elephant poaching demand and supply

The Unintended Consequences of Banning Ivory Sales

Mar 22, 2014 • Behavioral Economics, Demand, Supply, and Markets, Developing Economies, Economic Debates, Economic History, Environment, Government, International Trade and Finance, Regulation, Thinking Economically • 257 Views    No Comments

New US ivory regulations have had unintended consequences.

During November 2013, the US government “pulverized” nearly 6 tons of elephant ivory from Asia and Africa. Intending to send a message to elephant poachers, the Fish and Wildlife Service destroyed ivory that was seized through law enforcement. Asked why, the Fish and Wildlife Services said, “As a matter of principle and policy, the Service does not sell confiscated wildlife derived from endangered and threatened species.”

In addition, with few exceptions, it has become illegal to import, export and sell items with even a sliver of ivory. That means, even if the ivory on a violin bow enhances the instrument’s sound, you probably cannot sell it. It will also be tough to sell pianos with ivory keys because you will need to prove that they arrived in the US at one of 13 ivory ports of entry before 1982. For other instruments or cups or decorative ornaments with ivory, to be legally resold, they had to have entered the country a century ago. Responding, one antique dealer said that, “some of his biggest clients ‘are in their closets crying’ because the multimillion-dollar {ivory walking stick} collections they had hoped to bequeath to their heirs are on the verge of becoming worthless.” Even museums are worried because donors might not be able to take a charitable deduction for an item with ivory.

With regulators suppressing ivory supply and demand, we have a slew of unintended consequences. In the US, antiques dealers, jewelry and gun owners, musicians and museums will bear the cost. Elsewhere, less supply could elevate prices and the incentive to poach.

Perhaps using markets would be better than eliminating them?

Sources and resources: We’ve referred back to and excerpted this econlife post while current facts are from the NY Times.

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