The UntouchablesIt takes no great insight to observe that prohibition is not held in high regard. Indeed, when the term is used at all it is liable to be as a pejorative. Simon Jenkins exemplifies this view as he comments on the poaching trade…

Ivory is the cocaine of south-east Asia. Millions of people demand it, and the world thinks it can stop them by banning supply…You cannot stifle demand by banning supply. You merely raise price.

I know little of poaching, and Mr Jenkins may be right that the demand for ivory cannot be suppressed. That dismays me but emotion alone does not produce change. Yet I would like to address the implied claim that prohibition is always futile. I have no designs on alcohol or cigarettes but I can think of cases where we all endorse it. There is a demand for child pornography. Thousands of depraved people want it. No intelligent person imagines that we can eradicate this hideous phenomenon but I have read no one who thinks that attempts to suppress it to the best of our abilities are not worthwhile, or that we should accept the indulgence of the perversion.

It seems plausible, to me, that prohibition could work. Millions of people like drugs, and love to dispose of the evidence of their crimes, while a far smaller amount long for ivory, and want it sitting in their homes or round their necks. Convincing these people that they are exposing themselves to disgrace and impoverishment does not sound absurd. Again, I am biased towards policing, as the death of the elephant and rhino species’ and Jenkins’ solution of reducing them to farmed commodities both seem appalling, but I cannot know if it has a chance of succeeding. All I ask is that people do not write prohibition off in its entirety. Some appetites must be repressed.

Jenkins, by the way, produces one of the sadder lines in written history when he suggests that if elephants and rhinos are to survive “some value [must] be imputed to them”. Must be imputed. For, to some, they have no value themselves.

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