Bluefin Tuna and Progressivism
I'm about to quote Brad Plumer on the sharp decline in bluefin tuna and the possible end of the most delicious type of all nigiri. But what's interesting to me is not that bluefin stocks are declining. It's that everyone knows they're declining and the people who make their living fishing tuna aren't doing anything about it.
The World Wildlife Federation has estimated that Northern bluefin could get wiped out within three years, while the Southern bluefin is critically endangered. If those two species vanish, fisherman will set their sights on the only-slightly-less-beleaguered Pacific bluefin, which, presumably, won't appreciate the newfound attention.
So far, conservation efforts have proved inept—last year, the nations that make up the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) set an annual quota of 22,500 tons worth of tuna per year. Not only is that far above the amount scientists recommend (think 7,500-15,000 tons per year, max), but fisherman are basically ignoring the ICCAT agreement—last year some 60,000 tons of Northern bluefin were hauled ashore. The tuna industry is just too lucrative—and the fishing industry doesn't seem to care if it could evaporate within a decade.
Knowing that there's such a thing as "the tragedy of the commons" does not seem to be preventing us from destroying the commons. But there are a lot of examples where short-term profits undermine long-term goals. The financial industry was one of them. As Chuck Prince, head of Citibank, said, “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.” Doing the smart thing in the short term would have meant losing market share to other banks. There were short-term necessities that overwhelmed a sober analysis of long-term risks.
Put simply, markets fail.
That's one thing I'd add to Tyler Cowen's list of progressive beliefs. He focuses quite intently on the rationales for redistribution and the welfare state. But a similarly important element of contemporary progressivism is the belief that markets are powerful and important and beneficial but that failures are common and visible and, in many cases, correctable. The plight of the bluefin tuna is a good example. Without some structure on the market, the species will go extinct. That will be bad for the fish, yes, and the people who like to eat the fish, and the ecosystems that depend on the fish, but it will also be bad for the market.
Health-care reform, incidentally, follows a similar logic. Left unchecked, the actual market of people who can afford insurance will shrink radically and quickly. You might respond that new insurance products will emerge that are cheaper. That's true. But they'll cover less. This is the meat of my argument with Megan McArdle. If you believe that innovation is driven by demand, then innovation would be dealt a devastating blow if Medicare and Medicaid and subsidies for employer-based insurance and all the other policies propping up demand disappeared. The question is not whether we should structure the health-care market, it's how we should structure the health-care market.
Photo credit: Remy Scalza Photo .
Posted by: letmapeoplego | August 7, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: redwards95 | August 7, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ab1301 | August 7, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.