Posts Tagged ‘Garrett-Hardin’

Dune and Iran

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Great Science Fiction authors manage the difficult feat of thinking both scientifically and poetically at the same time. Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune is an ecological and religious thought experiment. “Does that which does not kill us truly make us stronger?”

He asks at perhaps the behest of Nietzsche. To quote an awesome remark a friend of mine made, that which doesn’t kill us gives us one motherfvcker of a hangover. That which didn’t kill the Fremen of Dune involved a potentially toxic gallimaufry of ecological disaster mixed with insane religious fanaticism.

It couldn’t kill Paul Maud’dib who faced and surpassed the gom jabber. It only made him stronger. They rose up. They killed the Evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and ran the cowardly House Corino out of power and took over a massive chunk of the galaxy. It also helped that they had a resource monopoly over the spice melange that fueled interstellar travel and made whoever controlled the supply kingmaker, if not king.

Herbert wrote this with the late 20th Century in mind. By 1970, Garrett Hardin and M. King Hubbert had both dropped their bombshells. Ecology, prior to its corruption by the Enviro-Academic Industrial Complex, told us some stark and scary truth. When men like Hubbert and David Brin put forth believable and mathematically rigorous models predicting our ineffible fvcktitude, it was hard not to take groups like The Club of Rome, at least somewhat seriously.

It was similar ecological fear that inspired Frank Herbert to model The Planet Arrakis (aka Dune) after the modern region of SW Asia. Dune was hot and dry to the point where water was precious. It was so arid that wasting moisture was considered an absolute mortal sin. Killing someone wasn’t nice. Losing the liquid water content of the cadaver was unthinkable. Arrakis would be a backwater except for one thing: they had a natural resource monopoly over the most valuable substance in the galaxy. This made people who didn’t care about the native Fremen have to care about the stuff that they could mine from the desert.

Survival in the awful climate and ecology of Dune required a very disciplined and unusually brutal lifestyle. This was best handled via religious indoctrination combined with an iron-fisted tribal system of society. This led to a powerful code of conduct that maximized the likelihood of each Fremen tribe surviving and passing on its genes and traditions to another generation.

Once, when studying the Bible, I was told to think of The Deuteronomy as a Boy Scout Fieldbook for adults stranded in a desert waste for forty years along with Moses. Moderns hate the subjugation of the individual to the commonweal and rigidity of gender and class roles that get spelled out. These Moderns have rarely spent more than two weeks without a functional HVAC and have rarely gone anywhere with fewer than two bars on their phone or GPS. The Deuteronomy teaches people how to survive on the wrong side of Hadrian’s Wall.

So Dune can be summed up as tough people under hard religious discipline can whip coach potatoes and rule the galaxy if they find the right religious ruler to lead them. Does this work in real life? If so, the closest parallel I can think of on contemporary Terra would a country that really isn’t fond of Amerika. That would be Iran and they are at least caricatured as praying “Death to America” every morning. If they would wipe out any House of Corino here on Earth, it would either be Israel or The Great Satan as they affectionately refer to us in their religious writings.

Iran has a brutal climate. It is arid and as its agricultural and hydrological policies fail; it is becoming more and more arid. They have that old time religion. The Mullahs interpret The Koran, impose Sharia Law and frequently rule by Fatwa. There is no court more Supreme than Allah. The Old Men of Quuds issue a Fatwa and all issues are settled. And, of course, Iran has a massive stockpile of oil. Thus, when Hamas gives the IDF all it wants and then an encore during Operation Protective Edge, fans of Herbert, Nietzsche or anyone who shoots at Israelis in general will nod, smile and make fatuous snark over Amerikans needing to ditch the idiot phones and knock out a few push-ups.

But what of the actual Iranians, as opposed to those that the Iranians sell weapons to? The story takes a turn that Herbert would never have seen coming for The Great Maud’dib. Iran has a population pyramid that would lead to a population ceiling of 100 million by about 2050. This would imply a gain of 15% over the next 80 or so years, assuming a low rate of venereal disease and consistent rate of fertility across generations. Which is in no way the case for contemporary Iran.

Before we wax too eloquent about the democratic aspirations of the great Iranian people, we should keep in the mind that the most probable scenario for Iran under any likely regime is a sickening spiral into poverty and depopulation. Iran has the fastest-aging population of any country in the world, indeed, the fast-aging population of any country in history. It has the highest rate of venereal disease infection and the highest rate of infertility of any country in the world. It has a youth unemployment rate of 35% (adjusted for warehousing young people in state-run diploma mills).

People are not getting tougher from the tough times in Iran. The places riots took place recently are places where food and water have run out.

Ghahdarijan’s protests have been long in the making. Two years ago, an adviser to Iran’s environment ministry, Issa Kalandari, warned 50 million Iranians would be left without water, due to the exhaustion of 70% of Iran’s groundwater and the ill-considered diversion of rivers to compensate. Agriculture consumes 92% of Iran’s water. Capital-intensive farming methods could conserve water, but they also would drive peasants off the land into cities already suffering from about 30% youth unemployment.

