March 27, 2014

Collectors "are in their closets crying" because immensely valuable collections are about to become worthless.

Worthless in the sense of unsellable, but the possessors of ivory-inlaid walking sticks/guns and pianos with ivory keys and ivory-topped violin bows can still admire, caress, and use their objects.

The new regulations from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service are, of course, intended to wreck the demand for new ivory and thereby protect the elephants. The NYT has an op-ed titled "The Wrong Way to Protect Elephants," which doesn't really offer much hope of finding a right way:
We should encourage China, where much of the poached ivory ends up, to start a detailed public education campaign that underscores the damage done to elephant populations by the illegal trade in ivory. We also need more aggressive enforcement of anti-poaching efforts in Africa. And we should figure out a way to manage the trade in raw ivory to protect elephants. For instance, several years ago, ivory stockpiles owned by several African countries were sold in a series of United Nations-approved auctions in an effort to undercut illegal ivory trafficking. The proceeds went to elephant conservation efforts. This is a better approach than destroying these stockpiles, as the United States did last fall to six tons of ivory.
Here's a comment at the second link:

First, that some folks, who own ivory objects, can't import them, export them or sell them, because they can't prove they were legally taken, and that this is a sad thing for them because they have sentimental attachments to them. My response? Too bad. Those objects have the stench of death. This is why I had all those ivory keys on MY piano removed and destroyed. I did not want to touch those objects, once I was made aware of what they meant.
It's extreme and hysterical to hate the existing objects, but I don't see how good liberals can object to policymaking that takes aim at affluent Americans and their cherished property. I don't see how good liberals can say: Why don't they go educate the ignorant Chinese and imprison more of those brutal Africans? There's some absurdly blind snobbery in stroking NYT readers about the beautiful pianos and violin bows and elderly art objects. Where's the usual assumption that it's the rich who must pay? Is there some high-culture exception to the usual empathy with Third Worlders?

48 comments:

Edward Lunny said...

" absurdly blind snobbery " Nope. "Othering" in a obvious and clear manner by those whom purport to know best for everyone else.

Crimso said...

Remember, you can't reason someone out of a position they didn't themselves into in the first place.

Birkel said...

Althouse,

Did you see what is happening at the end if the Scott Walker polling post from yesterday? Somebody is having great fun exploiting your blog.

JGH said...

Elephants do well where they are hunted. Fact.

Ecotourism will never save them ... not enough money, except in the few "pretty" areas ... but in the vast scrubland, where tourists don't go, it'll never pay the bills.

Mark said...

It all makes sense if you posit that the whole point of being politically Liberal is to get your sense of moral and ethical superiority by proxy. When the political becomes personal it crosses the line into NIMBY territory.

tim maguire said...

The problem with not banning existing stockpiles is that it is impossible to separate the old from the new, the legal from the illegal. So long as there is trafficking in existing ivory, there will be trafficking in new ivory.

Matthew Sablan said...

I wonder if anyone remembers what the NYT thought about that eagle art. Just because that ivory can't be sold, doesn't mean that it can't be taxed, after all!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

For the Con-Law types:

Does this have 5th amendment takings clause implications?

rhhardin said...

Don't forget ebony in your Gibson guitars, fallen to the preservation of the wild ebony herds.

They mate with elephants.

Bob Ellison said...

Ignorance is Bliss, I, too, would like to read that discussion. I know a guy (heh) who thinks pretty much any new regulation is a taking, and it's difficult to argue against that proposition. Do the courts say "private property" must be pretty literal? Is that the excuse?

Jason said...

This is stupid. People earn a living traveling with guitars with ivory inlays and pegs, and/or violin bows.

Now if you take a guitar on a concert tour or do some recording in Canada, you run the risk of having it impounded and paying a fine? To hell with those shitbirds.

First of all, guitars are typically serial numbered, and it's easy to determine the year of manufacture. You could prohibit the manufacture of new guitars with ivory trimmings easily and safe harbor existing guitars.

