Essay by islandboarda February 2007

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The idea of bioprospecting on Hawaiian taro plants is a growing issue amongst researchers and the indigenous peoples. This scientific discovery raises ethical questions regarding bioprospecting and attacks the University of Hawaii for attempting to experiment on the crop. This issue relates to the economic concepts of patenting, monopolies, and scarcity.

A monopoly is a right granted by a government giving exclusive control over a specified commercial activity to a single party. Governments allow monopolies to occur, because without the idea of a monopoly, aspiring entrepreneurs would not have the incentive to create new products. Therefore, since monopolies tend to charge prices higher than normal, governments issue patents which allows the monopolist to continue their activity for a certain amount of years. After their patent expires, the organization is vulnerable to outside competition which will eventually diminish their monopoly. The graph below outlines a typical monopoly, where the blue line is their optimal level of production and the red line is the actual level of production (monopolies charge more and less since there are no other forms of competition.

Scarcity relates to the idea of bioprospecting taro plants. Scarcity is an issue involved in practically all economic problems. Scarcity is unlimited wants and limited resources. The Hawaiian taro plant is definitely a scarcity problem because there are not many taro plants and if there were unlimited supplies of taro, the controversy between the University of Hawaii and the indigenous peoples would not occur.

"Bioprospecting stirs controversy", an article written by Associated Press Paul Elias, illustrates the growing problem over the patenting and bioprospecting of Hawaiian taro plants at the University of Hawaii. Patents are issued by the government for copyright purposes for a given period of time and the UH wants this because it allows them to be...