So where is the great and glorious Jihad that Maud’dib leads to conquer the entire galactic empire? It’s been on for forty years and it is intrinsically linked to the drying rivers. All the money that Iran could have spent on upgrading its water system and practicing ecology and conservation has been spent on arms and military adventure. Iran does field an impressive array of threats that could possibly even include nuclear arms, but they are bleeding themselves dry to keep these soldiers in the field. The Iranians have every institutional problem that we Amerikans suffer from over here in Great Satan Land.

For nearly four decades, Iran has cannibalized its physical and human capital, leaving the Islamic state with multiple crises and a deep sense of malaise. Water management is only one of several hidden deficits that the Islamic state has accumulated since the 1979 revolution. Large parts of Iran’s pension system face bankruptcy in the short term, and the government’s annual arrears to its underfunded social security system are many times the size of its official budget deficit. With the world’s fastest-aging population, Iran’s demographics will make an already-critical problem much worse during the next several years. Iran is the first country to get old before it got rich, setting in motion a pension crisis more acute than any other in the world.

So what do we learn? Terrible ecological practices combined with traditional religious fundamentalism are not sufficient to produce an unbeatable warrior caste. Wasting a nation’s resources on military adventurism such as George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq does nothing but waste resources.

Iran, North Korea and The Soviet Union towards its end have far more in common than they do with The Fremen of Paul Maud’dib on Arrakis. The romantic dream of a punisher arising from the wastes to flay the decadent rot of The Evil Empire is exactly that. It is a dream. It is a wish fulfillment. Our path out of our current decadent rot cannot be correct as simply as being conquered and put under proper Sharia by some heroic barbarian from days of yore.

People Of Genius Made The West, But Only Hierarchy Protects Them

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Back in the delusional early 2000s, it was popular to bleat out the notion that the “wisdom of crowds” enabled humans to do great things in groups. This allows the individual to take credit for the achievements of the group and seems to enforce the idea of equality, which means it does not matter what unique traits individuals have, only that you put interchangeable average humans in the right order.

Recent research suggests that the “wisdom of crowds” is nonsense, and that higher-IQ individuals produce any greatness in a group:

Contrary to prediction, individual IQ accounted for around 80% of group-IQ differences. Hypotheses that group-IQ increases with number of women in the group and with turn-taking were not supported…The experiments instead showed that higher individual IQ enhances group performance such that individual IQ determined 100% of latent group-IQ. Implications for future work on group-based achievement are examined.

From the study itself:

For some time, it has been known that work-groups whose team-members have higher IQ out-perform teams of less-able members (Devine & Philips, 2001). Against this background, Woolley et al. (2010) asked whether groups themselves exhibit a general-factor of intelligence, if this might be distinct from individual IQ, and, if so, what the origins of such a collective intelligence might be.

…The three studies reported here and, especially, the joint modeling cast important light on the origins of high cognitive performance in groups. Rather than a small link of individual IQ to group-IQ, we found that the overlap of these two traits was indistinguishable from 100%. Smart groups are (simply) groups of smart people.

…The finding that IQ and group-IQ can be set equal bolsters studies reported in work-performance showing that groups of bright individuals outperform groups of less able individuals (Devine & Philips, 2001). We take this work to a new level, suggesting that, in terms of latent group-IQ, group performance reflects nothing beyond individual contributions to average IQ. Thus we found no support for the hypothesis that “group intelligence [has] relatively little to do with individual intelligence” (Woolley & Malone, 2011, p. 2).

In other words, if a crowd has wisdom, it is because of the intelligent people in that crowd. Remove those, and you have just organized idiocy, which is probably a good description for your average job.

The problem with crowds is that contrary to conventional wisdom, they are staffed by individualists. The individualist joins a crowd for the ability to be important without having to contribute or adapt, because the crowd is run entirely on social principles which are intuitive to the individualist.

This then creates a tragedy of the commons for social attention, which is a problem when one is seeking answers, because it means that the most digestible and distinctive expressions win out over the more accurate. A tragedy of the commons takes the following form:

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…. But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Human attention in a social group is a commons. Whoever is willing to inject themselves into the dialogue, or perform a distracting behavior or stunt, is able to take some of the attention. This creates a force entirely opposite to the perception of reality, which is a force based in the recognition of human interest.

In contrast, what made the West great was its emphasis on results in reality that enabled it to create a hierarchy based on those who demonstrated exceptional ability to not just lead, but lead us toward the best results instead of simply bare minimums. For this reason, despite not having the highest average IQ, the West produced the greatest amount of genius, and those geniuses enabled the West to have exceptional competence. Leftists demand that we assume that this competence came from the form of the crowd itself, and not the composition of that crowd, including the exceptional individuals who did all the thinking for it. Hierarchy protected genius from this incursion of the crowd by ensuring that all key positions were held by people who could tell the difference between genius and idiocy, and therefore could elevate genius above the usual babble of the herd, where now the babble holds sway over anything intelligent.

The “wisdom of crowds” is merely a restatement of democracy. The idea there is that politics becomes a commons, and whoever distracts the greatest number of people from real problems, wins. Unfortunately, as the evidence from this above study shows, this marginalizes intelligence and guarantees an incompetent result.