Bows aren't serial numbered. So someone who relies on a $5,000 pernambuco bow that happens to have an ivory inlay at the frog and was made 60 years ago to earn a living just has to up and find another suitable bow for concert use?

It's not that these people are wealthy or affluent. Lots of top quality musicians make a middle class living touring. Even top concert violinists have a lot of wealth tied up in instruments. I mean, they're walking around with mortgages in their violin and cello cases.

Meanwhile, Obama's jack-booted thugs have one more tool to turn the law abiding into criminals and terrorize people they don't like, a la Gibson, while turning a blind eye to enforcement against those who do toe their line - a la Martin guitars.

And the taxation aspect is interesting. If a valuable grand piano has ivory keys and is normally worth a million dollars, and could easily be sold abroad except the US government made it illegal to do so, is it still assessed full-boat under estate tax rules? How do you probate that stuff?

Jason said...

My tax question, answered, via Mr. Sablan:

The presence of the stuffed eagle meant it couldn't be sold without violating the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since the artwork couldn't be sold, logic dictated that it be listed as having zero value, which is what the Sonnabend family's three appraisers, one of them Christie's auction house, did.

But don't look for "logic" in any government dictionary. In the summer of 2011, the IRS sent the family an unsigned report appraising "Canyon" at $15 million. When they rejected the valuation, the government upped the ante: The appraisal was increased to $65 million, which yielded a $29.2 million tax bill. And the IRS levied a special "undervaluation penalty" of 40%, applied in cases where a party has made what the IRS deems a "gross understatement" of a property's value. That added $11.2 million to the tab. Plus interest.


http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324705104578151561581708972?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424127887324705104578151561581708972.html%3Fmod%3DWSJ_Opinion_LEADTop

Robert Cook said...

"Elephants do well where they are hunted. Fact."

It's not enough to just say "Fact;" please elaborate. Given that elephant populations are rapidly dwindling, I'm curious to know how this demonstrates they're "doing well."

Scott said...

"We should encourage China, where much of the poached ivory ends up, to start a detailed public education campaign that underscores the damage done to elephant populations by the illegal trade in ivory."

I'm sure the National People's Congress has been propelled into a solemn period of humble reflection on this issue as a result of the New York Times' encouragement. Just think of what the Times could do if they encouraged China to stop puking pollution and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Roger Sweeny said...

There is ALWAYS a high culture exception. So many biographies have as a theme, "Sure, he screwed the people around him, but he left us such great art!"

MadisonMan said...

Bureaucrats have to think up ways to justify their jobs.

I wonder how many man-years went into planning and implementing this new regulation.

Government by bureaucrats, not by the Legislative branch.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Robert Cook said...

It's not enough to just say "Fact;" please elaborate.

I'm guessing here, but I think the idea is that if you had privately owned elephants on a private hunting preserve, the owners would manage the herd for long term profitability, and provide for adequate security against poachers.

While I think this has been done successfully for some animals, I don't know that it could be profitable for elephants, due to their long life cycle.

EMD said...

Who knew ivory collectors were gay?

Bob Ellison said...

Individual elephants probably don't do so well where they are hunted. Elephants as a species might.

Similarly, individual chickens don't do well where they are farmed, because they tend to be slaughtered when they're just several weeks old. But the species is doing very well.

Differently, individual humans in western nations are doing pretty well, but their collective economies are dying, they are having too few babies to keep things going, and modern politics are destined to make things worse. The western man and woman may die off.

kcom said...

"Sure, he screwed the people around him, but he left us such great art!"

Are you talking about Roman Polanski? :)

EDH said...

It's the liberal view of how to control the natural market and how, in making the better the enemy of the perfect, they in fact bring on the worst.

No Insurance Is Better than Unapproved Insurance Under Obamacare

Obamacare penalizes the ‘wrong’ insurance 18 times more than no insurance.

