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The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons

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The Tragedy of the Commons

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  1. The Tragedy of the Commons

  2. Garrett Hardin American Ecologist and Microbiologist (1915-2003) Controversial figure Concerned with overpopulation Pro-abortion Pro-population control by government Pro-assisted suicide Anti-immigration Anti-international aid “The Tragedy of the Commons” Published in Science magazine 1968 Had four children Committed suicide together with his wife when he was 88 (she was 81)

  3. Problems with no technical solution Some problems cannot be solved with science, e.g. the arms race. Overpopulation and competition for resources is this kind of problem. Since no technical solution, the solution must be political. Thomas Malthus (1766-1834, English political economist): Population grows exponentially, food supply can only increase arithmetically, so eventually we will starve (or decrease population via wars, disease or anarchy)

  4. The Commons Commons: common land available to all for grazing animals, gathering wood, etc. Tragedy of the commons: every farmer will tend to maximize their own profits by increasing their herd or increasing their gathering of resources without regard to the long-term depletion of the land. This is rational because the benefit to the individual farmer (of, for example, grazing one more animal on the commons) is larger than that farmer’s share of the overall depletion of the shared resource (i.e. the commons). Historical commons: not really a free-for-all. Not public land. Only small number of farmers had inherited limited bundles of rights, numbers of animals were limited.

  5. The New Commons The tragedy of the commons is a metaphor for anything held in common, used by all freely and not regulated. Everyone will maximize his own benefit to the detriment of the whole. Modern “commons” include: The sea -- overfishing The air, the land, rivers -- pollution The public noise level -- sound pollution National parks – overuse The earth itself (energy, food supply, living standards) -- overpopulation

  6. Overpopulation Hardin’s main concern. “Freedom to breed is intolerable” Overpopulation harms the world as a whole. The more people there are, the fewer resources there are available to each person. As long as we have a welfare state, people will continue to have more children than is good for society. Rational agents maximize their own good (more children), when the cost to them is relatively low because the cost is shared in common with society as a whole. Assumption: each child is a net good to its parents but a net bad to society. “Has any cultural group solved this practical problem at the present time, even on an intuitive level? One simple fact proves that none has: there is no prosperous population in the world today that has, and has had for some time, a growth rate of zero.”

  7. New Developments in World Population Hardin’s work written in 1968. Since then: China’s one-child policy Nearly one hundred countries now have a fertility rate below replacement level, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Vietnam, Brazil,, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Brunei, Russia, Japan, China, Thailand, Macao and Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the lowest at .98 children per woman. “… the most rapidly growing populations on earth today are (in general) the most miserable.” Still true. Countries with the highest fertility rates: Mali, Niger, Uganda, Somalia, Afganistan, Yemen, Burundi, Burkina Faso, the Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone (all over 6 children per woman) The demographic economic paradox.

  8. Solution Hardin: appeals to individual conscience are bad because: 1) It discriminates against people of good conscience, and tends to eliminate them from the population. 2) It won’t work in the long run. Nature’s revenge. People without conscience with outbreed the others, and population will increase again eventually. 3) It is not psychologically healthy to force people to act against their own interests on the basis of conscience. So the only choice is “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon” Freedom must be limited.

  9. Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon Mutual coercion to solve population problem (government regulation on number of offspring allowed) and other problems of the commons: Enclose the commons as private property, Or limit usage of the commons (e.g. limits on people’s right to pollute, to fish on the high seas, to increase public noise levels, etc.) Quotes Hegel (Engels): “Freedom is the recognition of necessity” Rights and freedoms must be restricted for the good of everyone. The right to breed in excess is like the right to steal from banks – it must be controlled.

  10. Questions for discussion Is what Hardin advocates fascism? Is it justified? Is it necessary? Is China’s one-child policy justified? Why have birth rates fallen in the developed world (and much of the developing world?) Why is it so low in Hong Kong? Is it conscience? Is relying on conscience/voluntary restriction of anti-social behavior self-defeating in the long run? Is the Hong Kong government right to try to persuade people to have at least three children?

  11. Reading Required: Naess, Arne, (1983) “The Deep Ecological Movement: Some Philosophical Aspects,” in Environmental Philosophy, p. 193-211, on handout Des Jardins, Environmental Ethics, Chapter 10, “Deep Ecology” p. 210-231, on handout Suggested: Des Jardins, Environmental Ethics, Chapter 7, “Biocentric Ethics and the Inherent Value of LIfe” p. 128-151, on reserve in Philosophy Dept. Berry, Thomas, “The Viable Human”, ,” in Environmental Philosophy, p. 171-181, on reserve in Philosophy Dept.