we as individuals don’t have a moral leg to stand on when we commit the murder of another intelligent individual, which whales, as individuals, may be. Here I define murder as the intentional killing of another intelligent individual. Once slaves were considered “property”, and, as such, had no rights, while the “owner” had them all. Property rights should not trump individual rights.

Michael A. Clem March 18, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Whales and dolphins as intelligent life? I would welcome comments by whales and dolphins on this forum to see what they think about it.
Once again the argument being made is that property rights would help the whales, while government commons and regulation are not very effective at protecting them.

Inquisitor March 18, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Moreover, all “individual” rights are… property rights.

Gil March 20, 2010 at 12:49 am

“. . . while government commons and regulation are not very effective at protecting them.”

That’s not supporting by evidence. Since the time when whaling has been mostly banned whale numbers have increased therefore government regulations are quite effective. On the other hand, the governments don’t control internation waters. Property rights cannot help the whales because they cannot be homesteaded only hunted or left alone.

wombat99 March 18, 2010 at 3:13 pm

“as the supply of whales decreases it becomes increasingly more costly to acquire them, making cheaper alternatives to whaling (such as oil) more attractive”

Again, nonsense. Whalers have millions in sunk costs for specialized ships and training. The slight increased cost of hunting that results from lower whale supplies is far less than the cost — including the psychological cost to the whalers — of entering another field and abandoning their huge investment in whaling. That’s why many species of whales and other animals have already been hunted to extinction. I can’t believe you’re denying things that HAVE ALREADY HAPPENED.

Vanmind March 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Ha. “Don’t make me change careers, my head will explode.”

That’s typical of the so-called progressive insistence that — unlike in “backward” times when people migrated & otherwise adjusted their lives to find jobs — today’s modern geniuses (*cough*) use government as a weapon to ensure that the glorious socialist world world will be “…strong enough to guarantee that jobs will always be delivered right to my doorstep” (i.e. the usual “socialist word of plenty” lie).

Here’s a question: how many kinds of animals besides humans have driven other species to extinction? More than zero? I’d bet the answer is more than zero.

Here’s another question: do you understand even the fundamentals of legitimate economic theory? I ask because while economic activism can lead to political freedom, political activism has never, ever, led to economic freedom. Socialists (i.e. political activists) lie about having the correct “plans” to guarantee collective “bounty,” while people who understand legitimate economic theory remind humanity over & over & over that the very reason economics exists in the first place is because there can never be any such thing as “bounty.”

Don’t like whaling? Homestead some ocean. That is, in a roundabout way, sort of what the Greenpeacers do every day. If they’d concentrate more on that (the economic activism) than on dry-land publicity stunts & lobbying (political activism) they’d accomplish many more of their goals.

DW March 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm

“Again, nonsense. Whalers have millions in sunk costs for specialized ships and training. The slight increased cost of hunting that results from lower whale supplies is far less than the cost — including the psychological cost to the whalers — of entering another field and abandoning their huge investment in whaling.”

So your argument is that even if 1 whale existed in the entire ocean, and whaling company had thousands of ships, that the whaling company would let loose all of its steamers in search of Moby Dick even though it would amount to a bigger loss than just not whale at all? This begs a lot of questions, the first being how a business could be so stupid as to set itself up for failure.

Sheridan May 8, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Let’s say I were to homestead some ocean for whales to breed in, who would police it for me to keep the whalers out? Right now my dad has a fishing boat, but I think i may need more than that to chase off whalers. Might it not make more sense to start a charitable enterprise, to accept donations from conservationists to hire a crew and a ship large enough to fight off whalers and pirates if necessary.

Richard Moss March 18, 2010 at 6:28 pm

…hunted to extinction on public lands, or private?

wombat99 March 18, 2010 at 3:14 pm

So is Mies changing its slogan from “Proceeding ever more boldly against evil” to “Perpetuating evil”?

Vanmind March 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Uh, not that I’m aware. Socialism is still the vilest scourge in human history, right?

iawai March 18, 2010 at 4:11 pm

This article is taking the values of environmentalists at face value and pointing out the economic shortcoming of their actions taken.

If you want more whales alive in the oceans, don’t give poachers reason to kill more whales.

As far as I can tell, no value judgment is being made about whether it is good or evil to protect or kill whales.

But nuanced arguments are lost on most people.

Jeremiah Dyke March 18, 2010 at 3:28 pm


I am a vegetarian with a deep passion for animals. Yet I don’t operate under the pretense that my love for animals should be taxed or regulated upon other people. You can’t coerce in the name of charity, it is a contradiction in terms. What I said is that conservationists need to stop chasing after fishing boats with stink bombs as well as wasting millions in lobbying congressmen, and start purchasing ocean property for the whales to breed and swim. This is true charity! Whale farming is restricted by the IWC. This is partially why farmers and scientists roam the oceans for whale. Privatization is a solution that would prevent extinction without violating liberty.

