For the fishies

A libertarian rationale for world government


Andrew Leonard
August 29, 2006 3:49AM (UTC)

Reason Online, that bastion of libertarianism proud to kowtow to neither the left nor the right, is running a decent article by Ronald Bailey summarizing the argument for "property rights" in fishery management. (Thanks to Gristmill for the alert.) The gist: Only when fishers have sharply demarcated rights to the production of a particular fishery can one ensure that the fishery will be sustainably managed. Otherwise, it's a free-for-all where everybody tries to grab as much as they can while the getting is good. Result: fishery depletion.

Libertarians love property rights. In an ideal libertarian world, government would be around to provide for the common defense and enforce property rights, and that would be it. So it's no surprise to see Reason running a story along these lines. But libertarians are far from alone in advocating rights-based fishery management systems. Take a gander at the essays collected for a conference on the topic in Australia in 1999 for a comprehensive introduction to the issues involved.

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The one thing that is missing in Bailey's analysis is acknowledgment that crafting and enforcing a fair, rights-based fishery management system requires a level of government that most libertarians would find the stuff of nightmares. Bailey makes glancing reference to Maine's lobstermen, who informally ensure that their neighbors don't invade the wrong turf. But it would have been more instructive to take a closer look at the incredibly complicated yet highly successful system put into place by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Alaska that governs the harvesting of halibut and sablefish. Just for starters: "There are two species (halibut and sablefish), four halibut-vessel categories and three sablefish-vessel categories, eight halibut regulatory-areas and six sablefish regulatory-areas..." There are elaborate rules in place to guard against consolidation of control over fishery rights and to protect the traditional prerogatives of the Inuit. Enforcement requires stepped-up patrols, a high level of coordination between the United States and Canada, and electronic registration of every catch with a centralized computer system.

And all this is just to manage two countries, two fish, and one sharply circumscribed location. Imagine what would be necessary to implement a similar system on the high seas!

Basically, world government.

And there you have it. A libertarian rationale for world government. To save the fishies.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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