Law Enforcement vs. The Market

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I was listening to someone recap a trip he took to Africa recently. He was lamenting the evils of the ivory trade and poaching. A few things struck me.

One, he mentioned that it's hard to stop poachers because the more they enforce anti-poaching laws, the more the price of ivory goes up. Thus, there is more incentive to get into poaching because the rewards are that much greater. The risk-to-reward remains relatively consistent.

Secondly, he talked about how he witnessed a burning. Apparently $150 million worth of confiscated ivory was burned while he was there.

This seemed a fascinating juxtaposition of issues. Poaching is appealing because ivory is expensive. Ivory is expensive because it's rare, and the acquisition process is risky and expensive. The acquisition process is risky and expensive because the government might catch you and burn your stash.

So here's my question. What would happen to the price of ivory if there was suddenly $150 million worth of the stuff dumped on the market at 1% its normal value, all of it certified to be now considered "legal"? Prices drop across the board. Suddenly poaching doesn't seem as valuable. The risks are still the same. They'll still try to catch you and throw you in jail, but now they'll take your confiscated merchandise and undercut everyone else in the market.

This seems like an excellent solution to me! I imagine it could be applied to a lot of other areas too!

Get caught peddling bootleg stuffed animals? They're turned over to the rights-owner to resell themselves.

Get caught smuggling narcotics? They're given out free to needy addicts! (Ok, that one probably won't fly in the U.S.)

And that's how we save the elephants!

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