The Tragedy Of The Commons

Friday, May 12th, 2017

Why is humanity so destructive? One answer is that not enough things are owned, and therefore curated and cared for, by individuals. That which is open to all, like a free buffet in Manhattan at noon, is quickly consumed until — at least in the case of natural systems — it can no longer renew itself.

This is referred to as the tragedy of the commons, after the writings of Garrett Hardin:

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…. But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all. – “The Tragedy of the Commons,” by Garrett Hardin

This explanation veers into game theory somewhat because each person has a dual incentive: first, to take as much as he can, and second, to do so before others do it. A wide open field needs conquering, and so farmers will add more cows until they produce a resource crash — the grass is eaten down to the roots and cannot regenerate — and then everyone loses.

In nature, we see this pattern often. When too much algae accumulates, a pond dies; when yeast are introduced to a bowl of sugar water, they reproduce rapidly and consume it all and then die. Usually a predator or parasite exists to keep the population in check by killing off its weakest members.

Human society has no real defense against the tragedy of the commons except to make the commons property either owned by someone, or administered by an agency. Agencies however have their own interest, which is to trade rights to it in exchange for power. While someone wealthy may want to do the same, interest in using the resource — and not depleting it — imposes a limit on exploitation.

Traditional societies handled this through a caste system and aristocracy, two interlocking institutions made up of people selected for their dual intelligence and moral character. The best people among the founders of a society owned all the land and rented it out to others, which limited consumption.

Garrett Hardin On Wealth And Poverty

Saturday, May 14th, 2016


A culture of poverty is one in which the future is discounted — both implicitly and explicitly — at a very high rate. – Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin inspired me to discuss what differentiates rich people from poor ones.  Do not get hung up on money in and of itself.  There are other scales that measure one person’s wealth versus another one’s poverty.  The hypothetical money I’ll be discussing, assuming it obeys the laws of an effective currency, will merely serve its noble purpose as a store of value.  Or as one Big Shwingin’ Dick put it: “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game!”

We on the Alt-Right talk in terms of time preferences when we discuss the discounting of the future.  If the present moment has a very high opportunity cost, you have a high time preference.  That’s a nice way of saying that you are too impatient to worry about the future.  YOLO is true, but it cuts both ways. You try to experience things, but you have to watch the risk and the cost.  Once it’s done, it’s done.

So what’s it like when the future gets discounted?  If you’ve worked in cost analysis or banking an easy analogy involves the impact of inflation on the value of money.  The basic equation looks a tad like this.  Where Pn is the present value of the wrinkled and faded $1 bill I found in my yard jeans the other day,


An is the original value of the dollar.  I is the rate of inflation and n is the number of time periods.   So a 10% rate of inflation would make a $1 have a real value (Pn) of about 91 cents.  If n represents your time preference, next year is only 91% as valuable as last year.  We can draw a chart of how much future time is devalued with a 10% time preference.


Another way we can slice and dice this data is to determine how much time is required to reduce the time preference to 50%.  (AKA a half-life).  Here A(t) is the value at time t.  A(t) = Ae-0.095t  This form of the Future Value equation can be solved for the time required to hit specified future values.  Since the original value was $1.00, we can set up the equation $0.50 = e-0.095t.  The half-life of a $1 under 10% inflation is 7.2 years.

Now what happens if you can add value with time?  Let’s say we get return on investment.  If we can get a 15% return, the equation becomes P(n)= A(1+i).  The graph predictably slopes the other way.  In fact, the value of the dollar doubles in about 4.25 years.


Now most people will not be totally neutral towards having a cookie now or getting a cookie later.  However, if you can grow the size of your cookie, you may be willing to wait and have a bigger one later.  Your present hunger is balanced in tension against the anticipation of what you could get your mitts on later.

So let’s examine what that tension would look like mathematically.  We compare the rate of return to the rate of inflation.  That is, we compare the rate of return to our aversion to waiting before we enjoy some benefit.  A 15% ROI minus a 10% rate of inflation gives us a real rate of return = 5%.


Now here is where getting people to plan ahead is tough.  The fictional dollar doubles in 4.25 years.  When we factor in the 10% time preference for present benefits over future, our actual happiness from the increased money takes 13.5 years to double.

To hammer home exactly what Hardin meant by his quote, let’s juxtapose the first curve of a totally present-oriented consumer versus the normal, conflicted guy who improves his lot over time, but doesn’t like postponing gratification forever.


The blue line represents the person who invests in the future at cost to his present desires.  The orange line is a person who only sees present benefit.  Over time, the lines diverge.  They increasingly diverse.  The longer the two people have different views on time preference, the further their destinies diverge.  The distance between the top and bottom line is the distance in life between rich and poor.

So all this theory is quaint, and I’ve gotten to play with Excel even.  But how does any of this translate into real life?  What happens to the poor?  What is the cost of giving up benefits later to have it now?  What you give up is your future.

The coming storm

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

A paradox forms when the conditions for collision are right. Collision occurs when two objects want to occupy the same space at the same time.

In the West, we have been pretending that we can both have the liberal ideological state, and also have a comfortable place to live like we always have. Most people are unaware that these two things are at odds with one another.

The liberal ideological state, as demonstrated by the worst theorists of Sweden who quickly took over that country because people are pathologically afraid of being seen as discompassionate, is opposed to any kind of native culture, individual feeling, or hierarchy.

Despite its creepy organic posturing and loudly shouted greenish noises, the liberal establishment advocates industrialization of the soul, a world of interchangeable equal parts administered by a central machine, with the end goal of producing identical citizens.

Not content with a world governed by natural law, which is what brought us from primitive chimpanzee state to our slightly more advanced human state, the liberal establishment aims to take a single, crowd-pleasing, unrealistic, pandering idea — equality of all people — and turn it into a means of total control.

This is why a storm is coming. The two forces — those who want to be free to evolve, and those who oppose evolution in the name of equality — are gathered, and are finally realizing that their dream of “coexistence” was a pleasant-smelling lie with foul innards. It cannot be.

“We have to tolerate also views we don’t like,” he said. Later, he said that no one should confuse openness with naiveté. – NYT

Political correctness is a nonsense ideology. Its idea — that we can avoid offending everyone — rests on the basic concept of equality. It also demonstrates why equality is perpetually dysfunctional: if every opinion is equal, none can be chosen.

The result is a paralysis of all higher functions of society while the lower functions — industry, bureaucracy, commerce and socialization — go on, but at an accelerated pace in order to fill in for the missing higher functions.

The only safe policy in a time of political correctness is to do nothing and have no opinions. Go to your job. Have hobbies, in your own home or in socially approved activities. But don’t suggest changes to the inertia of modern society. Someone will be offended, and it will cost you.

“…the [United Nations Human Rights] Committee made clear that limits on freedom of expression for these reasons can only be in the very exceptional situations laid out elsewhere in the (ICCPR) that deal with incitement to hatred and discrimination on religious or racial grounds and so forth.” – IPS

No red-blooded person would ever tolerate such insanity. We have stopped leading ourselves, and are letting our tools (industry, technology, democracy) lead us to places we originally had no intention of going. We have pushed reality away in favor of what is socially popular.

The backlash is not people coming from the right-wing, but moving into the right-wing. They were originally leftists of various stripes, or mainstream conservatives, but eventually saw that those paths lead to the ultimate fusion of 1984 and Brave New World: the postmodern totalitarian state.

Political correctness, instead of being an innocent attempt to be nice to other people, is a form of thought control that is forcing those who are not yet neutered to lash out and fight back. They are not fighting the symptoms of their upset, but the causes:

In the end it was not Norway’s immigrants or Muslims that Breivik chose to assassinate, but people who came from the same background as he did and whose parents were almost certainly Labour Party supporters like his own. But the fact was that by last Friday, Breivik felt not only that he no longer belonged to his own people, he had come to detest them with a virulence that was unprecedented.Is Norway’s ostensibly tolerant social model partially to blame? – The Independent

We are kept at bay because the modern liberal ideology is intentionally paradoxical.

It tolerates anything, except that which criticizes the tolerance of anything. It supports all freedoms for the individual, and none for the group or for individuals who want an organized, functional, values-centered society.

It is deconstruction enshrined as wisdom, a complete breakdown in social values and even social concept, leaving us with alienated, atomized, isolated, selfish, oblivious and resentful people alone in their apartments and homes. They can shop, and they can socialize on a plastic surface level, but that is all.

This life is ugly and paranoid. It is hollow and unsatisfying. It is without any kind of real satisfaction. But it hides this under a surface composed of both an absence of certain “great fears” and an ability to indulge in personal desires.

The great cold lie at the heart of present-day America is that the nation will magically benefit if we each single-mindedly pursue our self-interest to the exclusion of all else. The idea has a sleek quasi-free-market sheen, as it borrows the market’s “invisible hand” and applies it to social, fiscal and environmental policies.

That is a magical-thinking fantasy. If I pursued only my own self-interest, I would dump the toxic effluent from my factory right into the river ( a la China’s very laissez faire economy) while I lived far away in an exclusive community far from the stench and poisons. Why pay for costly remediation when the “free” river beckons? After all, it all works out wonderfully if we each pursue our own self-interest with methodical, nay maniacal, single-mindedness. – Zero Hedge

This is exactly what Immanuel Kant warned us about with his theory of radical evil: the problem is not Satan, or intentional evil by fiendish masterminds, but the daily small evils we commit by being oblivious to reality.

Intentional evil provides a convenient symbol, or scapegoat, but doesn’t describe how evil truly comes about. We think if we avoid evil intent, we have avoided evil; the truth is that unintentional evil is the biggest threat to us.

Evil comes about through selfishness, like that which powers both crime and deceptive business practices; it also comes about through willful ignorance of the consequences of our actions, or tolerance of actions by others that will result in bad consequences.

Garrett Hardin upgraded Kant’s formula with his Tragedy of the Commons. His point is that self-interest, because it places the self first before the world at large, is a form of unintentional evil and we encourage it with our equality, democracy, consumerism and social popularity cult.

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…. But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all. – “The Tragedy of the Commons,” by Garrett Hardin

Rationalism is the art of deconstruction. Instead of trying to take in the world as a whole, we set up a little mental sandbox and we focus only on its contents. This lets us simplify and also misleads us with the nature of symbols; they are not the whole, although they represent it.

