Kenya in the last few days destroyed more than 100 metric tons of "white gold" — elephant ivory both illegally harvested (confiscated from poachers or traders) and naturally accruing (from natural mortality). In China, where the majority of the world's ivory is consumed or stockpiled, the recently reported price is $1,100 per kilogram, putting the total value of the material burned at roughly $110 million.

To most economists, the idea of destroying something with so much value is anathema. But there are good reasons for a country — even one as poor as Kenya — to surrender its ivory wealth to fire.

For starters, stockpile destruction fortifies the credibility of demand-reduction campaigns in East Asia, without which poaching will never be stopped. Demand reduction aims to weaken the market for the product by changing consumer tastes. As prices drop, so does the incentive for poachers to kill elephants.