If You're Rich, You Can Shoot A Walrus

Michael Sandel examines the inevitable corruption of ethics in a society where market mentality is pervasive in his new book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets . . . and while you may have heard that hunters can pay 150,000 to shoot a black rhino in South Africa-- and that this seemingly vile practice has actually increased the endangered rhino's population manifold, because now it's worth it for South Africans to protect the creatures from poachers-- you may not have heard that you can pay an Inuit guide six grand and he will will allow you to shoot a walrus . . . the Inuits have a walrus quota and the Canadian government allows them to sell the rights to shoot the walruses to "hunters" . . . though it is hardly a hunt-- journalist C.J. Chivers describes this practice as "a long boat ride to shoot a very large beanbag chair," and if these anecdotes disgust you and you can't stand the fact that everything has a price on it, then perhaps you should move to Finland, where they want to preserve the moral rectitude of a speeding ticket-- they don't want the wealthy to view a ticket as a simple fee to be paid for the right to drive fast, they want the ticket to be viewed as a fine that is levied because you did something dangerous and wrong-- so when you show up in Helsinki traffic court, your ticket is a percentage of your salary, and so Nokia executive Anssi Vanjoki-- who earns seven million dollars a year-- was fined 217,000 dollars for driving 80kilometers per hour in a 40 km/h zone.


zman said...

Is it better for the black rhino to go extinct than to allow people to pay to shoot a handful a year? I don't know the answer from a moral perspective. But giving out limited fungible individual property rights is an effective way to avoid the tragedy of the commons.

Whitney said...

No way -- extinction is the end, so black rhinos would rather take some miserable version of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" rather than go away forever.

Rhinos have no hubris, and neither should you.

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