Part of this deconstructive logic allows us to put blinders on to any consequence of our actions that we are not officially instructed to address. We delegate leadership to democratic rulers who, by reacting to our desires instead of our needs, allow us to act through them.

We then have an army of bureaucrats, cops, firemen, activists and other service-roles who we assume take care of the problems we create. They’re paid to, after all. As a result, we push awareness of those issues right out of our minds and focus on what we are delegated to address, which is our personal desires.

This explains how with the best of intentions, we achieve the worst of results. Acting as granular individuals, we become like yeast: we eat up all the resources and then die. Unified under an intelligent leadership, we can plan for our future as a group and thus do better.

What opposes this is the anti-group, or the Crowd. Composed of individuals who want nothing to obstruct their own desires, this group acts to remove any standards, hierarchy, collective leadership, culture or common sense. Its goal is anarchy, protected by the guise of being in a group.

The most recent effort of this group is political correctness. It wants to obliterate any type of thinking that offends any one person, because if it allows such thinking, it no longer controls discourse. The Crowd wants to control discourse so that it can reject any collective standards except those delegated roles mentioned above.

As a result, we live in a time with freedom toward any deconstructive activity, but ultimately, a totalitarian system blocking our path from making any qualitative changes to our own society — having standards, values, culture or even common sense.

The only remaining option is conflict:

Can you think of an effective AND acceptable way to publicize his views and ideologies?

He could not have gone via the mainstream media route, because of the politically incorrect nature of his ideas.


If you ignore morality or ethics, his actions were infact rational and logical. He chose to do something that would guarantee two outcomes.

1. Widespread notoriety and exposure to his ideas, which were well laid out.

2. A government security-law overreaction which will end up pushing moderates into extremism.

To put it another way, he chose the ‘V for Vendetta‘ approach right down to bombing the prime minister’s office and his verbose manifestos. You know something else- he might ultimately succeed even if he does not live to see that day. – A.D.

We are facing an age not of lesser terrorism, but of more terrorism. The centralized states are too powerful to oppose militarily; what force could defeat the USA, Russia or China through power of arms? None that was averse to high casualties, certainly.

The great conflict that has been brewing since 1789 is upon us. Are we with the people who want to adapt to our world and evolve, or those who want individuals to be able to live in a mental fugue composed of desires, notions, jingles, memes, anecdotes and most of all, a feral anarchistic desire for no common sense?

Al-Qaeda, Ted Kaczynski, Tim McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik are simply the vanguard of this coming storm. They want a choice of type of civilization, not more meaningless personal choices and hobbies.

Those that oppose them are afraid, as well they should be. Liberalism in all forms leads to society deconstructing itself and ending a ruin; however, those who espouse liberalism are too personally unstable to care. The only option left is extremism, and it is not the right that has forced it — it is the left.

What Heretics Are For (Garrett Hardin)

Saturday, August 29th, 1970
What Heretics Are For
The Social Contract (Fall 2001)
by Garrett Hardin

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Myths,” said Salustios, are “things that never happened but always are.” Though distinguishable from myths, the best of the fairy tales share this paradoxical relation to reality. A truth we are reluctant to acknowledge can be insinuated into the mind by the account of an event that never happened. Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes tells just such a story. His emperor is a fiction, unnamed and unplaced in time (“many years ago”), but he is also all of us at all times — and no fiction.

This is the Preface to (and the reason for the title of) Naked Emperors: Essays of a Taboo Stalker (1982) by Garrett Hardin, Ph.D. The swindlers who fleeced the emperor first caught him in a neat logical trap. The exorbitantly priced and nonexistent clothes they tailored had the wonderful quality, they said, of being invisible to anyone who was “hopelessly stupid or unfit for his office.” Given the Emperor’s acceptance of this criterion of reality, his loyal subjects were psychologically bound to see the invisible. Behold, then, the noble Emperor, naked as a jaybird, marching in parade to the enthusiastic plaudits of the throng! The denouement comes when the innocent child protests “But the Emperor is naked!”

This scene, first projected on the mind’s eye of a delighted, giggling child, is periodically recalled by realities of the external world. Every generation brings new swindlers (many of them, curiously, self-deceived) and more new clothes for credulous emperors. At any point in time a sizeable wardrobe of such clothes is being paraded in the marketplace of ideas. There are far too few children, too few iconoclasts (to use another image), to keep up with the busy looms of the weavers of invisible cloth.

The story of The Emperor’s New Clothes no doubt strikes completely socialized, other-directed adults as preposterous, but reality outrages myth. In Anderson’s story the child’s outcry leads to a rapid erosion of faith among the spectators; truth strips the Emperor naked. Unhappily, in real life, majority opinion frequently overwhelms perception.

Some experiments carried out by the social psychologist Solomon Asch are most enlightening. Asch asked a small group of college men to identify the longest of several lines drawn on paper. Unbeknownst to one of them, all the others had been instructed to agree on a preposterously wrong answer. Choices were announced in open meeting. As the responses forced the “odd man out” to become aware of his position, he not infrequently gave way to the majority and expressed his agreement with them. It does not take an Inquisition to make heresy painful. (“Heresy” comes from a Greek word meaning “to choose for oneself.”) Out of 123 men subjected to this ordeal, 37 percent conformed. (Is it significant that this is about the same percentage as that of “placebo reactors,” people whose pain is reduced by the administration of a placebo, a medication known to have no beneficial effect?)

