Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Keith Rankin: Saving Orang-utan

Saving orang-utan

Keith Rankin, 19 July 2001

Recently I saw a television programme about the plight of the orang-utan, whose only remaining habitat is a few formerly protected rainforests in Sumatra and Borneo, in the north of Indonesia. The Indonesian economy is now so weak that, Indonesia's national parks are for sale; for sale to loggers and to gold-diggers. It's not just the orang-utan that might die if Indonesia's forests (and others like them) are destroyed. We might die too.

There is a solution. It's not to remonstrate with the Indonesian authorities. Any person or society under that much stress must focus on immediate rather than long-term survival. It is up to the many of us, who together want to save the orang-utan (which I'm using, in part, as a metaphor for homo sapiens sapiens) to pay a higher price than the profiteering loggers and gold-diggers.

One of the most important theorems in economics - the Coase theorem - basically says that resources will be allocated efficiently if property rights are properly defined. If we want to modify the way others use their property, we have to "bribe" them.

It all sounds horribly amoral, if not corrupt. But then, paying someone to not do the wrong thing may be the lesser evil. Paying Indonesia to save its orang-utans seems like a lesser evil than not paying and allowing them to become extinct.

The Coase theorem is usually illustrated using local neighbourhood disputes. I'll use an example which some New Zealanders might relate to.

Consider a vehicle turning zone used by residents of a block of flats or town houses. What do we do when a new flatmate of one of the other residents parks his big car wholly or party on the turning zone, preventing the rest of us from manoeuvring our vehicles in the ways we had become accustomed to doing.

Here we have a private party (the new flatmate) and a public party (all of the residents including the new flatmate). Coase's theorem says that the appropriate (efficient) outcome will occur if we are clear about (and able to enforce) the respective legal rights of the two parties. In particular, if the flatmate is deemed to have a legal right to park anywhere, he will cede that right if the residents collectively pay him enough to persuade him to shift his car and park somewhere else. Or, if the residents taken together are deemed to have the right to remove the new flatmate's car from the offending position, he may pay the collective (which includes himself) whatever it take's to allow him to park in that place. The end result is that the parking arrangements will end up the same, regardless of who has the right to decide who parks where. This is called an 'efficient' outcome.

The outcome may not be equitable. But an inequitable outcome would only reflect a pre-existing injustice in the allocation of property.

(With many people these days choosing to use their garages for storage rather than for parking, with vehicles getting larger, with most two-adult households having two vehicles, and with more high-density living, off-road parking in our cities is clearly an increasing problem.)

The problem in my example is not one of justice; it is one of definition. And it's one of agreement. Public property rights are not generally well- defined, whether 'public' means a group of residents, a nation's citizens or the planet's biosphere. It is very hard to enforce public property rights because publics are typically not united. Not only does the rogue flatmate place his private rights ahead of his public rights, but some other residents may also have private privileges that compromise their commitment to their public rights. The 'public', rarely united, finds it difficult to settle on the right price either to pay or to be paid.

The global public is at a particularly difficult disadvantage. Global public property is the least well defined of all property. And the global public is least likely to assert their rights even when defined. Rogue flatmates (like President Bush and his contemptuous attitude towards his co- residents over global warming) abound. They tend to be richer than everyone else. We (who are not rich) recoil at the thought of having to pay the world's richest men to behave with more consideration towards the global public.

In the absence of defined global public property rights, the world's tycoons and corporations have usurped those global public property as de facto private property. If we ignore the neighbour's flatmate who parks selfishly in the communal parking area, the established public right is ceded to the flatmate.

National institutions are not strong enough or united enough to deal with global property violations. How does the global public become organised enough? National governments are too small and divided to carry the load. And global institutions are too big both in the sense of being unwieldy and in the sense that we rightly fear the emergence of world development. (Just imaging a Muldoon-type or a Richardson-type figure as world Treasurer, or Don Brash as governor of the Reserve Bank of the World.)

The solution is, I believe, as I outlined last week. If the world divides into about six commonwealths (certainly more than the three in Orwell's 1984), with each developing its own institutions of extra-national governance. An America-Pacific commonwealth (an evolution of Nafta) would have enough formal clout to outmanoeuvre by democratic means any US stonewalling on environmental issues. And it would have the public financial strength to pay Brazil, say, to stop destroying the Amazon rainforests that are tantamount to private property within Brazil's borders.

We should be able to look towards an East Asian commonwealth (with leadership presumably from Japan and Singapore) to 'buy' Indonesia's national parks and other orang-utan habitats, thereby protecting them from abuse by loggers and gold-diggers. Actually, it is regional initiatives such as the protection of the habitat of the orang-utan that will prove to be the means through which extra-national commonwealths will be created.

Commonwealths are means of solving global problems - and providing global governance - without providing global government.

Our planet depends on the way we manage its public spaces. We can manage these spaces through the formation of commonwealths, thus averting the only two other possibilities: today's global anarchy whereby rogue transnational interests rearrange the world to suit their immediate convenience, or the global tyranny that a single world government implies.

© 2001 Keith Rankin

keithr@pl.net

http://pl.net/~keithr/

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news