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Legalizing Ivory Trade: Taking to New Heights a Dangerous Policy Proposal

By Alejandro Nadal and Francisco Aguayo

In a recent essay, Dan Stiles tries to explain why he thinks legalizing international ivory trade would help elephants’ conservation. “With a legal raw ivory trade, elephants can thrive”, he says. If legal raw ivory can be provided in sufficient quantity at predictable times and an acceptable price, the incentive to buy high-risk illegal ivory will evaporate, concludes Mr. Stiles.

Debate around the policy response to the current poaching crisis has been polarized around the issue of market-based instruments, and as a result a lot of attention has focused on some form of regulated legal trade. Stiles’s newest proposal is yet another example of how market-based policies are recommended without any economic analysis.

We examine first the new version of Stiles’s proposal for legalizing international trade and establishing a high-end market model in China as a means to reduce illegal trade. Second, we analyze his assertion that speculative stockpiling is the core driver of elephant poaching.

I: Naivete of a Market-Based Narrative

The traditional storyline of pro-trade advocates for ivory has been that consumer prices will be pushed downward by a cheaper supply of legal raw ivory and that these low prices will depress profits, thereby eliminating the incentive for poaching. Thus the illegal ivory market will be outcompeted and put out of business by the use of market-based policies.

This narrative has two major flaws. On one hand, the notion that consumer prices will go down is, simply put, a wild guess, because virtually nothing is known about the market structure of ivory trade in China. On the other hand, the reduction in prices may trigger the expansion of demand (most likely amplified by lower laundering costs). Instead of reducing the problem, in both instances legal trade could easily lead to intensified poaching of wild elephants.

Stiles thinks he has found the answer to this conundrum. His policy proposal would combine low prices of raw ivory, high final consumer prices, and would bring current illegal operators (traders, processors, and retailers) into the legal market by providing them with licenses. This third component means that the policy objective is not to put the illegal trade out of business but to bring it into the legal market. That would mean adding the processing and marketing capabilities of the illegal market to the already existing registered market in China. In our view such an approach would lead to a catastrophic outcome.

According to Stiles, a stable international supply of ivory to China would provide raw material at lower costs to legal factories and outlets, outcompeting illegal suppliers and driving them out of the market. The legal segment of the trade, made up of registered and licensed factories and outlets, will cater to the high end of the market, producing and selling bigger and higher quality items at prices that only the richest customers can afford. In this manner demand will be kept under control as consumer prices become higher. According to Stiles, the demand for illegal ivory would drop, and the illegal market would be constrained to selling smaller items, like bracelets, chopsticks, and other trinkets—nevertheless requiring a source, and certain amounts, of raw ivory.

In order to keep a lid on demand growth, Stiles proposes that the low price of raw ivory should coexist with high final consumer prices. But he does not discuss the fact that this implies having very high profitability rates in the trade. Stiles appears to be unaware of the fact that this is exactly the opposite of what would be needed to discourage illegal trade and poaching. And as Adam Smith pointed out long ago, this high profit rate cannot remain a secret for any extended period and will attract new operators or firms striving to get into the trade. This is how competition works, and how it leads to market development and growth.

Stiles suggests that a “conservation tax” could be imposed on ivory products to keep prices high. This could of course reduce profitability, although the tax could be transmitted to final consumer prices. In any event, a tax of this sort would be accompanied by perverse incentives to evade it and would bring about new pressures to maintain illegal operations. Stiles does not discuss these implications.

Stiles says speculators have been stockpiling raw ivory during the past few years. As we show below, his distinction between “speculators” and agents operating in the ivory market is unclear and without support. This misleading distinction allows him to ignore the fact that in a legalized market stockpiles could be used to sustain price competition and thus thwart efforts to put out of business illegal operators.

In this context it is important to keep in mind another key problem that Stiles ignores: Supply sources for ivory are not under control today in Africa and will probably not be under any form of sufficient control any time soon. Thus the notion that supply by the Chinese government would be able to outcompete illegal sources is a tenuous, even disingenuous, proposition.