Asch’s experiment might tempt a cynic to rewrite the Anderson story to make the little child yield to adult opinion. We would not accept such a rewriting, of course, because the cynical version would deprive us of hope. The progress of science — indeed of all positive knowledge — depends on the courage of Thoreau’s “majority of one” in the face of nearly unanimous error. Yet there are many naked emperors parading the streets of learning, and we need a few people who have the Anderson child’s confidence in their own senses and judgment. Statistically speaking, the populace may well be right more often than wrong — but sometimes the Emperor is indeed naked.

What follows is one heretic’s attempt to point out some of the naked emperors of our time. Heresy is no guarantee of truth, but let us not forget (as T. H. Huxley said) that every new truth begins as heresy.

This is the Preface to (and the reason for the title of) Naked Emperors: Essays of a Taboo Stalker (1982) by Garrett Hardin, Ph.D.

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There Is No Global Population Problem (Garrett Hardin)

Saturday, August 29th, 1970
There Is No Global Population Problem
The Social Contract (Fall 2001)
by Garrett Hardin

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Almost two hundred years have passed since Malthus disturbed the world’s slumber with his celebrated Essay on Population. Today, the world has more than five times as many people in it, and the rate of population increase is nearly four times as great as it was in Malthus’s day. Each year, the globe must support 90 million more people. Population control is needed.

Many plans have been proposed, and some have been half-heartedly tried. Out of these trials has come the realization that we are caught in what novelist Joseph Heller called a “Catch-22” situation If the proposal might work, it isn’t acceptable; if it is acceptable, it won’t work.

Unacceptable schemes to control numbers are easy to find. We could elect a dictator and let him shoot the excess population. But we won’t. Such a solution would “work” only in a theoretical, beyond-politics sense. (Homo sapiens, the political animal, as Aristotle called the human, does not live “beyond politics.”) Or we might take no action while waiting for gross overpopulation to produce its own cure in the form of starvation and mass disease. But who is willing to call such inaction a “solution?”

Looking at the other fork of the population Catch-22 is more productive. When we understand exactly why acceptable proposals fail, we may be able to correct them. Humanists, committed to the rational analysis of problems, are in a favorable position to ferret out workable solutions. But a real solution to overpopulation may be as painful to humanists as to others. An effective solution will not be obvious, for, as Freud taught us, the preconscious mind protects its peace by blocking off painful avenues of thought.

The simplest defense against dangerous thinking is to presume a natural self-correcting mechanism. Such a presumption worked pretty well in economics in Malthus’s day. Hitherto, some governments had fixed prices to keep greedy merchants from fleecing their customers. Unfortunately, price-fixing caused more harm than good. Leaving prices free to fluctuate — laissez-faire economics — worked better. Merchants who were too greedy got less business; some of them went broke. Overall, laissez-faire benefitted the consumer by producing low prices.

Reasoning by analogy, some optimists in the twentieth century have argued for a laissez-faire approach toward population growth. They postulate a “demographic transition” process that automatically stops population growth before it hurts. Since European fertility fell as Europeans became richer, it was argued that all we need to do to help today’s poor countries is to try to make them rich. The past half-century has shown that a laissez-faire approach toward population growth fails. The needy poor greatly outnumber the charitable rich, and the poor breed faster. Africa’s numbers are increasing more than ten times as fast as Europe’s.

The argument that greater prosperity produces lower fertility has some support in rich countries, where the industrial-ized, urbanized way of life leads many couples to prefer a better automobile to another child. In poorly industrialized, rural nations, an increase in income translates into more medicine, less infant mortality, and a faster rate of population growth. The ancient saying, “The rich get richer and the poor get children” has more wisdom in it than does the demographic transition theory.

China may have found a way out of the population trap. What is China doing and what can we learn from its experiments? We must begin by acknowledging that we don’t know as much as we would like to about that huge country. China’s population is four times as great as that of the United States. Government policy seems not to be very stable; outsiders need almost daily quotations to know what is going on there. Nevertheless, some parts of China are governed in such a way that ultimate population control looks like a possibility.

In the large industrialized cities, an important decision-making unit is the “production group” — individuals who work together in the same factory. In attempting to control population, the government has assigned a key role to female members of the production groups. The central government tells each group what its budget is for the next year — how many bags of rice, for instance, as well as how many babies the group as a whole can produce. It is made perfectly clear that exceeding the baby budget will not result in any increase in the food budget, either then or later. It is left to the local group to decide which of its members will be allowed to have babies in a given year.

There is no talk in China of a woman’s “right” to reproduce or of married couples’ “right to privacy.” Decision-making is the right of the production group because the whole group has a budget to meet. The women of a production group meet together and decide as a group who shall and who shall not have babies during the year. Can you imagine such a scheme working in the United States?