Josh said...

Ignorance is Bliss said...While I think this has been done successfully for some animals, I don't know that it could be profitable for elephants, due to their long life cycle.

Regardless of life cycle if there is a profit motive the market will find a way to make it profitable, if not, then elephants are doomed to government conservation and thus they will suffer the fate of all things entrusted to government management.

I believe that if you allow the sale of ivory then the private land owners that "raise" elephants would have a larger incentive to protect the animals than a corrupt African bureaucrat who will get paid to look the other way at poaching. The corrupt official only has something to gain by allowing poaching, while the private elephant farmer has something to lose if he doesn't protect his elephants from poaching. (or at least protect the females so that he can raise more elephants in the future and happily save elephants from extinction in the process)

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Regardless of life cycle if there is a profit motive the market will find a way to make it profitable...

Capitalism is not magic. There are countless ideas for products that someone with a profit motive would want to sell, but which never make it to market because the costs exceed the potential revenue. I suspect an elephant preserve would fall into this category.

I believe that if you allow the sale of ivory then the private land owners that "raise" elephants would have a larger incentive to protect the animals than a corrupt African bureaucrat who will get paid to look the other way at poaching.

A agree. I just believe that the private land owner will still lose a lot of money on the project.

William said...

The Chinese are building one new coal fired plant per week. The only effective way to counter this is to bar shale oil production in our country.......What is the optimum number of elephants to allow in the world? I understand that life is complicated for those who live in the immediate vicinity of elephants. They're much more damaging to vegetable gardens than rabbits.

Matthew Sablan said...

Could you genetically modify elephants to breed faster/make more ivory per elephant? Sort of like selective breeding, but with more mad science?

SJ said...

I'm surprised that they haven't tried to do some sort of "amnesty" on ivory.

Ivory that is currently owned could be registered, and possible laser-etched with a serial number.

Then, the registrar can issue a nice piece of paper.

Trade in ivory that doesn't involve killing more elephants can continue, as long as the traded items are "legit".

This might be coupled with a system in which local governments in ivory-rich countries can charge money for legitimate hunting, and issue licenses/laser-etchings.

Craftsman who want to use pieces of ivory may have to go through a special process to register and re-mark all the additional pieces created from the tusks that they receive.

However, this assumes that the governments in question actually want to protect elephant herds.

And that the governments in question want to take an opportunity to bring in money while controlling the trade in ivory, rather than turning lots of valuable items into un-tradeable relics.

Matthew Sablan said...

Could you really laser etch a violin bow though? I think there are tech solutions, but I'm not sure if it is practical for everything. There has to be a better approach than "ban it all" though.

Andy Freeman said...

> I suspect an elephant preserve would fall into this category.

Based on what numbers? How much do you think that it costs to protect an elephant to age 20? How much do you think someone will pay to shoot said elephant?

Note that such preserves also have other shorter-lived animals and lots of animals in total, so the marginal cost of protecting an additional animal tends to be fairly small.

I know someone who paid a huge amount of money (well into 6 figures) to hunt elephants on a preserve in the 90s. Do you really think that it costs >$1k/month to protect an elephant?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Andy Freeman said...

Based on what numbers?

Mostly based on numbers I'm pulling out of my ass. :)

I suspect the number of people willing to pay six figures is pretty small, the number of elephants needed to maintain a population is significant, and you need to protect them not just from poachers but from disease, famine, etc.

Maybe the numbers work. I wouldn't invest in it, but others are welcome to.

Matthew Sablan said...

We just need sharkaphants, elephants who, like sharks, replace their tusks every now and again, so that we can harvest the tusks without losing the sharkaphant.

cubanbob said...