Finally, since when is promotion of property rights a “right wing” position? Or is that just a sticky tag you pull out for everyone?

DW March 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

“Right-winger Dyke tries to attack regulation with the fantastical notion that whale breeding would be practical. When readers point out it wouldn’t be, he implies in his reply today that whaling should be deregulated and if environmentalists don’t contribute the billions needed to farm them, they can go extinct for all he cares. He certainly won’t give a cent. The brutality of the capitalist mindset was never more clearly demonstrated. It descends from the antiquated notion of the Book of Genesis that God created animals for our use — and we can even wipe out an evolutionary line millions of years old, never to return, if some whaler can make a couple of bucks for a couple more years.”

Tell me, which species should we kill and which species should we not kill? Please, just answer me that simple question. Because as far as I’m concerned, species compete with each other whether they’re plant or animal, microbe or giant. If you want to take your argument to it logical conclusion, you’d admit that the sphere of “rights” was only meant to pertain to the world of human-to-human relationships in order to bring peace BETWEEN humans. Wrapping that sphere around every living creature under the sun is going to produce moral absurdities. You’d go mad with the ethical conundrums concerning ecosystems and the destruction of one species by another! And if you’re not mad, you’re a hypocrite for you’ll simply choose which species deserves to diminish in quantity and which deserves to expand based on some belief or another that rarer creatures have more of a right to live than the more successful species around them.

DW March 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

“What I said is that conservationists need to stop chasing after fishing boats with stink bombs as well as wasting millions in lobbying congressmen, and start purchasing ocean property for the whales to breed and swim. This is true charity! Whale farming is restricted by the IWC. This is partially why farmers and scientists roam the oceans for whale. Privatization is a solution that would prevent extinction without violating liberty.”

I second this. If it wasn’t for privatization, we may not even have turkey for Thanksgiving. And if the mass privatization of wild turkeys during the colonial period had happened, we may had even better turkeys to eat today!

But I digress. No one likes hearing about the slaughter of innocent turkeys.

wilderness March 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

wombatt: “Right-winger Dyke tries to attack regulation with the fantastical notion that whale breeding would be practical. When readers point out it wouldn’t be, he implies in his reply today that whaling should be deregulated and if environmentalists don’t contribute the billions needed to farm them, they can go extinct for all he cares. He certainly won’t give a cent. The brutality of the capitalist mindset was never more clearly demonstrated. It descends from the antiquated notion of the Book of Genesis that God created animals for our use — and we can even wipe out an evolutionary line millions of years old, never to return, if some whaler can make a couple of bucks for a couple more years.”

a lot of assumptions in that reply. what’s your solution? i mean the solution doesn’t necessarily fall on gov’t or non-gov’t shoulders. It falls on the shoulders of individuals that I assume want a solution rather than a problem or why else make a post in the first place. For one, the gov’t doesn’t wave its magic wand and walla! – solved! No. It’s individuals, whether governmental or non-governmental that end up making these decisions, even if the decision is let the whaling simply run it’s course – cause it would still be whalers and conversationalists out on the high seas making real-time decisions. Should it simply devolve into perpetual conflict? Or are humans capable of being rational?

Jack Roberts March 18, 2010 at 4:00 pm

While i agree that a government ban on killing whale could potentially cause an increase in whaling, based on the new increase in scarcity. However that should not stop people from trying to convince other people that they should not kill whales.

Mitchell Powell March 20, 2010 at 9:40 pm

You’re absolutely, right, Jack. Libertarianism allows for people to persuade other people–that’s one of the rights of a person in a free society. Libertarianism does not say that whale hunting is a good thing; it merely believes that it is not the place of government to use violence to stop the whale hunters.

Chuck Ogden March 18, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Excuse me for a slight digression as to first principles, but where does that majestic underpinning of the Libertarian ethos, Right to Property come from? The esteemed author writes “rights to property come through the rights of original homesteading, appropriation, and exchange”. Since “original homesteading” is a function of time – the operational term is original meaning first, I assume – then that might easily be devolved by others to “first come first served” or “possession is 90% of the law”. Legalistic, yes. True, yes. But somewhat inglorious, eh?

Did not Rothbard write that the right to property flows from a logical (and humanistic and timeless) chain as follows: We own our thoughts (whence the inalienable freedom to think what we wish). By extension, we own our speech (whence freedom of speech). By further extension, we own our bodies (whence no slavery). By further extension, we own our tools which are, literally, an extension of our hands and minds. By further extension, we own the land worked by said tools and the product of our labor.

Many freedoms can be and are derived from the axioms stated above. I could go on, but: enough said! And no criticism of the article intended at all…

newson March 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm

“possession is 90% of the law”
i don’t think this is part of the libertarian ethos whatsoever. that it’s true is more a sad commentary on the expensive and uncompetitive market for justice.