One could think that institutional barriers to entry (the registry and licensing system operated by the Chinese government) would prevent new operators from entering the highly profitable market that would ensue from the coexistence of cheap raw material and high final prices. In fact, Stiles has a very different idea: In his proposal, all the illegal factories and outlets that would like to partake in the legal trade would be allowed to enter it. This means the same criminals and networks that have been driving the illegal trade would be entrusted into the legal system.

Stiles proposes not only establishment of a legal trade but also inclusion of all the illegal operators. This is surprising. Normally pro-trade proposals aim at getting rid of, or subverting, the illegal trade. But not Mr. Stiles. In his carrot-and-stick scheme, illegal operators would be offered an annual quota of legal ivory at low cost, and the illegal factories and outlets in China would be transformed into legal entities. In other words, once these illegal firms registered and became part of the legal trade, they would add their processing capabilities and marketing networks to existing installed capacity. Equally important, the demand that is currently satisfied by illegal operators would now be sanctioned as legal.

Implementing this strategy would automatically translate into the expansion of existing installed capacity and of the market. This would modify the market’s structure, changing patterns of market power and channels of competition, creating new opportunities for scale and scope economies, and seriously affecting price formation processes. This formidable change would have quantitative and qualitative effects, and it has the potential to give new momentum to the future development of this market.

II: Stockpiling Is Not Independent of Trade

Central to Stiles’s high-end ivory trade solution is the notion that the key driver of accelerated elephant poaching is the speculative stockpiling of raw ivory, which he contends occurs every time there is an attempt to reduce legal supplies of ivory. He uses this idea of speculative stockpiling to distinguish “normal” market demand from the role of speculators. This leads him eventually to the distorted view that speculative stockpiling is the culprit of runaway poaching but that the ivory trade somehow is not. This flawed logic leads him to promote trade while blaming speculators for the poaching crisis.

Speculative stockpiling is the explanation he finds not only for today’s poaching upsurge but also for the poaching crisis of the late 1980s. Both parts of his argument (that stockpiling drives poaching and that it is triggered by control policies) are mere conjectures, ill-supported by empirical evidence and based on flawed assumptions about market dynamics. With the exception of the 1989 Hong Kong ivory stock (we return to this point below), Stiles’s stockpiling argument is inferred without actual data on stockpiles or on consumer demand. The causal links he draws between the elements of his argument (poaching, stockpiling, and market control policies) are drawn carelessly across time periods and borders.

The evidence that stockpiling was the driver of the 1980s poaching wave, according to Stiles, is found in the “huge stockpiles of raw ivory accumulated in Hong Kong and Japan.” These stockpiles, he argues, “would not have existed” had demand been high, because in that case all ivory would have been processed. In Stiles’s account, traders were stockpiling ivory in response to the “calls” for more controls and quotas, eventually codified in the trade ban. In a nutshell: According to Stiles, the poaching crisis was driven not by trade or business interests but by misguided efforts to control them.

The fallacy in this argument is the assumption that stockpiling and trade are opposites, not complementary, in the operation of mercantile circulation. This ignores the fact that keeping stockpiles is part and parcel of operations in every industry, especially in international trade where scale provides economies and bargaining advantages. Trading companies or processors will stockpile raw material in order to respond to changes in demand or as an instrument of competition. Of course, the cost of holding large stocks needs to be compensated by the advantages gained in terms of market power. Arbitraging between building stockpiles and selling or getting out of the trade depends on expectations about price changes and cost structures. Expectations about advantages may or may not be confirmed by future market performance. Large stocks also provide additional advantages to firms in terms of price and quantity control in the markets where they buy and sell. Finally, stockpiling can indeed be a response to supply insecurity, price volatility, or speculative gains, but the point here is that this is not separated from the normal behavior of firms that trade in high volumes.

