God save the prince of whales

Iceland is to resume commercial whaling. Fisheries Minister Einar Kristinn Guðfinnsson has issued an order allowing 40 minke whales to be hunted.

Mr. Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, head of an Icelandic minke whaling association, sees no problem. He argued that whaling was important to the Icelandic fishing community, which had been hit by quota cuts for cod and capelin. He also said: “There are around 50,000 whales in the waters surrounding Iceland now, and I don’t believe that the fishing of 40 will make any difference for the stock.”

I like that argument. Let’s modulate on this theme: “There are about 300,000 people in Iceland now, and I don’t believe the culling of 40 of them will make any difference for the stock”.

Commercial whaling by some of the richest countries in the world (Japan, Iceland, Norway) is an obscenity, only slightly less repugnant than disguising commercial whaling as scientific research. Even aboriginal permit whaling is little more than pandering to the guilt feelings of the affluent (post-) industrial world about the destruction of the traditional lifestyles and livelihoods of native peoples. I have no patience with folkloristic nostalgia for lifestyles we never knew, probably don’t understand and would be desperate to abandon if we found ourselves lumbered with them.

Whales are highly intelligent, social mammals with elaborate family and kinship structures, sophisticated and rich communication and intricate rituals. They ought not to be treated as fodder when alternative sources of equivalent nutrition are readily available. The arrogance of the human race really knows no bounds, if we believe that the rest of creation is there just for our convenience, and that other creatures live or die at our pleasure.

I am aware that the unavoidable logic of this argument points to a vegetarian, even a vegan lifestyle, and that I am unwilling/unable as yet to give up on animal foods and other products. But I recognise that the Jain hold the moral high ground, I and will try to starve the beast.

In the meantime, I will follow my wife and make a contribution to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. With a bit of luck they will be able to harass whale murderers everywhere to the point that whaling is abandoned and the search for alternative socially productive employment for the unemployed harpoonists can begin. They could probably become professional dart players.

One final idea. Iceland’s central bank has recently arranged swap arrangements with the three Scandinavian central banks to allow it to defend its currency and its commercial banks more effectively in the current financial crisis. Maybe there should be a loans-for-whales swap (euro loans or contingent credit lines in exchange for a suspension of whale hunting for the duration of the facility). At least the whales would represent solid collateral.

Maverecon: Willem Buiter

Willem Buiter's blog ran until December 2009. This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

Professor of European Political Economy, London School of Economics and Political Science; former chief economist of the EBRD, former external member of the MPC; adviser to international organisations, governments, central banks and private financial institutions.

Willem Buiter's website