vampire bats rabies cattle population

Dead Bats Don't Lie -- Don't Upset Natural Balance
livestock peru canberra australia tax reform general rates stamp duty willingness

Australia's Capital To Phase In a Tax on Land Value

Humans are comfortable with killing to get what they want, but even for a “good cause” killing can backfire, as do most familiar taxes, leaving policy wonks with one option: respect nature’s integrity. We trim, blend, and append two 2012 articles from (1) AFP, Jun 12, on bats and (2) The Age, Jun 7, on tax reform by M. Pascoe (a BusinessDay contributing editor).

by AFP and by Michael Pascoe

Killing vampire bats in a bid to curtail the spread of rabies to humans and livestock may make the problem worse.

The practice of "vampiricide" consists of a poisonous paste applied to captured animals that attacking bats spread to others in mutual grooming back in the roost. Yet it does not reduce rabies prevalence. It may, in fact, increase it.

A team from the United States and Peru conducted the study in Peru from July 2007 to October 2010. Team leader Daniel Streicker of the University of Georgia said, "In areas that were sporadically culled during the course of the study, we saw an increase in the proportion of bats exposed to rabies."

Colonies that were never culled had the lowest prevalence.

Rabies causes some 50,000 human deaths around the world every year. Bats can live with infection for years.

In Latin American farming areas, livestock is the primary food source for vampire bats -- the only species that feeds on mammals' blood and is the prime transmitter of rabies in the region.

They sometimes turn to humans for food, especially in areas where their habitat has been destroyed.

Bats also carry other transmissible viruses like those that cause Nipah and Ebola, but are a vital help for humans by eating mosquitos and acting as pollinators.

Since the 1970s, efforts to control the spread of rabies in Peru have focused on culling vampire bats, on the assumption that if numbers could be sufficiently reduced, the rabies virus would die out in targeted colonies.

Instead, the scientists found the virus was present in every colony they tested, no matter its size.

"That's important because if there's no relationship between bat population density and rabies, then reducing the bat population won't reduce rabies transmission within bats," said Streicker.

The researchers theorized that bats repeatedly exposed to rabies may develop immunity to the disease. "Vampiricide" would be effective at killing these immune, adult bats but perhaps not juveniles, which are unlikely to groom older bats. "When you kill off the adult bats that may be immune, you're making space for susceptible juvenile bats," said Streicker.

It could also be that bats immigrate from neighboring colonies to fill roost space left vacant by culling, or that the number of births increase as humans reduce competition for resources and space.

The scientists hope the findings, which were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, may help officials in Peru develop more effective methods of combating rabies infection.

The number of vampire-bat-transmitted rabies cases in livestock in South America appears to have declined from about 500,000 a year in the 1960s, but still caused annual losses of about $30 million, said the research paper.

To read more

JJS: Those scientists might be good biologists but maybe not great economists. If no cattle died from rabies (or anything else, for that matter), then the supply of cows for sale would be higher and the price they could fetch much lower, nowhere near $30 million. Indeed, more cattle for sale could actually mean less profit and more work for ranchers. Thus, just as fewer bats can mean more rabies, so can more cows mean less profit. That’s the way nature works, always seeking balance while growing (or seeking growth while keeping in balance).

Human economies operate a lot like nature’s ecosystem, following the same patterns once called “natural laws”. For instance, just as a greater supply of something for sale means a lower price, so does a greater supply of, say, foxes mean fewer rabbits. That’s the on/off cycle or negative feedback loop. Another pattern in both economies and ecosystems is the spiraling pendulum or positive feedback loop; sometimes it’s “a race to the bottom” as when towns compete to attract business by granting tax breaks and sometimes “a race to the top” as when trees compete for sunlight by growing taller (in fashion it’s both as females compete for attention and make hemlines rise and necklines fall).

If humans wanted their economies to operate as wondrously and as abundantly as nature does, we’d adhere to natural law when setting public policy. We’d notice this race to the top: that is, as human society progresses, it automatically pushes up the exchange value of land and resources.

With that insight in mind, we’d reverse the rewards and penalties in our present tax and subsidy policy 180º. We’d quit subsidizing special interests, we’d quit taxing our useful efforts, we’d recover the surplus wealth economies automatically generate (site values, mainly), and we’d share that common wealth equally among ourselves. Doing this would align the incentives so that people would produce efficiently, distribute equitably, and consume sufficiently.

Eventho’ this “geonomic” policy works, it meets a lot of resistance. People need to be persuaded that paying land dues to their community would be a good thing. Yet some thoughtful people are making progress, advancing a land tax in Australia.

There was some genuinely good news out of Canberra: Real taxation reform, bravely challenging the status quo and doing the right thing for the future of the economy and citizenry, and never mind the inevitable opposition carping. The Treasurer summarizes it thus:

“Transaction taxes will be phased out over a period of 5 to 20 years. A number of nuisance taxes are removed. General Rates are adopted as a broad and efficient revenue replacement base, with improved progressivity.”

“General rates” sounds more acceptable than something scary like “broad-based land tax”, so I'll happily play along with the euphemism for the greater good.

To explain the reform process, the government offers a neat graph that's worth a thousand words showing the appalling total compliance, administration, and economic cost per dollar of revenue raised for some key taxes.
* The cost of the aforementioned general rates is stuff-all,
* land tax is just a little more than that, but
* payroll tax allegedly chews up more than a third of each dollar raised,
* property title conveyance duty is nearly 40 cents in the dollar, and
* general insurance tax is more.
There have been revolutions over less inequity.

As a result of conveyance duty, a small number of households contribute disproportionately to the funding of services; around 9 per cent of the people raise 25 per cent of taxation revenue.

It's taking five years to scrap the egregious duty on insurance, which is pathetic -- something that bad needs to have been scrapped yesterday. The conveyancing duty takes much longer again as the land tax, oops, I mean “general rates”, are increased.

The smallest Australian government [administering the capital] has become the only one to tackle the evils of real estate transfer stamp duty while the states are too busy whining and dreaming of the federal government solving their revenue problems for them. Dream on.

The principles required for change are the same: a willingness to do what is best in the long term rather than what is politically easiest in the short-term.

To read more

JJS: The above is by a business editor at the country’s biggest newspaper. If only all the media in every nation could be so relevant! Then we could enjoy living in a geonomy in our lifetimes.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .

Also see:

Bolivia enshrines natural world's rights

Palm oil giants target African land

Eco-Problems Seem Solved Then Return

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