"He's a snake in the grass, I tell ya guys; he may look dumb but that's just a disguise; he's a mastermind in the ways of espionage." Charlie Daniels, "Uneasy Rider" Destroying the salmon; the socialized commons and climate change (Part II) - TT's Lost in Tokyo

Destroying the salmon; the socialized commons and climate change (Part II)

I briefly commented previously on the perilous state of the West Coast salmon fishery, which is crashing due not only to climate change-related stresses in the ocean and in stream flows, but also to our government's destruction of Indian-held private and community property rights to salmon and substitution by a classic tragedy of the commons, bureaucratized mismanagement and political favoritism.  I made related remarks in connection with an article by George Monbiot, who bemoaned the role that European governments were playing in subsidizing the destruction of regional and global fisheries.

I expanded further on this in a comment on the NYT's "Dot Earth" blog run by Andy Revkin.  I copy below my remarks, including the portion of a comment by another to who I was responding (emphasis added):

#62 Mike Roddy:

" I lived in the Northwest for many years, where clearcut logging muddied rivers and destroyed salmon runs. This caused serious damage to drinking water and wildlife, and a major economic group was damaged: salmon fishermen.

Even with the combined effects of ecosystem damage and hardship in another sector, nothing changed. The timber industry did not pay for this damage due to their political clout, and continued to be handed subsidies in the form of roads and favorable tax rates. Destruction of salmon runs continued, and does to this day."

Mike, you are spot on about subsidies and cost-shifting, but are missing the chief cause, as documented by the free market environmentalists at PERC and others - the state and federal governments essentially removed the salmon from ownership/management by Indians and substituted, first, and open-access commons, with the resulting tragedy of the commons, that the government then tried to manage bureaucratically (essentially socializing the ownership of salmon).

Because no one has any vested rights (other than the Indians to net a portion of the take left after catches at sea), no one has an incentive to invest in maintaining the resource, and no rights to stop those damaging it like loggers (or otherwise making deals with them).  Instead, we have a bureaucracy that thinks it knows better than everyone, substitutes its judgment for everyone's and becomes the battleground for parties who have legitimate interests but are unable to conclude any deals. 

Government has consistently benefitted from this situation, while everyone else has been frustrated, though insiders of course also benefit - as when Cheney single-handedly killed tens of thousands of salmon in Oregon by ordering water diverted from federal dams to farmers (during a time of low streamflows).

Mismanagement and the destruction of the great salmon runs has what we've purchased.  We need to privatize the salmon, so their owners can protect habitats and returns on the respective rivers, and stop free-for-all ocean takes.

Published Thu, Jul 24 2008 1:20 AM by TokyoTom


# re: Destroying the salmon; the socialized commons and climate change (Part II)

Thursday, July 24, 2008 8:51 AM by David Zetland

As any PERC fellow will tell you, the Indians had a combination of private and community management of salmon runs. Although the feds destroyed them by making salmon an open-access resource (destroying those institutions), technology also played a role. Modern fishing gear made it easier to catch salmon at sea. I am sure that the Indians would have solved that problem as well, but those were simpler days.

The sad thing is that local institutions could probably "fix" the salmon commons today, but they are prevented by the exercise of federal power. Give us back the Tenth Amendment!

# re: Destroying the salmon; the socialized commons and climate change (Part II)

Thursday, July 24, 2008 1:11 PM by Person

And maybe Bob will pay us a visit and just tell us to use technology (paid for by Indians of course) to "adapt" to wild salmon extinction.  Preach it, Bob!

# re: Destroying the salmon; the socialized commons and climate change (Part II)

Thursday, July 24, 2008 9:35 PM by TokyoTom

David, were you a PERC fellow too?  You might have noticed that my two main links were to PERC papers.

"technology also played a role":  Technology ALWAYS plays a role in accelerating tragedy of the commons situations - mainly by giving outsiders the ability to steal resources that had been traditionally managed under a common property regime.  This is why history is a wave of extinctions or near-extinctions.

I agree that the federalization of problems has tended to exacerbate them, via bureaucratization and resulting rent-seeking.  That federalization has occurred under expansive Commerce Clause assertions of authority.  What we need is the Supreme Court is to start hacking back the CC jurisprudence.