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What Remedy Does Hardin Suggest Averting “Tragedy of the Commons”?

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First, Dr. Hardin himself misapplied the fable. Declaring that “overpopulation” was a tragedy of the commons, he warned that “freedom to breed will bring ruin to all.” He and others advocated a “lifeboat ethic” of denying food aid, even during emergencies, to poor countries with rapidly growing populations. But “overpopulation” was not even a theoretical example of the 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).

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Much of my environmental work cuts against the traditional pro-regulatory grain of contemporary environmental law and policy. There have been significant environmental gains in many areas over the past fifty years, and traditional regulatory strategies deserve some of the credit, but modern environmental regulation is hardly a model of efficient governmental intervention. What, then, should we do differently? To answer this question it's important to think first about the nature of environmental problems, as our diagnosis of the problems will influence our choice of remedy. The way we think about environmental concerns was heavily influenced by Garrett Hardin's seminal 1968 essay on "The Tragedy of the Commons." In this essay, Hardin described the fate of a common pasture, unowned and available to all. As Hardin explained, in such a situation it is in each herder's self-interest to maximize his use of the commons at the expense of the community at large

Each herder captures all of the benefit from adding one more animal to his herd. Yet the costs of overgrazing the pasture are distributed among every user of the pasture. And when all of the herders respond to these incentives, the pasture is overgrazed -- hence the tragedy. As Hardin explained it, the pursuit of self-interest in an open-access commons leads to ruin. Without controls on access and use of the underlying resource, the tragedy of the commons is inevitable. 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.

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This system of selection, the writer explains, is used in many areas of our lives in instances where there are limited resources that are not restricted. natural means of selection then occurs in the form of overcrowding, queues and so on naturally regulating these struggles and it is put that there is no space (Hardin 15). Hardin then goes on to relate these arguments to pollution and conscience. He brings out the fact that conscience can be used as at tool of regulation but warns that this appeals very differently between different individuals. Carefully looking at the article, Hardin tries to argue about the different means of self regulation. He focuses on general people regulation, pollution and even legislation. 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.

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In short, Hardin's rejection of some solutions stems from the individualistic assumptions of his metaphor

Particularly, he rejects appeals to conscience, because they would "select for" those without scruples over having more children. It is doubtful however that conscience is entirely genetic, nor perfectly transmitted by learning in families. 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.

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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

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