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21.5.03

(Part 2)

The basic problem lies in what is being privatized. Classical liberal/libertarian ideas about private property and individual rights assume an atomizable world -- a world in which each person and his activities have no impact on any other’s unless the person chooses to reach out into another’s domain. In the sheep raising model of the TOC paradigm, it is possible to approximate that atomized situation -- grass doesn’t go anywhere, and fences can easily keep flocks from interacting with each other. But the seas are much less privatizable. We can’t build fences to stop fish and water from moving all around ay fishery (and in some cases the whole world). So instead of privatizing resources (i.e., inputs) as in the original TOC, ITQs privatize the product (i.e., outputs).

Since fishery resources are not privatized, ITQs do not solve the problem of dispersed benefits. Any action taken by a fisherman to improve the fishery -- working to reduce pollution, for example -- creates benefits that accrue to all fishermen equally. This is quite unlike the TOC shepherd who can reap all of the benefits of taking care of his pasture because his efforts can be confined to the pasture that he and only he uses. Dispersed benefits create the problem of free riders, reducing the incentive to put forth individual effort at conservation. Thus, ITQs do not properly accomplish the main goal of privatization according to TOC doctrine: encouraging stewardship of resources. They have an impact because the cap on total fish catch deals with the largest threat to aquatic ecosystems -- overfishing. And even the stop to overfishing is accomplished by fiat, not by creating an incentive for fishermen to voluntarily moderate their catch by making it in their economic self-interest to do so unilaterally, as would be the case with a shepherd keeping his flock at a long-term sustainable size. There is likewise little incentive, beyond regulatory requirements (imposed from outside or established by collective agreement among all fishermen) to do anything else to improve the sustainability of fishing and aquatic ecosystems.

It seems like the real market and private property answer to overfishing would be aquaculture, aka fish farms (incidentally, I find it interesting that, to the degree that we eat wild fish, even our modern society is partially hunter-gatherer). If aquaculture can be made profitable enough, it would drive wild fishing out of business, much like agriculture and ranching have replaced gathering and hunting. This would enable a split between private, managed, productive sea and ocean wilderness where ecosystems, freed from commercial fishing pressures, can operate in a more natural way. Of course, we've seen the kind of problems this sort of system brings to land ecosystems -- fragmentation of biomes, the expansion of humanized landscapes, the "untouched wilderness" question, etc.

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