The Hong Kong stock to which Stiles refers (656 tonnes in 1989) was the remnant of a cycle of international trade that legally moved more than 7,000 tonnes of ivory through that economic space. Ivory imports to Hong Kong amounted to around 3,500 tonnes between 1952 and 1976 (Barbier, et al, 1992, Elephants, Economics and Ivory) and 3,618 between 1977 and 1989 (CITES ivory trade database). Contrary to Stiles’s assertion, 25 percent of the stockpile consisted of carved ivory (Milliken and Melville, 1989, The Hong Kong Ivory Trade). This magnitude is a more accurate estimate of the actual demand acting upon ivory supplies in African and Asian range countries, to which the further use of ivory was basically indifferent.

We do not insinuate that this ratio (stockpiling/trade) is irrelevant, but clearly the distinction is futile in terms of its effects on poaching. Even under the implausible assumption that stockpiled ivory has a different effect on poaching than traded ivory, what Stiles describes as “huge stocks” only amount to 9 percent of all the ivory that actually got through to the Hong Kong market before international trade was banned.

The claim that speculative stockpiling of raw ivory is the driver of the current poaching surge is rather difficult to sustain, especially when no data on stocks or consumer demand are provided and the size and dynamics of the illegal market are ignored. There is strong evidence that increasing flows of illegal trade have been entering China (as documented in various TRAFFIC reports on ETIS). But there is no evidence that supports the idea that stockpiling is increasing or that consumer demand is declining. Conrad and Moyle (2013) report that ivory carvers have been using less ivory than the available annual quotas of legal ivory. But neither that work nor Moyle’s blog post shows a declining trend in ivory throughput (that is, ivory processed) in the Chinese carving industry. The latter reference shows, on the contrary, an upward trend from 2010, with a small decline in 2012 but a recovery in 2013, with ivory throughput, expressed by weight, doubling from 2010 to 2013.

Even assuming that legal carvers are processing at rates lower than expected, this is insufficient as evidence of stockpiling. The “ivory bubble” in the arts and crafts auctions market, which peaked in 2011 did not decline because of a reduction in consumer demand. As stated by Chinese researcher Gao Yufang, the bubble collapsed when the Chinese government intervened and canceled the live auction market. Gao draws our attention to governmental promotion of the cultural value of ivory, but this proves that state intervention was crucial for defining market niches and profitability levels, a key element for the development of markets as we argue below.

Obviously, there is much research to be done on the role of stockpiling in the ivory market. This and other expressions of strategic behavior must be critically considered when dealing with economic instruments for controlling poaching. In reality, Stiles is trying to point at the key role of intermediate demand for ivory, but he makes a serious mistake in isolating it from the market dynamics as a whole.

Intermediate demand is part of a firm’s investment, and investment is driven by profitability. As long as acquiring ivory to sell is profitable, businessmen will invest in it. Once investment takes place, investors will press in every possible way to recover costs plus profits, and this requires putting merchandise into circulation through the market. So developing the market is a crucial task for traders, processors, and retailers. Isolating consumer demand and speculative demand contradicts logic and business practice. The active role of intermediate demand makes it the more difficult to reconcile conservation arguments with the profit-oriented goals of traders.

Isolating policy factors from the other components of market dynamics is equally mistaken. Industrial promotion measures by some agencies in the Chinese government and legal supply arrangements like the one-off sales are not independent events but rather part of the same institutional environment. Even the establishment of a registry system for legal ivory carvings in China was aimed at complying with CITES’s requirements to become an approved trading partner.

And that’s precisely how market development dynamics operate: Once supply constraints are removed, demand’s potential can become part of the equation as market niches are identified and exploited. This process sends signals to the suppliers, who can then prepare a new round of investment. The end result is that owners of profitable businesses (traders, the processors, the state-owned firms, etc.) are the true drivers of the market, aided by state intervention and promotion policies.

In the effort to make the case for resuming international trade, Stiles justifies his argument on a biased and incomplete view of key factors driving ivory trade and the killing of elephants. He not only lacks solid data on the size of the illegal market but also chooses to dismiss the importance of economic analysis in a serious discussion of market-based policy instruments. As a result, he is unable to perceive adequately the nature of the very market forces he so unhesitantly recommends as his preferred policy option.

