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August 08, 2015

Fundamental Concepts - Leap From the Lion's Head [Weirddave]

Last week Maetenloch wrote an extensive piece on the lions of Africa as part of his ONT. It's an excellent summation on how the only hope lions have for long term survival lies in their value to human beings, specifically hunters, and I encourage everyone to go read it now.

Without hunting lions have no economic value for the local people or ranchers. In fact they're a giant menacing pain in the ass since they tend to eat the locals' cattle as well as occasionally the locals themselves. There's really no upside at all to having an apex predator like a lion prowling around your village or ranch; only bad things can happen. Yes, there are photo-safaris but unless you're near tourist areas and are set up for it, there's not much money in this. So the reality is that without any economic incentive to keep the lions around, the locals end up driving them out or just poisoning them.

And here to paraphrase Jack Dunphy the alternative to allowing hunting is not perfection - it's the alternative. With no hunting at all you won't get a Lion King-Simba happy existence on the savannah, instead you'll see a slow gradual extinction of lions as a species due to loss of habitat and eradication by humans. Lions will not die out from hunting - rather it will be because none of the locals want them around or care enough about their continued existence to protect them. Ultimately the lions will live or die by whether the local people allow lions to coexist with them.

But with controlled trophy hunting, the lions suddenly do have economic value. Because the hunting is so strictly limited hunters will pay a lot to be allowed to take a trophy - $30,000 and up. And $30,000 goes a long way in Africa. This money is split between the land owner, the local villagers, and the government. For the land owner and villagers this makes up on any losses they might have suffered from the lions, and it also means that they have a strong incentive to protect and maintain the local lions e.g. maintaining water pools, not putting  up fences, watching for poachers, etc. The money from hunting is a major source of revenue for some remote villages. The revenue to the government helps pay for full-time rangers, park wardens and equipment to protect the lion populations.

As I said, it's an excellent piece, very much a fundamental concepts post in and of itself, do read it all. What Maetenloch is talking about is how markets create value. Things that have value are preserved, so that people can take advantage of that value. This is the way things work, it's the way everything works. I touched upon the same concept last year when I wrote about The Tragedy of the Commons. Allowing a market to form and leaving it alone to work has been proven again and again to be the best, fairest, most efficient way to allocate goods and resources. There is just one tiny problem.


This concept scares the crap out of people, because it is completely and utterly out of their control. Human beings tend to reject the idea that there are things we can't control.

Even after Maetenloch's excellent and detailed explanation, chock full of facts, figures and real life examples, it wasn't long before someone was arguing in the comments that we couldn't possible leave the survival of lions to the market, no, they were too special, too rare, too something or other, in the case of the lions we don't dare leave it up to the markets. The market may be fine for toilet paper (tell that to the Venezuelans. I'm sure they would dearly love to have a functioning TP market right now), but these, these are lions we're talking about, no, for lions the market just won't do.

It's depressing how often this comes up.

“We can't let the market dictate medical care, medical care is different!”

“We can't leave it up top the market to supply food, it's too important! (Looking at you again Venezuela)”

“Lions? Yadda, yadda, yadda”, (already did that one)”.


The reason is simple. Market forces, the invisible hand, it's, well, invisible. It absolutely works, the Market, capital “M”, is the only system that constantly adjusts and compensates for everything from war in the Middle East to your decision that you're going to eat Fruity Pebbles instead of Raisin Bran in the morning, but, like gravity, we can't see it at work.

Think of your brain. Think of all of the millions of things that it is doing right this very second. It's doing big, vitally important things, like making your lungs breathe and your heart beat without you even being aware of it. It's doing little things like scratching your ass and plotting how to get that cute girl you just met into bed. It's doing things you're aware of, like reading and interpreting this text, and things you're telling it to do-type a reply. It's doing all of that and a million things more, every second of every day, awake or asleep, for your entire life, and you never think twice about it. That is exactly how the capital M Market works worldwide, 24/7.

Now suppose we were to shrink your down and put you in an Incredible Journey sized submarine. We'll give you a brain remote, a tablet that you can use to order the brain to do anything, and inject you into the skull of a random person, say Hillary Clinton. You're in charge, you have to make sure you tell the brain to do everything that it needs to do in 3,2,1, GO!

OK, quick, heart beating, lungs breathing. Good. Make sure to blink, now drink that shot of scotch. Yell at the Secret Service. Pet Huma. Promise yourself to remember to kick Bill in the balls for that blond dynamo he's been boffing. Pander to the media. Babble at reporters. Drink more scotch. Laugh hysterically. Walk. Scratch. Blink again.

Got that? Good, that's the first 5 seconds. Pick up the pace now.

Beat.Breath.Blink.scowl.complain.drink.swallow.lie.previcate.plot.fart.walk...

You're falling behind, step it up!

Breathebeatnblinkfartlieliescreamabuseplitwinklaughdrinkstumbleintinmidatehurtscratchlielielielielielielie....

You think you could do that? Nobody could. No team of people could. It's obviously impossible. In no time at all the body you were trying to control would be flopping on the ground babbling incoherently and wetting its pants. Now granted this is Hillary so everyone would likely assume that she's just drunk again, but I think you take my point. Nobody could possible hope to proactively control all of the functions of a human brain, and nobody would even think to try. That would be monumentally stupid.

The Market is no less complex than the human brain. It's comprised of unknown quadrillions of interactions between people, places and things. Attempting to control it is just as insane as assuming one could control a human brain. But see, you can't watch a brain work. You can observe the small “m” market at work, and by golly, it doesn't seem like it would be too hard to meddle in this one right here, no siree Bob. I think everybody should have access to potatoes, so I'll just pass a law that potatoes are free. There. Everyone will have all the potatoes they want. Simple.

Except they won't. You rerouted a single synapse in the market's “brain”, and that will inevitable cause a cascade effect downstream. Other synapses will be affected, either firing when they wouldn't have before or not firing when they were supposed to, and those changes will cause changes, and so on until your entire economy is rolling on the ground gasping because it forgot how to breathe.

And that's the problem. Since commerce occurs every day right in front of us, we look at it and assume that what we are seeing is the “Market”. It isn't. It's just one small miniscule faction of the Market. Humans can never anticipate all of the ramifications of meddling with what they can see, so they always wind up unbalancing the machine.

That's why it is so hard to believe in free markets. It's an act of faith very similar to that that most religions require of their adherents. It's faith in a natural phenomenon rather than a supernatural one, but the phenomenon completely and utterly beyond the scope of human understanding. The Market demands trust in invisible, intangible mechanisms, and that's not something that human beings are prone to give, in fact we're pretty much wired to fight it tooth and nail.

However much any one individual may think that he or she understands and believes in this concept, our egos are always fighting us with a “Yes, but”. Yes, but THIS is too important. Yes, but THAT won't work that way. Yes, but then I won't be in control..Yes, but.

No buts. Take the leap from the lion's head.


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posted by Open Blogger at 10:46 AM

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