June 22, 2003

The Bear Sighting Count

The bear-sighting count now stands at five:

  • One black bear mother plus cub on the road to midge-infested Lake Maligne.
  • One grizzly bear feeding across the valley just north of Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway.
  • One black bear feeding by the road just south of Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway.
  • One black bear at Kicking-Horse Pass.

And then there are the bear-activity signs:

  • Bear activity along this trail.
  • Recent bear activity along this trail.
  • Recent grizzly bear activity.
  • Recent grizzly bear sow with two cubs.
  • Grizzly bear sow with two cubs who has lost her caution around humans.
  • Grizzly bear sow with two cubs who has lost her caution around humans and been involved in aggressive incidents.
  • Grizzly bear sow with two cubs who has lost her caution around humans and been involved in aggressive incidents but has not (yet) approached a group of more than five people.

We turned back.

Posted by DeLong at June 22, 2003 10:51 AM | TrackBack


I ran across this website looking for information on how economics deals with finite resources. I'm currently taking microeconomics, at the age of 55, because its required for a degree. Thanks to Milton Friedmann, I've had more than a passing interest in economics for more than 35 years.

And as part of doing my part to make Michael Cappellas rich, I'm changing careers and thinking a lot about political policy.

So, taking "econ 101", I figured there would be at least the "lite" version of economics theory around finite resources.

But no, just the concept of "scarce" resources. Implicit it the idea that no resource is finite, just scarce.

But lots of things are finite.

You are counting bears because they are scarce. (You might also count bears because places that are free from bears is scarce.)

The economic argument is that over the long term, demand for bears will result in more bears being produced. But that assumes that the factors of product to produce the bears can be delivered, given the right price.

But what if the time required to product lost factors of production exceed the lifetime of one man by some significant amount?

Clear cut the forest where the bear live, put roads in that provide access and result in cabins, etc., and the factors of production for bears may be lost, and even by buying the land and investing in the habitate on the land, the return of the bears might not be possible for lifetimes.

An example of this idea is Easter Island, an Island that was once a lush, densely forested land.

I'm here because I've been exploring the web for several weeks trying to figure out how economists put a price on finite resources. I can't even find economists that seem to acknowledge the term "finite resource".

Now in my new career explorations, one of the areas I've looked at, and that I'd prefer the Bush adminstration engaged in is a switch to renewable energy, instead of commiting to what will probably be a trillion dollar investment in prematurely depleting the world oil supply.

To the economist who says "there will always be a supply of oil", I will agree, but with the proviso that there will be cases where it will pay to use solar powered oil drills and pumps to get the oil. A point will be reached when oil will become more expensive in terms of energy than the energy available from the oil.

And just as Easter Island demonstrates, there is no assurance that substitutes for a scarce resource can be found, resulting a complete collapse in the civilization.

Anyway, you can't convince me that oil isn't finite, that Easter Island has trees, that the end of the Easter Island civilization was a good thing, but you can convince me that economists have a theory that deals with pricing a finite resource. The only think I can find is how to price "finite computer resources", something that almost expands on demand.

Posted by: michael pettengill on June 22, 2003 03:53 PM

Michael, no matter what your Econ 101 instructor says, don't lose that skepticism.

The standard Econ 303 (Environmental and Natural Resource Economics) answer to your query is that an objective government agency decides how much of the resource can be exploited at a sustainable rate, then issues licences to exploit fixed portions of the resource, which are of course tradeable in secondary markets so that the resource finds optimal uses.

And if you believe this, you probably also have a good opinion of santa claus and the tooth fairy. In actual truth, a society characterized by highly deregulated markets always results in major players capturing the government and then passing legislation to overexploit such resources and pass the costs of exploitation on to the next generation. We see this in action with the current administration.


One of the things that irritates me the most about the economics profession (the mainstream, from Friedman on the right to Brad and Paul Krugman on the left-liberal side) is that they have spent decades advocating economic policies that have led to the 1990's political climate, resulting in the policies of the Bush adm. that they now so bewail. And they do not seem to realize this. I would be more sympathetic to Krugman's shrill missives against the Bush adm. if he had spent the previous decades advocating policies at the international level which decreased the power of corporations over both trade policies (eg trade treaties such as NAFTA as well as the whole WTO) and over domestic politics (eg media ownership). But Krugman did no such thing. As a result, his quite understandable anti-Bush agenda strikes me as rather shallow in the long run perspective of history.


Aah. That feels better. Anyway, a more realistic answer is that the pricing of finite resources is determined by political power where the clout of those who represent future generations' right to consume a resource is matched against the clout of those who have an interest in exploiting the resource now, even in an unsustainable manner. Which makes economists about as useful as, well, I'll stop here before I come to premature conclusions.

Posted by: andres on June 22, 2003 09:24 PM

The canoe paddle is to Northern Canada as the towel is to the rest of the Galaxy. Hold one straight above your head and you look terrifying tall to bears and moose alike. Not a few have fended off direct bear assaults with them, while worst comes to worst, they make for dandy stretcher material.

You *do* have paddles, right?

Posted by: david on June 23, 2003 08:41 AM

Aha! You demonstrated fear ... that only encourages them!

Some days the bears eats you; some days the bear eats somebody else.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on June 23, 2003 11:01 AM

Yes, yes, when staring down a grumpy grizzly, never ever ever show fear. A paddle, anyone?

Posted by: anne on June 23, 2003 01:05 PM

I'm not quite so cynical to conclude that finite resources are controlled by purely political power.

Take for example, the handling of the Mona Lisa and the art work in the tombs of Egypt. In the former, light is recognized to be the enemy of the work, and in the latter, the humidity of people. Finding other examples should be a simple exercise: Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, etc.

Apparently without the benefit of an economic model, the scientists and archivists, are balancing the finite number of "views" of the art work with the available substitutes, photos, prints, digital images, reproductions, etc. The final total number of "views" of the Mona Lisa is not known, but there is the explicit recognition that each "view" depletes the finite resource of views.

Art work and historical documents could be locked away with no access to delay the depletion of the resource, but that would be the same as allowing unrestricted depletion of the resource which would quickly consume it. So, it is clear that a balance is sought that maximizes the utility of the original and the substitutes.

Do the archivists and preservation scientists have an economic theory that the economists are unaware of?

Posted by: michael pettengill on June 25, 2003 10:51 AM
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