Talking about Garrett Hardin on Wednesday brought up an interesting point about the controversial nature of Hardin’s work. We’ve probably all read “Tragedy of the Commons” without really questioning the argument as Professor Tantillo was saying in class, but it is nearly impossible to read “Lifeboat Ethics” without seriously thinking about the moral implications of the argument that Hardin is making. Hardin argues against providing aid to people in poor countries basically to curb population growth by not making resources available to those who can’t obtain them for themselves. Hardin argues, that as long as the oceans, air, land, and water are treated as commons, they will continue to be polluted and degraded. Similarly, he argued against a world food bank by stating that creating a world food bank is like creating a commons where poorer nations constantly draw from the resource at the expense of more affluent nations who put into the system, ultimately causing degradation of the food bank commons. This, Hardin states, will cause the poorer countries who constantly withdraw to never “mend their ways” which will only lead them to suffer to a greater extent in greater emergencies. Hardin states, “without some system of worldwide food sharing, the proportion of people in the rich and poor nations might eventually stabilize.” It is interesting to see, that even though this argument may be warranted, the costs to humankind, by not allowing others resources which are in existence seems to have some serious moral implications.
Here’s the link to “Lifeboat Ethics,” to get a taste: