NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Market for Conservation and Other Hostages

Bård Harstad

NBER Working Paper No. 17409
Issued in September 2011
NBER Program(s):   EEE   LE   PE   POL

A conservation good, such as the rainforest, is a hostage: it is possessed by S who may prefer to consume it, but B receives a larger value from continued conservation. A range of prices would make trade mutually beneficial. So, why doesn't B purchase conservation, or the forest, from S?

If this were an equilibrium, S would never consume, anticipating a higher price at the next stage. Anticipating this, B prefers to deviate and not pay. The Markov-perfect equilibria are in mixed strategies, implying that the good is consumed (or the forest is cut) at a positive rate. If conservation is more valuable, it is less likely to occur. If there are several interested buyers, cutting increases. If S sets the price and players are patient, the forest disappears with probability one.

A rental market has similar properties. By comparison, a rental market dominates a sale market if the value of conservation is low, the consumption value high, and if remote protection is costly. Thus, the theory can explain why optimal conservation does not always occur and why conservation abroad is rented, while domestic conservation is bought.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17409

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