Is money really the root of all evil? This Thanksgiving, I may argue that point with my brother-in-law. Our sparring began earlier this week on Facebook, discussing an episode of my Fightin Words podcast where I imagined a world without state-imposed hunting and fishing restrictions. In a truly free market, where government acted only to protect individual rights, our access to animals of value would be assured by market forces. After all, we’re in no danger of running out of turkeys for Thanksgiving, and government doesn’t ration those. So why do we need to ration deer and fish?
I attracted criticism from the Left for “coming out against fish and game laws,” though I would prefer to describe it as advocating for individual rights. The criticism was based on the belief that human greed unmitigated by state regulation enables the hunting of species to extinction. It’s happened before, the argument goes, and must be prevented in the future. My brother-in-law summed up the position like this:
Money kills everything.
Boy, oh boy. There may never be a more concise expression of the philosophies I work daily against. Here’s the context:
I think we would soon make everything extinct like we do everything else if not for laws… humans are extremely greedy and wasteful when it comes to hunting. Horrible shots that maim and wound, and they don’t know how to butcher the animals themselves much anymore either.
Pretty obvious to me that we need regulations. Especially in the ocean…money kills everything.
It’s one of those comments which lends itself to so many possible responses, picking a place to start proves difficult.
I suppose the most obvious if least graceful point is that no one actually believes this, not even the brother-in-law who said it. He said it, but he does not live by it, because you can’t live by it. Life requires the pursuit of values which we represent with money. Every single good and decent thing in civilized life rests upon money. Even the things we say money can’t buy, we can’t sustainably enjoy without money. Money can’t buy love? Okay. Neither can love buy a home to love in, or the food to fuel your loving, or the divorce attorney to aid when love runs dry.
Money kills everything? Money sustains everything!
Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. Surely flora and fauna would live on without a store of economic value. But that’s because the nature of flora and fauna does not require economic value. Plants and animals survive on instinct. They operate according to their programming. Man has instincts too, but cannot survive on them. Man has a different nature, one which requires him to apply his mind to conceive and pursue rational values. Thus man sees the deer and applies his mind to the task of how to obtain it, how to gut it, how to process, cook, and eat it. None of that rests upon instinct. Babies aren’t born with the ability to hunt. Man must either discern such tasks from scratch or be taught. Either way, he deals in value, an intellectual concept of worth.
To damn money is to damn value, because money serves only to represent it. You might as well say, “Value kills everything,” which you wouldn’t, because that’s nonsense. In fact, it’s the opposite of the truth. Life defines value. Life is our standard of value. Everything we do, every value we pursue, serves to sustain and enhance our life. As a store of value, we pursue money to the same end. Money sustains us.
So how does all that apply to my “crazy” vision for a world without hunting and fishing regulations? In a context where government protected individual rights, including property rights, incentives would manifest to sustain resources of value. The careless behavior my brother-in-law cites emerges from the tragedy of the commons. People abuse that which they access without owning – you know, public stuff.
In the distant past, there were more wild animals than the human population could ever manage to kill. As the wild has diminished, and claims over land have been established, our way of life must change accordingly. But it doesn’t have to change at the point of a gun. It can change according to the incentives of a free market. The value of hunting on a particular tract of land provides incentive for conservation of that land and its game. You don’t see Tyson Foods managing their business in such a way that they run out of chickens. For the same reason, you wouldn’t see deer going extinct if people were free to hunt them.
The difficulty I think people have in understanding how the market could manage hunting and fishing arises from an imagined lifting of restrictions without any other contextual changes. In other words, people imagine what would happen if you just got rid of hunting and fishing regulations today without changing anything else. But that’s not an accurate picture of what I’m suggesting. A truly free market would entail a myriad of reforms too lengthy to detail here, the totality of which would result in a condition where property owners would impose their own restrictions upon access to lands and game.
Questions akin to who would prevent hunting species to extinction if not government prove no less silly than a kid asking who would clean his room if not Mom. It can be tough to conceive of a solution to a problem which someone else has been solving. The leap of faith we must eventually take, whether a young adult leaving home or a citizen contemplating liberty, is loosening our grip on mother’s bosom to take our place in the world as men.