Tag Archives: Morning Edition

Property Rights Key to Conservation in Namibia

Today on Morning Edition, Christopher Joyce interviewed Namibian farmers to discuss their innovative conservation policy:

In the arid northwest, farmers and others who lived from the land were allowed to form “communal conservancies.” These are like village councils. They wield control over the wildlife within the conservancy boundaries, which are set by conservancy members and the central government. Conservancies then partner with tourist lodges and safari companies and take a cut of the income from tourists who come to see the giraffes, zebras, lions, rhinoceroses and other exotic animals. They operate campsites, too. And they collect thousands of dollars from trophy hunters who come to shoot lions and cheetahs and antelopes. A single lion can bring in up to $10,000.

This marks a shift from colonial and apartheid policies, where wild animals were essentially property of the ruling elite, and many species reached the brink of distinction extinction. By returning these property rights to the rural farmers who live with the animals, many species’ numbers have rebounded significantly.

The Namibian conservation system is not without challenges, though, with humans living alongside large game. One Joyce explains:

Elephants hunt water. To try to cut down on these human-animal conflicts, the conservancy is building them water wells, away from the farms. Guiseb says that’s good. The wildlife had to adapt to people, he says. Now people must learn to adapt to wildlife.

These results are in line with the Mercatus Center’s Karol Boudreaux’s findings in her field research in Namibia. Incentives matter, so providing a way for people to profit from the long-term health of wildlife rather than the short term benefits of poaching, improves species’ numbers.

The “Right Size” for Local Governments

On NPR today, Morning Edition featured a story about peace officers in Texas, which number one per 330 state residents. The reporter tosses out this fact and then goes on to report on something basically unrelated: the number of police forces in the state.

The story begins skeptically:

Texas has so many police officers, some lawmakers are worried there are too many.

Among the many entities in Texas that have their own peace officers is the State Board of Dental Examiners. But you won’t generally hear these officers saying “Stop, put your hands up! Dental police!”

[…]

It turns out Texas is just full of small, specialized police forces: the State Insurance Department has one, as do the Lottery and Racing commissions, the Pharmacy Board, and a handful of water districts.

But the story ends on a very different note, profiling Gary Patterson, the police chief (and only officer) in the Blooming Grove Independent School District:

Patterson patrols the halls of Blooming Grove High School — home of the Fighting Lions — a benign figure in his blue police shirt with a tonsure of white hair and a shambling gait. After a long career as a dispatcher for the state troopers, Patterson came back to the town where he grew up.

“You’re kind of like a father or grandfather figure to a lot of them,” Patterson says. “Cause you’ve known them since they were in elementary and you’ve kind of grown up with them.”

It would be easy to criticize his position as one more example of superfluous Texas peace officers — until you follow him around the school. He knows the kids by name. He knows their parents. He knows what’s going on in their lives. He knows why they’re in trouble.

This story reflects a point made by Eileen Norcross and Frederic Sautet here, and by Robert Nelson here: in the public sector, where there are no prices to convey information, hence making benefits and costs hard to weigh, there is no universally correct number or size of local government entities.

It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a single-person police force for a three-campus school district. We likely assume that there are non-trivial fixed costs associated with running a school district police department, so economies of scale could be achieved by just having, say, a county sheriff’s deputy police the school. But we don’t really have the information necessary to make that call, and certainly not from the vantage point of a state capitol or the ivory tower.

So the bottom line: be skeptical when you hear “common sense” pleas to eliminate small local government entities like one-man police forces. There may well be a case for eliminating them, but proponents of elimination cannot just assume that economies of scale are achievable — and they cannot discount local knowledge as worthless.