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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Bans and perverse incentives

Variable relationship:

This theory is described by Biggs et al. (2013) in regards to the banning of rhino horn by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Specise (CITES). The overall effect is that the ban (Policy Instrument) on a particular resource unit can in fact create perverse incentives (Perverse Incentives) to increase extraction of this unit via black markets (Black Markets) and increased market resource value (Resource Market Value) contributing to a decline in resource conditions (Commons Condition Trend). This all occurs despite (or because of) the presence of extensive enforcement (External Monitoring; External Sanctions; Compliance).

The presence of perverse incentives has been described as being of general concern when restrictions are placed on threatened species (such as via the endangered species act in the United States).

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)
Natural Resource Unit


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Policy instrumentUnderlying independent variableThe narrative of the theory starts with a ban that is placed on the use of a resource unit or a good associated with this unit.Ban
External sanctionsUnderlying independent variableRule-breakers incur heavy penalties to deter them and others from breaking future rules.Yes
External monitoringUnderlying independent variableMonitoring is conducting to ensure that targets comply with the ban.Yes
Resource market valueProximate independent variableAs a result of the ban, supply of a resource unit may decrease and as a consequence the market value of this unit will increase.High
Perverse incentivesProximate independent variableThe increased market value of a resource unit creates perverse incentives to increase extraction and use of a resource unit.Yes
Black marketsIntermediate outcomeSuppliers are incentivized to undergo the risks of illegal trade because of the increased market value of the resource.Yes
ComplianceIntermediate outcomeEnforcement efforts are predicted to actually lower compliance in this case.Low
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeAs a result of the functional black markets and rise in price, the resource suffers from over-extraction and declines.Worsened

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Crowding out from external sanctioningrelated
Subsidies and perverse incentivesrelated
Critique of fortress conservationrelated
Market-driven resource declinerelated
Gilded trapsrelated

Related Studies


Biggs, Duan, Franck Courchamp, Rowan Martin, and Hugh P Possingham. 2013. “Legal Trade of Africa’s Rhino Horns.” Science 339 (6123): 1038–1039.