But don't look for "logic" in any government dictionary. In the summer of 2011, the IRS sent the family an unsigned report appraising "Canyon" at $15 million. When they rejected the valuation, the government upped the ante: The appraisal was increased to $65 million, which yielded a $29.2 million tax bill. And the IRS levied a special "undervaluation penalty" of 40%, applied in cases where a party has made what the IRS deems a "gross understatement" of a property's value. That added $11.2 million to the tab. Plus interest."

Jason has that ever gone to court and if so what was the outcome?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann, I'm amazed at your blithely throwing all musicians into the category of "affluent Americans." Do you understand that anyone whose bow has an ivory tip (mammoth ivory excepted, apart from the fact that it's literally impossible to tell mammoth ivory from elephant ivory with a sample so small) cannot travel outside the US with such a bow? That any bow with an ivory tip will be confiscated and destroyed?

Please, please. I make a hell of a lot less than you do. I own a couple of bows that would now be confiscated and destroyed outright were I to attempt to leave the country with them. That's quite apart from our Bechstein baby grand that has, yes, ivory keys.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Matthew: you can laser-etch anything. Even way back in 1980, a small company selling laser-marking equipment for the electronics parts business was handing out matchbooks (at SemiCon West), with each matchhead laser-marked with the company's logo (to show how delicate the marking was)

Sigivald said...

The NYT has an op-ed titled "The Wrong Way to Protect Elephants," which doesn't really offer much hope of finding a right way:

It doesn't, but I can.

Farm them, and shoot poachers while the farmed ones are maturing.

Allow, while that's happening and after, sales of existing ivory, to meet demand - because if you don't, well, money goes a long way towards bribing park rangers and guards, and paying mercenaries.

If things aren't going how you want, policy-wise, align the incentives to make that change.

Matthew Sablan said...

I'm against laser etching because it stands in the way of sharkaphants.

Josh said...

IiB ...because the costs exceed the potential revenue. I suspect an elephant preserve would fall into this category. .

While I think Mr. Freeman does a nice job of supporting my statement I would go further and suggest that we don't know what the value of ivory is because it is illegal and thus the market is distorted. (Please see all Ms. Althouse's posts re: marijuana "legalization").

There is a large population of wealthy individuals willing to pay 30K for exclusive handbags/luggage. How valuable is an ivory keyboard piano to that population? I think the article originally cited hints at the high value placed on ivory (value that disappears b/c the ivory trade has been banned).

Currently there are no incentives for people to care for elephants (they are literally all white elephants, nothing but a drain). Markets will figure out how to build a revenue stream around live elephants so that they can reach the ivory payoff at the "end". Hunting, tourism, actual physical labor of the elephant etc.

Free the entrepreneurs to think about how to make this possible and there will be capital to support the ventures that are well thought out and planned. I guarantee you that the bureaucrats in Africa aren't thinking very hard about how to solve this "problem".

Iconochasm said...

Too the folks discussing elephant preserves, I believe at least one African nation has already privatized their elephant herds. Iirc, the experiment was proving quite successful, but as I cannot recall the name of the country, I shant bother googling for an update, or to double-check my memory.

Andy Freeman said...

> I suspect the number of people willing to pay six figures is pretty small, the number of elephants needed to maintain a population is significant, and you need to protect them not just from poachers but from disease, famine, etc.

And you persist in ignoring the fact that a preserve can have lots of different animals at different price points. The $200k/year for a single elephant isn't the only revenue source, not to mention that $200k goes a long way in Africa.

> you need to protect them not just from poachers but from disease, famine, etc.

You do know that elephants can make it on their own (absent poachers), right? Yes, some get sick and die prematurely.

Elephants and other creatures manage to have survived for 100s of thousands of years without a monetization strategy based on numbers and "concerns" that "Ignorance" is pulling out of his ass.

You need enough land and to "harvest" sustainably and that's it. Anything else to increase yield is gravy. Don't do things (daily massages?) that aren't profitable. Do things that are. (Dig a couple of ponds and line them to reduce water loss. Put in some artificial shade.)