In conclusion, we think that Mr. Stiles’s proposed market-based solution lacks grounding in crucial information about the structure of China’s ivory market. For many years Stiles has carried out interesting surveys of ivory markets, generating significant amounts of information on numbers of outlets and employees, number of pieces on display, aspects of the regulatory regime, and prices. This is valuable information, but such surveys offer no analytical perspectives on the economic structure or the dynamics of these markets. We would like to remind the policy community that in the absence of information on the structure of markets, proposals to legalize trade may easily backfire. The unintended consequence could be even further declines—or even extinction—of elephants in the wild.

Alejandro Nadal is professor of economics at the Centre for Economic Studies, El Colegio de Mexico. He is also chair of the Theme on the Environment, Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment (TEMTI) of CEESP-IUCN.

Francisco Aguayo is PhD fellow at the Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT), at Maastricht University, as well as a member of TEMTI, CEESP-IUCN.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the institutions with which the authors are affiliated.

Comments

  1. Rohan B
    Australia
    August 1, 2015, 1:13 pm

    This rebuttal criticizes Stiles for lack of data or points out the general lack of data, etc. However, you dont need to be a genius to observe how, in general, the slaughter of african elephants became uncontrollable. Stiles is right in saying that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results and I think leaving the same idiots in charge is also insane.
    If implementing a heavily regulated ivory trade with certification, oversight, taxation and major conservation efforts would do a lot of good. The silly fearmongering in the conclusion to this rebuttal that: “…proposals to legalize trade may easily backfire. The unintended consequence could be even further declines—or even extinction…”, is just as unfounded on data and economic modelling as what they accuse Stiles of.
    Do-gooders and animal activists just want an end to everything…they have no real workable plan, they have no interest in or respect for any killing or harvesting of wild animals, a lot of these people are probably against the meat industry. No effective policy compromise is possible as long as the nutjobs are in charge…they want only complete protection of animals and complete bans on any of the products. The unfortunate reality is that they ‘talk the talk, but cant walk the walk’.
    This debate reminds me of the drug wars, but now after all these decades of being told drugs are evil and to be stopped and prohibited at all costs, countries are legalizing or decriminalizing and the sky isnt falling in as predicted.
    The versace ivory plan that he recommends is at least a better solution than burning ivory stockpiles and trying to maintain bans on everything. And as with drug decriminalization, i think if there were certified ivory producers and there was tough regulation…even if some poaching still occurred…its better than just debating while thousands of elephants get their faces chopped off every day. At least with a controlled market…the data that the authors keep telling us we dont have might be gather-able at long last. Current policy is paternalistic and exacerbates the issue. More money, more regulation, more conservation…even if that means a controlled trade…thats my vote.

  2. Kevin
    Canada
    March 29, 2015, 2:07 am

    I remembered seeing this picture of Americans, next to a small, African village burning a massive pile of ivory in order to celebrate the fact that the poachers won’t be able to sell it.

    I couldn’t believe how blind they were as to how what they’re doing just doubled the amount of Elephants initially killed.

    The poachers most likely promised that ivory to the buyers, and with it gone, they can’t get their money, so now the poachers not only have to kill more elephants/rhinos, they’ll almost for sure be needing to accommodate their ‘customer’ by providing more ivory than the initial agreement.

  3. Alejandro Nadal
    Mexico City
    January 6, 2015, 6:25 pm

    Dan Stiles thinks that repeating his lines is the equivalent to answering our critique.

  4. K Heatley
    England
    December 11, 2014, 7:03 pm

    It is heartbreaking enough that this Daniel Stiles has written an article to propose the legalisation of poaching Elephants, but to propose it for money is soul destroying.

    Once again, we are weighing up Mans ‘wants’ against an Animals life. It is when we do this that the whole ideology of protecting these creatures is forgotten and becomes twisted.
    Legalising poaching is something we should NEVER consider. If the subject is about money, then the fact of the matter is that more money needs to be spent on saving these animals.

    Right now we are looking at the elephants beauty, and thinking of the best way to exploit this beauty. Who are we, as Human Beings, to think in this way?