In China it works, apparently pretty well. Chinese traditions and cultural ideals make it easier to put the good of the group ahead of individual desires. A woman who gets pregnant without permission is pressured by her sisters to have an abortion. Westerners react with horror to this, but such coercion in the East should be compared to forcing a Westerner to pick up the litter he or she has dropped on the ground in a public park. In both instances, the environment is seen as the possession of the group; littering it (with anything) is not a right of the individual.

Why are Chinese women controllable by coercion? The answer, in a word, is shame. A truly socialized individual is ashamed to go against the expressed wishes of the group he or she lives and plans with. Shame is an effective control, provided the number in the group is small.

That numbers play a role in shaping human behavior we know from the experiences of the Hutterites on our own continent. This hard-working religious group lives by the Christian-Marxist ideal expressed so well by Karl Marx in 1875 “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Two centuries of experience have taught the Hutterites that this ideal works only within small groups, 100 to 250 as a maximum. When the number of the operating community is small, backsliders can be shamed into behaving better. When the number goes beyond 150, non-cooperators destroy social unity. Hutterites respond to this threat by constant, amoeba-like fissioning of their communities, thus minimizing the numbers involved in decisions.

The combined experiences of the Chinese and the Hutterites tell us that a voluntary system of population control, when it is not backed by legal sanctions, can work only with small groups of people who are intimately involved with one another daily. Shame works when “everybody lives in everybody else’s pocket.”

So, what are the chances that American society as a whole can achieve population control by voluntary means? Essentially zero, at present. We have nothing like the Chinese production groups to build upon. If we cannot or do not want to evolve in the Chinese direction, we will have to find a means of population control that builds on the traditions of our own society.

Let’s look again at the Chinese system. I don’t know whether the Chinese language has any equivalent for the word coercion, but if it does I see a way the Chinese could acknowledge the propriety of their population control without cringing at the word coercion as we Westerners do. Each woman in a production group must realize that the others need to be controlled by the coercion of shame and that she herself can be no exception. The control of all is achieved by mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon. Mutuality removes the sting that would come from being singled out of the group.

Can such coercion be generated in our society? Of course it can. In fact, it has been from time immemorial. “Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon” is an apt description of any restrictive law passed by a democracy. I might want to rob banks, but I certainly don¡¦t want you to do so. So, since I know of no way to keep all others voluntarily from robbing banks, I will help pass a law that keeps everyone — including myself — from doing so.

Does mutual agreement have to be unanimous? Certainly not. Only a majority is required to pass a coercive law. In some cases, however — remember Prohibition — a very large majority may be required. But to demand unanimity would be to abandon all hope of a workable democracy.

By what means will Americans achieve real population control? We don¡¦t know yet. Americans are too comfortable to try hard to find an answer; poor countries — more strongly motivated — may beat us to it. Whatever methods prove effective must be grounded in human nature, as China¡¦s method is. Individuals must be rewarded for actions that benefit primarily the group (which includes all individuals). In China, freedom from shame is an effective reward. In America, we shall probably have to offer monetary rewards for relative sterility. For instance, we might limit the dependency deduction on income tax to two children, or maybe only one. Or the government might give an allowance to every female between the ages of twelve and twenty so long as she does not get pregnant. Ingenuity is called for.

In the meantime, one large step toward population control is already necessary and may be possible We must bring immigration virtually to an end and do so soon. In the absence of immigration, present trends in fertility, if continued unchanged, would bring America to zero population growth in about fifty years. If needed then, the government could offer incentives to parenthood, thus producing population stability. But all that is so far in the future that there is no profit in trying to spell out the details.

It is more important that we know what continued immigration will do to America. For perspective, let us begin with a few facts. First, the United States takes in more immigrants than all the other 180-odd nations combined. Second, the United States has the highest population growth rate in the developed, industrialized world. Third, immigration to the United States is increasing, not decreasing. Fourth, when immigration is added to “natural increase” (births minus deaths), the resultant population increase shows no sign of leveling off before we are impoverished. All worries about the dangers of a decline in population are vacuous.

In recent years, the United States has taken in over a million immigrants a year. Any suggestion that we might put an end to immigration is met with the anguished cry, “But we are a nation of immigrants.” But so is every nation. The natural history of a nation is simple First, outsiders move into a land virtually vacant of people; the land fills up; congestion is felt; then, the residents close the gates. Unrestricted immigration characterizes a new nation; restrictions are the mark of a mature nation.

Someone asks, “But is not variety a necessary component of a healthy nation?” Before we answer hastily, we should note that Japan admits essentially zero immigrants per year — and what American would be so bold as to say that the Japanese are not doing very well in the modern world? They don’t admit new bodies, but they do admit new ideas — from everywhere. With modern methods of communication, ideas no longer have to be brought into a country wrapped In human bodies. A wise nation admits just the ideas, leaving the bodies to be taken care of by the nations that produced them. This is the way of survival. Patriotism is rather unfashionable in our time, but can a conscientious humanist be contemptuous of the survival of the people with whom he or she associates daily?

Lastly, someone cries, “But the population problem is a global problem. We need global solutions!” Before panicking, let us look at the word global. Some problems are certainly global. Take acid rain. Take the greenhouse effect. Both cases involve the atmosphere, which is forever distributed and redistributed over the entire globe. Admittedly, it will be difficult to produce the global cooperation that is needed to solve such global problems, but no lesser solutions will work.