Chuck Ogden March 19, 2010 at 10:38 am

My point exactly!

I wrote “that might easily be devolved by others to ‘first come first served’ or ‘possession is 90% of the law’”.

Kindly note the “others”. And please apply this definition of “devolve”: devolve – grow worse; “Her condition deteriorated”; “Conditions in the slums degenerated”; “The discussion devolved into a shouting match”.

The above in the interests of clarity and in the spirit of agreement!

Alexander March 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Part of the protest too is how the whales are killed, the are shot in the back with a harpoon thats detonates an explosive on impact. They then flail around in the water for about half an hour before they die and are also shot in the head repeatedly with a high caliber rifle. If that were done to any animal on land that would be labeled as animal abuse. The sea shepherd organization protests against animal abuse and hunting endangered species. For example in canada, over 300,000 baby harp seals are beaten to death with spiked clubs or in many cases maimed and then skinned alive and the majority of the meat is left to rot out on the ice.

Whats also not mentioned is that the demand for whales in Japan is very high, ending the ban on whaling would not end the demand of the japanese people for whale meat. If anything ending the ban would make attaining the whale meat easier, and therefore cheaper and even more japanese would be able to afford to consume the meat in turn causing more whales to be hunted. Asian nations are becoming wealthier and therefore much more of the population is able to purchase these delicasy meats. So despite the fact that innovatoin led to the end of hunting whales for oil, innovation led to wealth which meant a higher demand for these meats.

Shark finning is not banned in asia but still every year over 100 million sharks are killed which is more than the entire shark species can reproduce in a year. That is an example of no gov’t regulation yet demand is not going down, it is in fact going up, nor is the species recovering. To believe that ending the ban on hunting, lets say for example great white sharks in America, would help the population increase is ludacris. They were hunted down to only 5% of the original population without gov’t intervention and it is gov’t intervention that kept them form becoming extinct in America.

And to those who say what is the point of saving whales anyways is completely ignorant of environmental science. All species keep each other in balance in any ecosystem. Whales keep populations of certain species in check, and in turn whale meat keeps other species in a healthy existence. This isn’t BS science like global warming is, no scientist refutes the dangerous consequences of one species’ extinction on an entire ecosystem.

Michael A. Clem March 19, 2010 at 10:07 am

If whale meat is valued as a delicacy, what purpose would it serve businesses to hunt whales to extinction, and thus end any future profits in whale meat? The more scarce they become, the more expensive they would be, and thus, the more incentive they would have to preserve or farm them, instead of hunting them to extinction. You say that ending the ban on hunting would lead to extinction, but how do you know that these bans are actually protecting the species? Restrictions simply lead to government-privileges, not rights. These bans and restrictions are preventing businesses and individuals from pursuing market solutions for the preservation and continuance of the species, while illegal hunting would still go on by those who think they can get away with it.
The market is a continual, ongoing process whereby supply and demand are always changing, attempting to reach an equilibrium. The very fact that whale meat might be valued is the very reason entreprenuers would seek out some means of protecting the supply and meeting that demand, if not restricted by law from doing so. Leaving the preservation of species in the hands of corruptable governments and immoral entrepreneurs does not seem like a very good plan to me.

Gil March 19, 2010 at 11:31 pm

The businesses that refused to hunt whales for a while would lose business to the businesses that would seize this window of opportunity because the whales are, and will be until extinction, part of the commons.

Matt Wing March 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm


You completely miss the point of private property versus public property. Yes, if public property is not regulated by the government, then people will take as much as they can before someone else takes every resource on the public property. Extinction follows, or complete destruction of the property follows. This is the flaw of public property, whether its public housing or public bathrooms, people tend to not preserve things they don’t directly own.

However, as Mr. Clem explains, private property gives the owners of the property the incentive to preserve the whale population, in order to preserve the future profits of the business. Capitalism and private property must co-exist; you can not have one with out the other.

This is why people on this site speak of private property; it is an essential piece to their arguments. You can not simply ignore the difference of the two, and have an intelligent debate with anyone here.


Alexander March 22, 2010 at 6:12 am

There have been plenty of examples in the past of species going extinct due to unrestricted hunting by people. A species is not some product or a renewable resource. You didn’t seem to address the cruel much of this hunting is done either. You seem to forget the human attitude behind all of this. Even if they recognize that a species is on the verge of extinction, each individual hunter will have the attitude that if I kill one animal, it won’t make a difference. But if each hunter has that attitude and they all act on it, the species doesn’t have a chance. You should realize that if an economic policy fails and the economy collapses it’ll eventually recover, however if a species collapses, it won’t, its gone forever. Libertarian policy can succeed because all the problems it seeks to fix in the economy, foereign policy and cilvil liberties area are reversible, a species existence is not. The whalers don’t even have to kill off every whale, they can kill enough where its nearly impossible for whales to reproduce because there is no magical whale breeding program that exists like the one the author pulled out of his butt.