    The mere thought of the Chinese government corrupting their people and themselves in order to get their hands on an Elephants ivory, especially with the knowledge of Buddhism and Taoism being integral to China’s culture, is painful, there isnt a word that describes this feeling. To give into a nasty, cruel, greedy, thoughtless, ‘act’, gives out a message that we have given up.

    I have just read an article on this site which describes the work of dogs helping to track down Elephant and other endangered animal poachers. An animal helping another animal survive. I think the people of this world, including Daniel Stiles – needs to read that, reflect, and then ask the question – Should we legalise poaching? Because to me and doubtless to many, they understand that it should never be a question Man should ask.

  5. Michael Eustace
    Johannesburg, South Africa.
    November 13, 2014, 8:29 am

    Africa could establish a monopoly to sell ivory from natural deaths (100 tons p.a.?) to a cartel of licensed carvers in China. That would then become the only legal channel and all other ivory would be illegal and trade at a large discount to legal ivory because of the risks of being caught and punished. If the Chinese government had a stake in the legal trade it would do its best to close down the illegal trade. That mechanism won’t eliminate poaching but it should reduce it subtantially.

  6. Anonymous
    November 11, 2014, 6:59 pm

    I agree with many of your comments, but to win a big ongoing battle you need to win diplomatically, as in you need to compromise with the employers, president, ect.

  7. Daniel Stiles
    Kenya
    November 11, 2014, 9:56 am

    @Petter – I am not working for those involved in the ivory trade and I find your implication insulting. I am working to save elephant lives, which none of the commentators seem able to grasp.

    Current ivory trade policy has resulted in catastrophic poaching, in spite of massive media attention, several conferences producing dozens of recommendations, millions in new funding being put up, and all kinds of promises by national leaders. Yet the poaching persists because of high ivory prices and the corruption it engenders – all caused by the fact there is no legal raw ivory for Chinese factories to buy while African storerooms fill up with tusks. And instead of using those tusks to save elephants, you want to destroy them! If the domestic ivory markets of China, Japan and Thailand were closed, I could see a rationale for taking this course, but with these domestic markets open I think the Stop Ivory campaign is criminally negligent and is demonstrably resulting in the annihilation of the elephant.

    I will patiently try to respond to the many misconceptions contained in Nadal and Aguayo’s commentary.

    1. “The traditional storyline of pro-trade advocates for ivory has been that consumer prices will be pushed downward by a cheaper supply of legal raw ivory and that these low prices will depress profits, etc..”

    Why is this included in the context of my essay? I’m completely opposed to this: we need to go for the Versace model of consumer ivory – high quality, high prices to suppress demand. They waffle on about lower consumer prices when it’s not even what I propose.

    2. “This third component means that the policy objective is not to put the illegal trade out of business but to bring it into the legal market. That would mean adding the processing and marketing capabilities of the illegal market to the already existing registered market in China. In our view such an approach would lead to a catastrophic outcome.”

    Bringing the currently illegal traders into the legal market IS putting them out of the current style of business they are now practicing, as I said. They would now be processing legal, not poached tusks. How can that be a catastrophic outcome? Unless they think saving thousands of elephant lives a year is a catastrophe?

    3. “Stiles appears to be unaware of the fact that this [high profits] is exactly the opposite of what would be needed to discourage illegal trade and poaching….and how it leads to market development and growth.”

    I am quite aware of the last fact, and there is a main factor that will discourage attracting new operators and an expansion of trade: the lack of customers. As I said, you do not see Versace boutiques on every street corner, in spite of the fact that Versace profits are high and there are many people who would like to buy Versace. Price keeps it high cost, low volume. I don’t follow the mention of illegal trade and poaching. Are Nadal and Aguayo suggesting illegal outlets using poached ivory could operate this way? First, they don’t now, as a report on China in preparation by Vigne and Martin will show, and second, as I’ve been trying to explain, why would anyone use high-risk illegal ivory if legal were available? Please, answer that question.

