Saving species is for the birds
By Walter Block PhD - May 04, 2020

Want to hear about the latest difficulty President Trump is having with our friends on the left?

It’s for the “boids” as they say in Brooklyn. According to the present administration, the most recent environmental requirements no longer see as criminals those responsible for incidental migratory bird deaths. As long as they are the product of normal business behavior, all is now well, at least according to the law.

According to this new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 now emanating from Washington D.C., if you purposefully kill these creatures, destroy their eggs, eliminate their nests, you are still criminally liable. But, if the birds are in effect “collateral damage” to otherwise legitimate business pursuits (e.g., building a dam, construction, chemical run off), you are off the hook insofar as criminal charges are concerned. For example, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 negatively impacted perhaps a million fowl. This company would not be subject to fine or prosecution since that was not at all their purpose in drilling.

What is going on here? Is there any danger of species extinction? What is the source of the problem?

The difficulty is that these creatures are simply not owned. Our fine feathered friends are sometimes characterized by economists as “fugitive resources.” They are here one minute, and gone the next. The obvious solution is to privatize them. The difficulty is that unlike the buffalo, the alligator, the rhino, the elephant, which are relatively cheap to corral (moves in the direction of their privatization preserve them), avian creatures need lots more room, and three dimensionally too.

Why save these members of the superorder Neognathae? They are beautiful, especially when in flight. We learn from them. They take wing in the “V” formation, and so do our airplanes. Perhaps most important, they may be able one day to furnish us with the cure for cancer or some other dread disease, one perhaps that will not afflict us for 100 years. Yes, we have got to safeguard them.

Who is likely to come to the rescue, under these new rulings from the Trump administration ,which will undoubtedly endanger these splendid ornithurae? One possibility is large pharmaceutical companies which will want to keep them around for medicinal purposes. Another are the biology or psychology departments of wealthy universities, for purposes of study. There is even the possibility of converting them to flightless ratite status, as a last ditch effort. Imagine eagles confined to the ground. Desperate circumstances might create desperate remedies.

The left wing environmentalists are hoist by their own petard. On the one hand, they are vociferous supporters of wind energy. But these generators kill birds, almost a half million of them per year. We do not hear them protesting these deaths, only those caused by sources of which they disapprove (oil drilling, cars, etc). But, a bird is a bird is a bird; from the point of view of saving them, the source matters little.

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op-eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shaken his hand. Block has never washed that hand since.  So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.

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