Matt Wing March 22, 2010 at 11:00 am

“There have been plenty of examples in the past of species going extinct due to unrestricted hunting by people.”

Can you at least acknowledge the idea of private property?

“A species is not some product or a renewable resource.”

Yes it is. Even if you are a vegetarian, plants are species, and farming or gardening is a resource. Human labor is a resource too.

“You didn’t seem to address the cruel much of this hunting is done either.”

I found it to be a separate argument. I personally am disgusted with animal cruelty, but I also don’t think I should be able to force my personal opinions on to others. I also believe most people are against forms of animal cruelty, and the problem can be solved without government regulations.

Anthony March 18, 2010 at 11:31 pm

I have been wondering since I read this article how exactly one could homestead a whale in the ocean… fences are not an option, would catching and tagging each whale you want protect with a “property of Greenpeace” sign do the trick? I doubt it.
It would be impossible to enforce ownership of whales without keeping them in pools, which defeats the purpose for most people in favor of conservation.

It is disingenuous to say “all you need to do to protect whales is privatize them” without suggesting any method for carrying that out.

And before Inquisitor makes an abrupt comment about how I want government intervention, let me say that that is not what I am suggesting at all. If you want to say “in a libertarian system many whale species will go extinct but it is worth the cost” then say that, don’t say that whales will be protected by private ownership when it would be almost impossible to implement an effective system of private ownership of animals in the ocean (owning “land” in the ocean would not do the trick as whales and fish are necessarily migratory).

Richard Moss March 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

Where there’s a will (the will being creating a society based on voluntary association and property rights, not force) there is a way. In fact private ownership of oceans is already happening:


To answer some of your challenges, why would ALL whales have to be kept in pools? Perhaps some whales could be ‘domesticated’ in favor of others and kept in pools? Also, if portions of the ocean were sold off would not owners have an incentive to allow hunting migrating whales during certain times, yet have an interest in maintaining a healthy population for future farming? Still some owners might not allow any (the portion that Geenpeace buys, for example)?

Jake March 19, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Anthony,Ranchers once had the same problem with Cattle, there was no technology that could economically fence in cattle on the barren frontier lands. This did not prevent the ranchers from finding a way to recognize and enforce private property in Cows. First there was branding, all the cows were free to roam the plains in a large herd, then the ranchers would come and sort whose cows were whose based on their brand. I gotta think with a little effort the same could be done with whales IF there were legal recognition of property in whales. Then things only got better, as barbed wire was invented, allowing ranchers to affordably fence in large areas and allow their cattle to graze on privately held grassland. Note that: Cows were never hunted to the brink of extinction despite the lack of regulatory “protection” (the idea is so preposterous as to be funny). And the market found ways for ranchers to tell their cows from their competitor’s cows.

Anthony March 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Thanks for the earnest (and not sarcastic) responses…

A few practical issues remain, howhttp://blog.mises.org/12247/property-rights-and-whale-wars/ever. Regarding Richard’s comment, multiple private owners along a whales migration route would each have the incentive to harvest as many whales as possible, since (to quote the link you sent) the depletion cost would be split among all owners of the migration route while the profits would go entirely to the harvesters. Thus even if 99% of the route is owned by people wishing to protect the whales overfishing could still occur.

Regarding the comparison between whales and cows, even if there were a mechanism for keeping whales penned within a given area within the ocean (perhaps gps tags which would deliver shocks when a whale attempts to leave a given zone…), there would be no point in doing that since during their life cycle many species of whale need to traverse almost the entire globe in order to benefit from seasonal changes in food availability.

The only private ownership that could I can envision which could actually save the whales would be either a single owner of the whale’s entire migration route, or private ownership of individual whales that would somehow allow for freedom of passage through all the privately owned sections of ocean that the whale needs to traverse in order to live.

Once again, I am not arguing that it is worth the many costs of government merely to protect the whales, just that it is almost certain that in a libertarian society whales living out their natural life cycle in the wild would almost certainly become a thing of the past (provided whales continue to have commercial value).

Jake March 19, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I doubt you could fence in whales too, but you don’t need to. Like you said, GPS tag and radio transmitter and you can identify that whale as your property (no matter where it goes) and find it whenever you want. Given a couple of years and millions of dollars at stake I’m pretty sure whalers could figure how to know when their female whales were due to give birth and be present to tag the calf and maybe even provide medical aid if needed.

