Battlepanda: Are Pandas Necessary?


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Are Pandas Necessary?

Mark Thoma sends me this rabid anti-panda tract:
Do not panda to misty-eyed sentiment, by Alan Beattie, Commentary, Financial Times: ...Every week, the worldwide panda industry strikes another blow for soft-headed sentiment over rational cost-benefit analysis. This week’s feel good tale was new research suggesting there were 3,000 giant pandas left in the wild, twice earlier estimates. So what? If pandas can stand on their own four feet, good. If they cannot, tough. We should stop subsidising them. Pandas are endangered because they are hopelessly incompetent.

Take their diet. As we all know ..., pandas eat almost exclusively bamboo shoots. What panda apologists ignore is that ... bamboo has so few nutrients that the piebald buffoons have to spend 16 hours a day stuffing themselves with it. It is like trying to subsist on sugar-coated cardboard.

To shovel twigs into their mouths they use what Big Panda tries to pass off as an opposable thumb but is basically a deformed bone. And ridiculously, given their diet, giant pandas have a short digestive tract suitable for carnivores, not vegetarians, so most of the bamboo they eat goes through undigested.

They are also famously bad at sex. Even in the wild pandas do not mate much... Little wonder no respectable family of animals wants them. ... Yet thanks to soft-headed anthropomorphism – their big eyes and round faces remind us of babies, apparently – they are fêted everywhere, notably as the logo of the charity WWF. ...

Pandas are badly designed, undersexed, overpaid and overprotected. They went up an evolutionary cul-de-sac and it is too late to reverse. By cosseting them we are simply rewarding failure. Pandas are doomed. Let them go.
Lets ignore for now the shockingly unprofessional ad hominem attacks ("piebald buffoons" indeed). I don't contest that pandas are high-maintainence, but apply a little Beckerian analysis, then you would see that they are worth every million. (And we do pay one million per year per panda to the Chinese government for the privilege of their company.) You see, pandas and babies not only resemble each other in appearance, as Beattie pointed out, they are also similar in that we devote disproportionate amounts of resources towards their upkeep without getting much of an return on our investments in monetary terms. Irrational? Perhaps, to a souless panda-hater like Beattie. But if you make like Professor Becker you'd realize that just as families are little factories where commodities like "children, prestige and esteem, health, altruism, envy, and pleasures of the senses" are produced, so zoos are slightly bigger factories where animals like pandas, and ergo cuteness, are produced. Nothing more rational than childrearing or pandakeeping, as long as you keep the "psychic income" in mind.

The real reason the Chinese are going to conquer the world.