Use or Destruction: on the Economics of Ivory Stockpiles

Alejandro Nadal, Francisco Aguayo

Abstract


This paper examines the economic arguments surrounding the fate of ivory stockpiles. It centres on the polarized debate between their destruction and various schemes of how to put them to economic use in the context of conservation policy. In section I we examine the policy option consisting in the destruction of ivory stockpiles. We argue that maintaining stockpiles in place supports expectations of a future stable supply of ivory. The self-reinforcing effects from the combination of these expectations, sunken investments and the creation of new market-associated institutions can contribute to a lock-in process in a trajectory of consolidated and expanding ivory trade. Section II focuses on arguments that favour the strategic use of stockpiles as a deterrent against speculators. We show that results of economic models that recommend this option (including models on extinction scenarios) are heavily dependent on simplifying assumptions about key market interactions and on logically inconsistent notions. In section III we examine the case for selling stockpiles in a legal market as a policy instrument to reduce poaching. We show that the economic analysis used to support this recommendation is deficient on many grounds. Its theoretical foundations are flawed and it abstracts from crucial aspects of market structures and dynamics of price formation. Our conclusions hinge around the fact that in the present context destroying ivory stockpiles is the best option to reduce poaching in the long term.

Keywords


ivory stockpile destruction; economic analysis; ivory trade

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