My argument is not that it would be easy to “raise” whales, or that we know exactly how to go about doing it. Keep in mind we’ve had thousands of years to learn how to domesticate cattle, dogs, chickens, pigs, etc. We’ve not developed our expertise to raising whales because the technology to do so is much newer (though by no means “new”) and, more importantly, because no existing, active, legal system (that I am aware of) recognizes property rights in water or the animals swimming around in it. Thus my argument is that if you have a scarce resource (which whales are) that is in demand (which whales are) you MUST allow private property in that resource if you want sustainable and rational use of that resource. Talking about regulation is missing the issue, regulation is a very poor patch or bandaid trying to solve a tragedy of the commons situation while keeping the commons… at best it works very poorly, more often it actually exacerbates the very situation it was created to solve.

As for the concern about you whales trespassing on other people’s property in ocean “regions”. I don’t think that concern is a problem in libertarian property rights theory. If you homestead land and turn it into an apple orchard you have property rights not merely in the apple trees, but in the clean soil and water they rely on to grow, in the ample sunlight above, and in a sufficient depth of dirt for their roots to grow. We do not concern ourselves with how could anyone grow apples in a property system where anyone else can build a 24 lane super highway directly over their orchard… clearly the apple grower (assuming he was there before the super highway) has homesteaded not only the soil but the sunlight too. Similarly with the whales, I think it’s clear that if you go out and privatize a “herd” of whales, you’ve also homesteaded safe passage through the waters the whales have been swimming, feeding, and breeding in since whales first came to exist. Doesn’t mean someone else can’t stick an oil platform in the middle of your whale migration route, just means they can’t harm the whales or interfere with the whales being whales, and they certainly can’t harvest your whales as they swim past, or erect a giant net to keep them from doing what they’ve always done.

Anthony March 20, 2010 at 9:48 am

You made a good point (about the apples and the highway), but I think that there would still be many conflicts. For example, if the whales are eating plankton in my section of ocean that otherwise my fish would be eating would I not be entitled to defend my property by killing/excluding the whales? The same would apply if your salmon swam through my private smelt fishery and ate my smelt, with the additional issue that salmon are too numerous to tag.

At the very least the owners of whales would probably be required to compensate the property owners for lost productivity, but this would raise the potential for extortion (for lack of a better term) where the owner of each stretch of ocean would require the whale’s owner to pay an arbitrarily high price for passage, since the owner of the whale would have no choice but to pay the fee, multiplied by the number of different non-whale friendly owners along the route, or lose the whale (given that redirecting the whale would not necessarily be possible).

As for adjudication of disputes on the sea, there would almost certainly arise whale-friendly courts, who would recognize the property right of the owners of whales to have those whales pass through privately owned ocean, and whale-unfriendly courts that would not.

I agree that private ownership is the only viable solution to the problem of overfishing (or over-harvesting, of any species), but creating an system that deals adequately with ocean ecosystems will be a difficult task.

ABR March 20, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Anthony makes an excellent point regarding conflicts between whales and other species in the absence of fencing, which itself is likely impractical.

Homesteading doesn’t seem to work in all cases. We need to consider alternate forms of agreement w.r.t. property rights.

Paul Wakfer March 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Anthony wrote:

“I agree that private ownership is the only viable solution to the problem
of overfishing (or over-harvesting, of any species), but creating an system
that deals adequately with ocean ecosystems will be a difficult task.”

There are two (as least) distinct kinds of property, each of which require different prescriptions of their operation in any fully free society.
The first are matter/energy objects and second are volumes of space. Under the social system derived from my treatise: “Social Meta-Needs : A New Basis for Optimal Interaction” at: http://selfsip.org/fundamentals/socialmetaneeds.html, these are called respectively “Property” and “Real Estate”. Their definitions are given within the Natural Social Contract document (NSC) – http://selfsip.org/solutions/NSC.html – that is executed by all members of the free society that I envisage as a full implementation of individualist market anarchism. Note that modern technology makes it entirely possible to fully define the boundaries of any volume in space, if not to actually mark such boundaries in some manner.

Under these definitions and the operational arrangements also detailed in the NSC, everything within someone’s Real Estate would be the Property of the Owner of the Real Estate to do with whatever s/he liked. However, this entitlement would be moderated and self-ordered to mutual advantage, by two additional operational arrangements. The first would be contractual Covenants concerning the boundaries between adjoining parcels of Real Estate. And the second would be the general method of Social Preferencing, which is also described in detail at the Self-Sovereign Individual Project containing all of what I have described and much more.

The system that I have created in great detail at that website is intended to be a complete and consistent extension of Mises’ praxeology to the realm of *all* human interactions rather than merely economic ones. My reason for creating it was just to be able to effectively and rationally deal with such situations as whales in the oceans and many other complex questions, which I too did not find sufficiently and believably explained by current standard arguments of either Austrian-school economists, libertarians, Objectivists or utilitarians. In fact, I consider my social system to be a consistent and complete synthesis and extension of the value principles of each of those social philosophies.

