Where the Wild Things Are(n't)?

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Summer Brennan on Wilderness, ... Rachel Laudan on the History o...

Oysters, elk, and ungulates, oh, my! Who knew that a political storm could develop over oysters? This week's guest, Summer Brennan, did. Russ chatted with the author of The Oyster War on the nature of wilderness, competing interests, and the nature of truth. A tall order to be sure...but now we want to hear from you.
1. Russ cites a common economics mantra in relation to the story of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, "There are no solutions, only trade-offs." Can you think of a controversy similar to this one that also illustrates this principle?

2. What does "wilderness" mean to you? How do you enjoy "wilderness?" How well does the political process define it?

3. Check out the American Prairie Reserve. How might its management and access differ from a traditional national park?

4. Why is the idea of equilibrium so comforting in both economics and ecology? What are the dangers of pushing this concept too far in either area?

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
DWAnderson writes:

1. Raising the minimum wage: helps some workers at the expense of other potential workers. Did that phrase originate with Thomas Sowell?

2. I think wilderness as an area free of all but de minimus effects of humanity. I enjoy it in the abstract by knowing it exists and perhaps by viewing it in some manner that does not take away its nature as wilderness. Candidly, I do not know how the political process defines it.

3. Focus seems to be on benefits to non-human species, whereas the converse is true for National Parks.

4. Equilibrium being per Wikipedia "the condition of a system in which all competing influences are balanced, in a wide variety of contexts." Comforting because we are already living in the best of all possible world where everything is balanced. Of course there could be multiple equilibria...

Keith Vertrees writes:

1. It reminded me of the train vs farm example brought up in previous episodes discussing the work of Ronald Coase. However, I suspect there is no price that Drakes Bay could have paid to appease the government. What I didn't quite understand is whether, and to what extent, the government thought the oyster farm was producing harmful externalities. From the podcast, I got the impression that its mere existence was deemed offensive.

2. Wilderness, to me, is land that is not controlled by civilization. So I think it only exists in the past. Now we just have parks. When the political process uses the word wilderness, I suspect its motives. I think we'd be better off treating all land as private property.

3. Without spending a lot more time on the Prarie Reserve's site, I can't say much about it. If their vision is to create privately owned parks, more power to them.

4. I suspect equilibrium is only truly comforting if one is comfortable with his current situation. The danger in being too enamored of equilibrium is that the status quo may be (and probably is) suboptimal. Furthermore, ecosystems may appear to be in equilibrium because our window of observation is a fraction of a human lifetime. They may be in flux on different time scales, and our intervention to preserve what we consider an optimal equilibrium may be harmful in the long run.

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