Skip to content

About PERC

All Areas of Focus

All Research

Letters to the Editor

A Case of Government Discrimination

I note an important oversight in Robert Glennon’s tentative endorsement of market solutions for settling claims to water rights. Toward the end of the article he qualifies his endorsement with an argument that is as old as the environmental movement—that “Markets have difficulty internalizing environmental values.” He then proceeds to illustrate but chooses an example easily resolved by the market. (This is the case with most, but not all, of the “environmental values” environmentalists embrace in order to prove the market doesn’t work.)

Glennon says New Mexico may prohibit water transfers to protect “centuries old subsistence farming communities of Hispanic Roman Catholics.” With some reluctance I set aside the question of why the farmers’ religious and ethnic background might qualify them for special consideration and I go to the market issue. If we assume these farmers have riparian rights by very old claims, then simply allow them to decide if they want to transfer them by lease or sale to the state, local government, or other private parties.

I hope this is not a case where the state intends to tell the farmers that they must persist in their peasant-like agriculture because . . . well, because they are prisoners in and property of a defacto museum. Whatever the cause of the state’s possible prohibition on transfers, it seems the example Glennon has chosen is not a case of the market failing to internalize environmental values, but of government discrimination or fear of allowing certain citizens to bargain in the market. For the good of the environment, of course, but also for their own good, since what bureaucrats determine is good for the environment must also be good for everyone who lives in that environment.

—Wallace Kaufman
Environmental Entrepreneur

Not a Panacea for Wild Tiger Conservation

In his article “Saving the Tiger” Barun Mitra notes the radically different directions in tiger conservation policy being adopted by China and India. There are some interesting parallels between this situation and that of African elephant conservation policy, in which the southern African states have been at odds with various other African countries (notably Kenya) on the whole issue of sustainable commercial use of elephant products.

The southern states generally have better developed market institutions that can harness and enhance the value of wildlife species and their products, but the workings of CITES have tended to pander to those countries with less developed institutions, by simply banning international trade in all products.This prohibition approach has the unfortunate effect of reducing the effective economic value of live wild species relative to domestic ones, and is also frequently unenforceable (due to a lack of enforcement capacity), resulting in greater levels of uncontrolled (and unsustainable) illegal exploitation. In the long run, it tends to be economically unsustainable in developing countries, because if wild species are unable to generate economic returns for poor rural people, they will be eliminated and replaced with domestic species, which those people may own and use for their direct benefit.

Although I agree that “a successful wildlife economy will build awareness of the value of environmental resources,” we must not lose sight of the complexity of the tiger conservation issue. Simply allowing trade in farmed tiger products is not necessarily a panacea for wild tiger conservation. To save the wild tiger, we must save the wild tiger’s natural habitat and prey. And introducing farmed products onto the market will not necessarily remove the incentives for poaching. Poaching and the loss of habitat and prey are driven by various socio-economic and political factors, of which the demand for and consumption of tiger products is only one.

Ultimately, as with the case of the African elephant, the long-term solution must involve the development of appropriate institutions—those that harness the full economic value of wild species and create the right incentives to conserve them. In practical terms this usually means creating property rights over live wild species and placing them in the hands of appropriate custodians (typically local people rather than central government agencies!) who can derive long-term, sustainable economic benefits from these resources. In an institutional vacuum both prohibition and unfettered commercial consumption will fail!

—Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes
Wildlife Resource Economist/
Director, The AfrEco Trust
Cape Town, South Africa

Letters of thanks to Jane Shaw
Former editor of PERC Reports

Jane Shaw will be missed. PERC has continued to educate me over the years and I find PERCisms permeating my thinking and analysis processes. I am testifying in a Committee on Resources hearing on The Importance of Border Security on Federal Lands, on August 5 in California and will be thumbing through PERC Reportsissues for inspiration and knowledge. Thanks Jane Shaw!!

—Carolyn Powers
Tia Juana Valley County Water District

Thank you for your service at PERC. We have never met, but you and your organization have benefited our program here at Converse College. We have had some of our students participate in the PERC Student Seminar Program, and their experiences have not only impacted them personally, but they have also shared their experiences with us. I know you will be missed at PERC.

—Woodrow W. Hughes, Jr.
Associate Professor of Economics
Converse College

Jane, congratulations on your new job. All these years, I’ve read your notes and the work of PERC scholars on so many topics and never took the trouble to write and say thanks. Well, thanks. We had met when you attended a PERC conference [in 1983] (I believe you were at Business Week . . . thanks for finding me; I’ve been reading and then passing along PERC literature. I hope you enjoy your new pursuit.

—Roger Ruvolo
Assistant Managing Editor
The Press-Enterprise

Please extend my congratulations to Jane for a job well done, if not extremely well done. She has remained my contact with PERC since I was fortunate enough to attend a PERC meeting near Yellowstone National Park. I have always wanted to return but various other commitments have prevented even thinking about it. But she has graciously handled my correspondence and kept me in the fold as much as possible with my other responsibilities. Jane, thank you so much for all your efforts, and I wish you continued success in this exciting new opportunity that has come your way.

—Dr. H. Reid Wagsta

Wow! This is a great opportunity for Jane. I offer her my heartiest congratulations. She has left an indelible mark on PERC.

—Lynn Scarlett

Hear hear! We will really miss the great work Jane has done. I will also miss her guidance on the environment—we all will feel loss.

—Alex Echols
Program Director, Special Projects
Sand County Foundation

Laura welcomes vigorous debate about controversial environmental topics. Send you letters to her at: PERC Reports, 2048 Analysis Drive, Suite A, Bozeman, MT 59718 or


Related Content