Justin Larson March 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm

How could restrictions on whale hunting possibly (in economic terms) make people kill more whales? Unless the demand curve shifts a higher price will always lead to less consumption.

M March 21, 2010 at 5:33 am

Interesting topic. I’m afraid that the real free market intervention (within the context of the problem) is to simply not buy Japanese products at all until the Japanese public and industry feel the need to change their ways.

Between S. Korea, China etc there are now plenty of alternatives to Japanese products. The Japanese economy is, to quote a wonderful phrase I heard recently, a “bug searching for a windshield” – an economy depending largely on export of industrial production. This is a long, long lever, and public distaste for whaling (not to mention the dolphin slaughter) could be easily used as a good, solid fulcrum.

If the anti-whaling guys were to use this approach, I do believe the Japanese industrial giants would soon see the wisdom of keeping their whaling buddies in line.

This is a pretty much a free-market solution. No new laws, no government intervention (besides possibly Japan, but not necessarily)

Paul Wakfer March 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Yes, that is an excellent solution within the context of current societies and the oceans as a commons. The use of such nonviolent methods over the ages has been documented in detail by Gene Sharp – http://www.aeinstein.org , and in its more complete application both for and against all types of human actions, I have named it “Social Preferencing” – http://selfsip.org/solutions/Social_Preferencing.html Social Preferencing is the direct extension of market preferencing (evaluations leading to choices of whether or not to buy/sell) to *all* areas of human interaction. It can be used for all those actions that are not actual Violations and is the ultimate effector of social order in any truly free society. However for Social Preferencing to be maximally effective, it is necessary that all individuals be identifiable and that all preferencing comments be made publicly (just as is done for products and services that are evaluated and reported publicly).

Guard March 22, 2010 at 8:11 am

Actually there is already a free market intervention. Anti-whaling ships ramming whalers on the open ocean. The fact that authorities find nothing wrong with this practice shows that it can be freely done.

Dagnytg March 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Which makes me wonder why the Japanese whaling ship doesn’t use lethal force as a means to defend themselves. Everything the Japanese are doing is legal and these whales are not endangered. Though I have no problem with people protesting the whalers… when they start throwing chemicals onto the Japanese ship and try to ram (or interfere with it in such a way as to cause a crash) then the property rights of the Japanese have been violated and they are within their rights to defend themselves and in my opinion by any means necessary.

It’s akin to me driving down a public road (commons) and people start throwing rocks at my car or try to drive me off the road. Eventually I will have to defend myself.

Furthermore, I’ve watched this show and outside of a few good laughs and my conclusions above…I really believe the anti-whalers have no desire to save these whales that their slaughter aids in the money they receive from ignorant donors and recruitment of upper middle class white kids.

If they were truly serious about saving these whales, they would invest in sonar technology that would deter whales from areas where the Japanese ships are located. They could then shadow these ships dispersing the whale population as they go without violating property rights. But then where is the TV in that.

Tyler March 22, 2010 at 8:13 pm

An interesting read to say the least. Squabbling over whaling isn’t foolish like the article first said. Japan’s whalers aren’t doing anything illegal but they are doing something immoral and that’s where I take my objection. Can we legislate my morality? Yes but I’d advise against it. Unless, of course, scientists can prove that whaling is wreaking havoc on the ocean’s ecosystem and will lead to extinction. I’ll leave that to the experts.

“Conservationists are actually gambling with the whales’ prospects of survival by concentrating their efforts on a war against whaling, instead of embracing solutions to the problem of supply, such as whale breeding.”

Whale breeding doesn’t work and I guarantee you most, if not all, of these conservationists have a basic moral objection when it comes to eating meat, let alone harpooning whales for research which inevitably leads to the commercial sale of this whale that was researched. What scientific knowledge is to be gained by repeatedly researching 500 Minke whales every year? We want to know what they’re eating so we slaughter 500+ whales by opening their stomachs every year to verify what we already know? This research is a ruse to put Minke meat in the supermarket. I don’t like what they’re (Yushin Maru etc) doing and I vote with my dollar. I don’t buy whale meat. I don’t buy tuna either but that’s a slightly different story…

pbergn March 23, 2010 at 2:17 am

The article unwittingly demonstrates the main shortcoming of the free market system, or any pseudo-random system – it is the short time horizon… Since each participant in the free market exchange is driven by self-interest by definition, the vector sum of all the self-interests may not necessarily point in the direction of common good, rather all experience shows that the most cunning and most selfish will persevere… In the case of whale hunting, this business will continue until the population of whales decreases to the point when it will not be profitable to look for the remaining few, which may result in the whale population rebound over a long period of time or complete extinction of some species… The process is cyclical, and will cycle the moment the population of whales increases to allow marginal profits… This process is by design, since again, each participant is solely driven by the self-interest, and does not have the will or foresight to think into the future… There is an example of the same phenomenon in the Behavioral Psychology – short-term gratification versus long-term… As the individual human beings have so much foresight or will power, in relative terms, we all opt for the short-term gratification. A contributing factor to this is our mortality and relative short span of productive years…