    4. “Stiles suggests that a “conservation tax” could be imposed on ivory products to keep prices high. This could of course reduce profitability, although the tax could be transmitted to final consumer prices. In any event, a tax of this sort would be accompanied by perverse incentives to evade it and would bring about new pressures to maintain illegal operations. Stiles does not discuss these implications.”

    Why do they say, “..although the tax…” as if it’s a bad thing? Of course the tax would be transmitted to the consumer, that’s one of the main points of it, to raise the price. Why would the vendors evade a tax the consumer pays? It costs the vendor nothing. I don’t think Nadal and Aguayo understand economics very well.

    5. “As we show below, his distinction between “speculators” and agents operating in the ivory market is unclear and without support…”

    I can’t wait to read below. If it is unclear how do you know it has support or not?

    6. “Supply sources for ivory are not under control today in Africa and will probably not be under any form of sufficient control any time soon. Thus the notion that supply by the Chinese government would be able to outcompete illegal sources is a tenuous, even disingenuous, proposition.”

    A half-way valid point at last, except for the last cheap shot. The control of ivory sources I am proposing is not for the current poached sources. Enough African governments have control over the legal sources of ivory – stockpiles, natural mortality, problem animal control – to supply the Chinese (and Japanese) in order that they in turn can outcompete illegal sources. The strategy I propose is not to “control” the current illegal sources that exist with free-range elephants currently being massacred, it is to lower the price incentives to kill them to such an extent that the organized networks will quit. Since government personnel, including law enforcement, are often involved, the foxes guarding the henhouse will transform into guard dogs through self-interest. Why carry on facilitating poaching with falling prices when they can make more selling the legal ivory – plus ensuring the future supply of legal ivory by natural mortality by withdrawing support to poaching.

    7. “In his proposal, all the illegal factories and outlets that would like to partake in the legal trade would be allowed to enter it. This means the same criminals and networks that have been driving the illegal trade would be entrusted into the legal system.”

    Yes, precisely, I don’t see the problem. These are businessmen, as economists you should understand this, they will operate out of self-interest. If it’s more profitable and lower risk to operate legally, they will. Perhaps you have some moral objection? My morals tell me I if that’s what it takes to save 10,000 or more elephant lives a year, so be it.

    8. “Stiles proposes not only establishment of a legal trade but also inclusion of all the illegal operators. This is surprising….”

    This just repeats the point made in No. 2 above and my answer is the same, see No. 2.

    9. “Implementing this strategy would automatically translate into the expansion of existing installed capacity and of the market….blah, blah.”

    Again, No. 2 above, with the addition of some nonsensical claims of “modified market structure”, “price formation processes”, etc. There are currently 37 registered factories and 145 licensed outlets, all located in tier 1 and 2 cities in China. If a consumer outside these large cities, which are the only ones to have legal ivory sources, wants ivory – the vast majority of China – they are forced to buy illegal ivory, or travel a long distance to get legal, economically unfeasible in most cases. So they buy illegal. It is desirable from many perspectives, especially that of living elephants struggling to avoid poachers’ bullets and poison, to expand legal ivory to reach consumers so that they don’t have to buy poached ivory. Hopefully, with demand reduction campaigns, this will increasingly become unnecessary.

    10. II: Stockpiling Is Not Independent of Trade

    This section disputes my contention that stockpiling driven by supply reduction fuels poaching, using many loaded terms such as “distorted”, “flawed”, “mere conjectures”, “carelessly”, etc. even before they present any evidence whatsoever to support the use of these terms. I believe this is called “setting up” the reader.

    I do not disagree with anything N and A say about businesses stockpiling raw materials and commodities for the reasons they give, it is all out of Economics 101 taught in lower division university courses.

    We can bicker back and forth about whether it is speculative stockpiling or consumer demand that is the key driver of poaching, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter for the system I propose that aims to reduce high prices, the need for corruption, and ultimately poaching.

