What Remedy Does Hardin Suggest Averting “Tragedy of the Commons”?
Parents are not like the cattle owners who profit individually by adding cows to the pasture (while collectively destroying it). Parents, unlike the cattle owners, have to pay to feed and house and educate their children, and the high economic costs of children are one reason that birth rates have declined around the world — without any of the coercion discussed by Dr. Hardin and some other ecologists (like Paul Ehrlich).
Hardin's essay is tremendously important, not so much because he discovered the commons problem -- others had documented this dynamic before -- but because he popularized a useful way of thinking about many environmental problems. As Hardin explained, the metaphor of the commons can be applied to virtually any environmental resource. Instead of a pasture we could talk of a herd of animals, a fishery, a lake or even an airshed. In each case, the underlying economic dynamic is the same, and if access and use are not limited in some fashion, over-use is inevitable as demand grows. [A quick caveat: What Hardin called the "commons," is more properly described as an open-access commons, as there are some resources that are owned or managed in common that do not suffer the tragedy because they are subject to community management of some form or other, but the central point stands.] Hardin's diagnosis is often identified as a rationale for prescriptive regulation Hardin famously termed "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon." This was his way of describing those regulations we adopt to keep a common resource of any sort from befalling the fate of an open-access commons, and it's largely the path we've followed in environmental policy for the past fifty years. Administrative regulations have produced some gains, but also many failings. Our air and water are cleaner today than forty years ago -- and substantially so -- but many ecological resources are as threatened now as they ever were. Federal environmental regulation was not the savior many think, and many environmental regulations actually get in the way of further progress. The imposition of land-use controls under the Endangered Species Act, for example, discourages effective conservation on private land.
In my opinion Hardin simply wanted to bring out the different ways of regulation yet with a little touch of humor. He explains that even if a population does not necessarily plan on regulating itself, it is still bound to do so naturally in an order he refers to as the commons (Lloyd 82).He even refers to Charles Darwin as he explains these points although later in the article he drastically changes his views in a display of contrast in his writing. In his view, everything from politics to basic human processes like breeding can be regulated by as simple a process as appealing to the human conscience in the short term (Smith 428). There is a lot of contradiction in Hardin’s article though; he goes ahead to warn that use of conscience may be appealing in the short term but may eventually be perceived differently by the people depending on their reflections and inner beliefs (Lack 29).The need for recognition and mutual agreement has also been brought out as necessary towards the end of the article. In conclusion, Hardin writes that perhaps a simple answer to these population problems is the use of need for necessity and mutual agreement. While accepting that mutual agreement does not mean that everyone would be most comfortable with the resolution. It is perhaps the best way to deal with population problems.
Further, his assumption that were it not for "welfare," over-breeders would have to pay for their profligacy, runs in the face of evidence that parents whose infants die are paradoxically both more inclined to get pregnant again, and less likely to emotionally invest in their young. Welfare may indeed be part of solving the population problem. This is just one example where Hardin fails to differentiate reproductive behavior according to socio-economic conditions.
Hardin, Garret.“Journal of Heredity.” Science 50(1959):15-20
Lack, Dave The Natural Regulation of Animal Numbers. England :Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1954.
Lloyd, Willie. Two Lectures on the Checks to Population. England: Oxford University Press, 1833.
McVay,Salome.” Scientific American.” Science13 (1966):5-20
Smith, Arnie. The Wealth of Nations. New York:NEW LIB, 1937