Michael A. Clem March 23, 2010 at 10:31 am

A short time horizon is not a shortcoming of the free market system, but of a commons, i.e. the lack of private property. Why would you think that self-interest causes shortsightedness? We all think we will live forever…

pbergn March 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Thanks, Michael. Could be…

It’s just I have seen it too many time is my life, when there is some resource, such as some new commodity, everybody rushes for it and does not stop until bitten by the stronger, or the resource is exhausted… The country I am originally from was undergoing radical economic changes, so in this transitional period the power stations were shut down due to lack of fuel… So do you know what happened? Everybody rushed logging the forests to sell the wood for profit as fuel, since it was the only means to keep warm in winter… You know what was the result? They cut each and every tree in the easily accessible areas, and continued unrelentlessly, until the government interfered with imposing criminal punishment on the excessive logging… The same thing happened to fishing… When the food was scarce, everybody turned to the lake and tried to catch every last fish, regardless of breeding season or population considerations… Why? Because we are all humans – we all want to survive, and we will do ANYTHING to do so… So, by design any system which is profit and self-interest driven, puts forward the interests of a particular individual, which may not necessarily coincide with the interests of the given society overall, and who may not necessarily have regard to his/her neighbor or the future for that matter… My analysis shows that there has to be a resisting force which is not driven by survival or instant gratification, a force that would restrain the exponential growth of consumption…

It is true, though, that the Free Market forces will eventually balance things out. If left alone, the Nature will ultimately have her way… I am a strong proponent of the Free Market System, and I still consider it the lesser of the many evils… It’s just I am trying to be objective by pointing out the potential pitfalls of any system under consideration, but then again – nothing is perfect…

Anthony March 25, 2010 at 10:26 pm

It is precisely because the forest was available to anyone that such tragedies happen. In a privately owned forest the owner has an incentive to preserve the resource over the long term, if only to avoid losing the resale value of the land. On common ground everyone wants to make a quick profit even at the expense of the land, but an owner has to look not only at the profit from selling the trees but also at the money they have invested in the property.

TokyoTom May 12, 2010 at 9:53 am

An interesting but confused article by Mr. Dyke; sorry I missed the discussion – which, unfortunately, also missed a few points.

While the discussion has been fruitful, I suppose my chief comment would be that it assumes that the best solution – and the only principled one – lies in the creating of private property rights in whales, and ignores the many examples of many well-managed COMMON property resources. How could everyone just forget the Nobel Prize that was award to commons guru Elinor Ostrom last year, or all of the praise that she received from Austrians? Some of you might want to take a look what Ostrom has to say and what the praise was all about: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=ostrom

As I’ve blogged on whales (and other marine issues) a number of times, I take the liberty of citing some of my earlier comments:

1. http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/02/15/whales-and-fisheries-quot-standing-up-to-japan-quot-or-enclosing-the-commons.aspx

the Japanese came late in the whaling game, mainly after WWII (with US encouragement) and after the stocks were already starting to crash after a 150 years of western industrialized whaling pressure.

The Japanese persist in pelagic whaling [which is obviously non-traditional] despite the damage it does to their international reputation and long-term national interests because Westerners have done a great job of stiffening the spines of conservative politicians – so much so that while Japan’s private industry has completely abandoned the hunt, whaling persists as a wholly government-owned (and loss-making) endeavor!

Have you ever spent any time wonder WHY we care so much more about a Japan’s ‘scientific’ catch of a few whales now (which make no noticeable impact on growing populations, and a return to commercialized whaling under the IWC nowhere to be seen) than we do about the millions of very intelligent pigs, and less intelligent cattle etc. that we slaughter annually? The answer is simple, of course – though we should care about how humanely animals are killed to satisfy our wants, we have our greatest political battles over resources that NOBODY owns and for which unrestrained take can obviously imperil their very existence and lead to extinction. Because there are no ownership rights, political action has been needed.

But politics may often simply feed rancor and provide opportunities for grandstanding by politicians and others interested in protecting or using the resource – at our long-term detriment. Japan should be an obvious ally in preventing the crashing of global fisheries and ensuring their sustainability, but it lets itself be caught up in this emotional nonsense. So should environmentalists care about building coalitions to rationally manage the oceans as a whole, but they choose to fight what should be one of their greatest natural allies – a nation which ought to care greatly about the sustainability of the fish harvests they consume – because the partisan battles provide such a rush and keep those contributions rolling in.

There are obvious solutions on whales, that would allow some take of abundant species while protecting others. Establishing property rights of the kind that are now being seen as the solution for managing fisheries (‘catch shares’ or ITQs) is one, and one that would allow environmentalists to directly express their preferences by owning and managing their own stocks, and buying rights from others.