  8. Val
    Cape Town, South Africa.
    October 25, 2014, 4:46 am

    Surely an animal’s tooth is not a product, or a commodity. Trading implies renewable and sustainable articles with value based on real needs and real uses. The “value” of such animal products derives from superstition, vanity, greed, and fashion; a false economy being the driving force based on fraudulent trading propaganda; vicious activities; the kind of trading that can permanently disturb the Created/Evolved balance of our living world. Nature is Life; and Life is not a tradeable product.

  9. Petter Granli
    Kenya
    October 25, 2014, 4:00 am

    Extremely well written piece by Nadal and Aguayo. It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand why Dan Stiles continue to argue for a truly destructive course other than for those involved in the ivory trade.

  10. Grace Gabriel
    China
    October 24, 2014, 1:03 pm

    Thank you for this excellent rebuttal debunking the unlogical pro-trade assertions. As I pointed out in an earlier blog “Elephants are not Widgets” http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/09/24/opinion-elephants-are-not-widgets/
    opening the legal ivory markets in China have already shown desastrolus results for elephants. Pro-trade pundits pushing their agenda into policy arena is extremely dangerous!

  11. Alan Short
    South Africa
    October 24, 2014, 12:18 pm

    @Melinda Mueller “The upside? We still have elephants. The downside? We do not. As a business person for thirty-five years, I can say with certainty that when the upside of a proposal gives you at best only what you presently have, and the downside results in an unexceptable loss, you DO NOT risk it.”
    Probably the best summary of the anti-trade position I’ve ever seen. Thank you. This argument applies equally to the debate on rhino horn trade, possibly more so because rhinos are even more threatened (especially the Asian species) than elephants.

  12. Ahmed ELNAHAS
    Italy
    October 24, 2014, 5:07 am

    When, and at what cost, will man ever comprehend that Nature isn’t a Stock Exchange Market commodity.. Subject to bidding, bartering and speculating.. I’m disconcerted about the “IN HIS OWN IMAGE” bit!!

  13. Furaha A Mbilinyi
    Arusha-Tanzania
    October 24, 2014, 3:13 am

    illegal means illegal even if it is small in that sense. we are finishing up the only left big wild species.

    THIS IS TOTALLY A MURDER CASE.

  14. Leanora
    Australia
    October 23, 2014, 11:22 pm

    This is NOT about economics. What a ridiculous proposal. I can only hope that there are enough human beings on the planet in the process of evolution to a consciousness which regonizes the interconnected nature of all life. In this recognition we have the opportunity to exit the perceptual reality of shortage, separation, fear and abuse of nature… and enter into a co-creative expression with nature, supporting a thriving ecosystem which supports life. This is my prayer

  15. Tessa Hayward
    United Kingdom
    October 23, 2014, 3:24 pm

    Ridiculous

  16. Melinda Mueller
    Qualicum Beach, B.C.
    October 23, 2014, 2:50 pm

    I am always so disheartened when I read cogently prepared arguments that nonetheless ignore or minimize important elements in this debate. Should Stiles’ arguments become policy, then we will shortly know whether or not he is right. The upside? We still have elephants. The downside? We do not. As a business person for thirty-five years, I can say with certainty that when the upside of a proposal gives you at best only what you presently have, and the downside results in an unexceptable loss, you DO NOT risk it. This in addition to the unfathomable loss of an iconic species, for which there is NO excuse and from which there is NO recovery. This is a dreadfully bad idea dressed up to look pretty. And it is still lipstick on a pig (no offense to pigs).

  17. Tessa van Schaik
    South Africa
    October 23, 2014, 5:05 am

    This is an exceptionally well written blog by two credible authors. It is clear that these economists have a thorough grasp of the issues at hand here, and not only an understanding of economics. Every South African should read this blog. This makes more sense to me that any pro-trade argument that I have listened to. Please publish this blog in your magazine, to balance the point of view expressed by Dan Stiles.

  18. JY Kim
    United States
    October 22, 2014, 9:37 pm

    Who are these people arguing for legalization of ivory trade? Have they thought of the ripple effect? This is akin to advocating for the legalization of human organ harvesting. Dan Stiles is foolishly focused on the short term without considering the long-term ramifications.