Here is one of the latest developments in economic policy:
The US government hopes to send a crushing message to anyone involved in the illegal ivory trade — by decimating a 6-ton stockpile of seized elephant ivory.
In an announcement posted online, the US Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) describes plans to “pulverize” a cache of ivory on November 14th. All of the ivory was obtained, the agency notes, from law enforcement efforts to crack down on trafficking over the last two decades. “Destroying this ivory tells criminals who engage in poaching and trafficking that the United States will take all available measures to disrupt and prosecute those who prey on, and profit from, the deaths of these magnificent animals,” reads a statement on the FWS website.
There is more here, via Viktor Brech and Bruce Ryan and Kaushal Desai.
Bruce suggests the government announce it has created an artificial form of ivory, to lower expected prices and discourage future poaching. If they can get away with that lie, great. Otherwise, we all know the 2000 Kremer and Morcom piece entitled simply “Elephants”:
Many open-access resources, such as elephants, are used to produce storable goods. Anticipated future scarcity of these resources will increase current prices and poaching. This implies that, for given initial conditions, there may be rational expectations equilibria leading to both extinction and survival. The cheapest way for governments to eliminate extinction equilibria may be to commit to tough antipoaching measures if the population falls below a threshold. For governments without credibility, the cheapest way to eliminate extinction equilibria may be to accumulate a sufficient stockpile of the storable good and threaten to sell it should the population fall.
That emphasis is added. Sell it, not destroy.
In other words, our government is pursuing symbolic value but at the same time implementing the wrong incentives.
Here is a piece on elephant music-making.