But it’s time to start realizing that the current terms of discussion about whales are not only unproductive, but actually imperil much more important issues about fisheries.

2. http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/01/14/for-crashing-fisheries-coalition-of-mainline-us-enviro-groups-calls-for-property-rights.aspx

In a recent post, Andy Revkin, a New York Times reporter who blogs on energy and environmental issues at his “Dot Earth” blog, asks “When whale species, like the minke, are no longer rare, can they be both admired and eaten — as North Americans do with bison — or is it simply wrong to kill whales at all?”

In a comment in response, I noted that as whales are unowned, the problem of how to manage whale stocks shares much in common with the problem of ocean fisheries – viz., open access tragedies of the commons, and politicized management – further noted that the main US environmental groups have very clearly recognized, somewhat surprisingly, that implementing property rights systems is vital to ensuring the long-term protection of fisheries.

Mainline enviros pushing for property rights? Has the world gone crazy?

Martin Smith August 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm

If thats the point, then there’s a huge chance that whales would get extinct. Nowadays, Japanese fishermen are still hunting whales even if they know that it is illegal. I’ve also read awhile ago about a restaurant getting charged for 20k about selling whale’s meat.

Morgan A. Brown June 10, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I was actually reading Grotius’s Mare Liberum (the Free Sea) this week as the new season (2011) of this show premeired. I think that the article this blog links to has examined the general libertarian perspective from that of the Japanese whalers and the whale market price. But there is another libertarian aspect that is just as valid, and it is that of the Sea Shepherds.

Since the southern oceans are “international,” and where they are the province of South American countries, New Zealand, or Australia, and are not being “policed” anyways, it does not appear that the Sea Shepherds are really violating any libertarian principles or risking an increased whale market. Sure, the Sea Shepherds are annoying as hell and I’m convinced they they’re all bleeding-heart socialists (especially their sleazy captain), and the Japanese may or may not be violating international law (it seems like a gray area), and perhaps worldwide conservation laws are not strictly based on natural rights–but within the political system currently in play, the Sea Shepherds are simply exercising their right to boycott. They may be increasing the price of each unit of whale meat, but they’re also making the hunting process incredibly expensive for their rivals–the whale hunters. The whale meat becomes incredibly expensive, but as long as the Japanese government stands behind their whalers (I’m not 100% on the politics involved, but with international law and conservation law being what they are, I’m sure the government is involved) the State will likely crowd out smaller competitors. The fact that the whalers keep claiming that they’re strictly doing “research” leads me to believe that they’re trying to get around a government ordinance.

Besides, what the article linked to above does not mention is that “smaller” fishermen would NEVER venture into the Southern Ocean without massive equipment and crews. I mean, come on. The Japanese are using a “FACTORY SHIP” manned by ever-ready hands on deck, with a horde of harpoon vessels with trained crews. Once you factor in the requisite fuel, ships, hands, and capital, the likelihood of a mom-and-pops “startup” whaling industry is somewhat comical. The existing whaling operation surely has some kind of government protection. Otherwise, why is it always the SAME damned crew and the same damned ships every season that the Sea Shepherds are pursuing?

The whalers and the Japanese are simply feeling the hurt of government regulation of the whale market. Perhaps the Sea Shepherds aren’t “libertarian” in mindset, but they are nevertheless performing a libertarian function by using State regulation of the market against itself.

If we were talking about some other ocean that Anarctic waters (I’m a literature and history guy, and nobody in the history of mankind who has ever stepped on a vessel that has traversed the southern ocean has EVER spoken of that ocean without a shudder), then perhaps an “increase” in whaling might be probable. But the stickiness of international law seems to be a major stumbing block.

The Sea Shepherds and the Japanese would both be better off under a condition of aquaculture. If the Sea Shepherds didn’t have to burn up fuel needlessly and keep buying these million dollar ships, they could simply buy up plots of sea to hamper the navigation of the whaling vessels. They’d simply deny the whalers the right to traverse certain coordinates upon legal penalties of trespass and property rights (which would entail legal fees and penalties), which would make it nearly impossible to pursue ocean game and coordinate a massive whaling complex. Plus, every year they wouldn’t have to burn up millions of dollars in capital to prevent whaling in international waters where vague international laws apply.

Meanwhile, the Japanese could drive up the property prices of the southern oceans by bidding high to compete for territory. Even if this entailed a cutback in whaling output (or, whales brought in), the increased stock of whales would increase over time to replenish supplies.

Seems like a win-win, even though the winners don’t win as much. Namely, an increase in whale stock would lessen the need for anti-whaling crusades, and the increase in whale stock (but fewer grounds to hunt) might allow for fewer resources wasted in the massive hunt for whales.

Some thoughts from a Devil’s advocate.

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