The key issue is whether the money from sustainable harvest is more than the money you could get from some other use of that land.

Animals that can be farmed profitably survive in the wild. Animals in the common, especially those that are destructive, such as elephants, don't.


Bob Ellison said...

Matthew Sablan, RE: sharkaphants, one of Jack Handy's deep thoughts is that the most dangerous animal in the world is a shark riding on an elephant's back, just eating and trampling everything in its path.

So I'm not sure I can get behind your sharkaphant initiative.

Rusty said...

It's not enough to just say "Fact;" please elaborate.

When you open a scarce resource to hunting for profit there is an incentive on every level to preserve that resource. The countries that allowed limited culling of white rhinos by hunters have healthy populations of white rhinos.
SAme holds true for trout, deer, turkeys, etc.

Revenant said...

The way to protect the elephants is to grant ownership to locals. This has been tried and works brilliantly.

Joe said...

Wouldn't this violate the takings clause?

David said...

Is there some high-culture exception to the usual empathy with Third Worlders?

No.

Because there is no actual empathy with Third Worlders. If there were (and assuming that lefties can actually think), there might be a teensy problem with the environmental and international trade policies that the left is trying to impose.

David said...

Rusty: "When you open a scarce resource to hunting for profit there is an incentive on every level to preserve that resource."

I often agree with you Rusty but not this time. There would be a broader incentive if the profits from the activity were distributed equitably. However, in the kleptocracies where this kind of hunting might occur, the elite skims the profit and the porters and sherpas get the dregs. Thus the incentive to poach.

Africa has lots of incentive to preserve the wildlife for tourism purposes. But the least well off, who are often those who live closest to the animals, benefit the least from the tourism.

Josh said...

To return to the original question posed by Ms. Althouse: ...but I don't see how good liberals can object to policymaking that takes aim at affluent Americans...

I believe the point is that liberals sympathize with these artists and collectors of good and appropriate taste who are suffering even though they personally did nothing "wrong". Because those that are being hurt hold the proper liberal values dear it is ok to sympathize with them even if they are affluent. (this is similar to how feminist will excuse the Male Clinton's personal actions because in aggregate he holds the proper liberal views).

I believe the hypocrisy that Althouse is thinking about would entail something similar to the spotted owl controversy: http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v4n1/homepage.html

i.e. Good liberals can sleep at night knowing they protected the vulnerable owl and only humans who hold inappropriate and ignorant worldview (loggers and other backward gun totting rural voters) are harmed in the process.

Eric said...

Yet another rule people will quite reasonably ignore. I wonder how long the feds can undermine respect for the law like this before things get really bad?

Kirk Parker said...

Matthew,

"There has to be a better approach than 'ban it all' though. "

Dude, you'll never work in this town again! And Forget The Party Invitations goes without saying...


Andy,

"I know someone who paid a huge amount of money (well into 6 figures) to hunt elephants on a preserve in the 90s. Do you really think that it costs >$1k/month to protect an elephant?"

I don't know the exact figure (who could?) But the concepts? They're easy!

1. You have to protect a fairly sizeable territory! Not every elephant--scratch that, make that the great majority of elephants--don't make the huge traverses depicted in BBC's The World documentary, but it's still a fairly large territory, and playing defense is an expensive and ultimately losing game. The Bad Guys™ only have to get through your defenses once per elephant.

2. The resources the aforementioned Bad Guys™ will bring to the game increase at least linearly with the value of the product. It's really really hard for an individual, or even a small group, to protect themselves against ambush. At what point to you decide it's not worth risking your life for a small fraction of that $1,000/mo?

Kirk Parker said...

I should hasten to add, Andy, that I am not at all opposed to free-market solutions to the problem, not at all.

I just think you're naive about the costs, by probably an order of magnitude. This is not a counsel of despair, though: a mere two of your 6-figure-hunting-permit could probably support a $10,000/mo operation.