Now, let’s look at the potholes in the streets. There are potholes all over the civilized world, but is that any reason for setting up a global pothole authority to fix our potholes? Would the pothole in your street be filled sooner if we globalized the problem?

The moral is surely obvious Never globalize a problem if it can possibly be solved locally. It may be chic but it is not wise to tack the adjective global onto the names of problems that are merely widespread — for example, “global hunger,” “global poverty,” and the “global population problem.”

We will make no progress with population problems, which are a root cause of both hunger and poverty, until we deglobalize them. Populations, like potholes, are produced locally and, unlike atmospheric pollution, remain local — unless some people are so unwise as to globalize them by permitting population excesses to migrate into the better-endowed countries. Marx”s formula, “to each according to his needs,” is a recipe for national suicide.

We are not faced with a single global population problem, but, rather, with about 180 separate national population problems. All population controls must be applied locally; local governments are the agents best prepared to choose local means. Means must fit local traditions. For one nation to attempt to impose its ethical principles on another is to violate national sovereignty and endanger international peace. The only legitimate demand that nations can make on one another is this “Don’t try to solve your population problem by exporting your excess people to us.” All nations should take this position, and most do. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to believe that our nation can solve everyone else’s population problems.

I have presented no more than a sketch of “the population problem” but this is surely enough to show that humanists have some hard thinking to do in the near future. Humanism, like science, is a self-correcting system. Humanists should not cling to error merely because it is traditional. With deeper insight into the nature of the world, humanists must reexamine their past attitudes toward rights in general, universal human rights, the primacy of the individual, coercion, the imperatives of the environment, human needs, generosity, and our duty toward posterity. The inquiry will be painful, but faith in the power of reason can give us strength to do what has to be done.

Garrett Hardin, Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This essay appeared in The Humanist of July/August 1989 and is reprinted by permission.

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Protection, Yes. But Against Whom? And for Whom? (Garrett Hardin)

Saturday, August 29th, 1970
Protection, Yes. But Against Whom? And for Whom?
The Social Contract (Fall 2001)
by Garrett Hardin

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I would like to discuss some of the great generalities about environmental protection that lie at the foundation of what we are all trying to accomplish. Foundations are often neglected because we are so busy working on the upper stories, correcting the previous inconsistencies. Many of the objections we encounter (as well as the support that we fail to get) arise because we have not considered the implications of our assumptions.

For example, environmental reforms are often impeded by tacit assumptions about the meaning of property. Most people assume that this is a simple idea, that property is a thing, the way specific gravity is a “thing.” But, of course, it is not at all; “property” is an interpretation of the relationships between people. My friend, Dan McKinley, once protested that “private property includes the smokestack, but not what comes out of it.” And that is the problem. To be ecologically acceptable, the concept of property must weld privilege and responsibility together. He who benefits from the products must accept responsibility for the by-products. This is a shocking idea for people brought up on a simpler view of “private property.”

Ecologists are trying to teach people what can only be called “total economics.” Card-carrying economists do not like this interpretation. They think of economics as one of the great academic disciplines, with ecology as no more than a problematic one. In contrast, ecologists focus on the relationships between peoples and many other elements of “the real world.” From that perspective, economics is just one subdivision of ecology. This attitude does not get us any Nobel Prizes, of course, or even attract many friends from the competing discipline. Our excuse society must learn to deal with all aspects of the humanity-environment interchange.

The most basic fact in human ecology is this we human beings create nothing. We merely take the atoms the earth gives us and, using the sun’s energy (sometimes in fossilized form), reorganize them into arrangements that are better suited to our purposes. For example, we cite figures on “the yearly production of petroleum.” Question: How many barrels of petroleum did human beings produce last year? The correct answer is zero. We extracted the petroleum from the earth and burned it, deriving energy thereby. We certainly did not truly produce any oil. All we do is transfer commodities from the account called “nature” to the account called “human society.”

Legions of influential people casually identified as “well educated” live by persuasive superstitions. In the early 1990s, Malcolm S. Forbes, Jr., the editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, wrote: “Overpopulation is all nonsense. Since Malthus’ time, the Earth’s population has increased six-fold and the standard of living has become infinitely higher.” So here is a man who is certainly “educated,” yet he gloriously supports the superstition that perpetual growth is possible in a severely limited world.

Evidently there is more than one kind of education. I think it helps to distinguish three kinds of competence produced by education. I will refer to the variety as three kinds of intellectual filters. The oldest is literacy, which can be defined as competence with words, whether the result is expressed in speech or in print. In the 1950s, someone coined the term “numeracy” to stand for a second kind of filter, which is coupled with a facility in using numbers and quantitative reasoning. Speaking broadly, we may say that, as a class, scientists are more numerate than the typical novelist or poet. Journalists, who should be both literate and numerate, are often weak in the second area.

Beginning about 1960, with the sensitization of the public to the importance of ecology and environmentalism, it became apparent that there needed to be a third intellectual filter, which was soon called “ecolacy.” This orientation implies sensitivity to “And then what?” types of questions, and to the ability to see and predict subtle and delayed interactions of many influences.

Over time, for example, a herbicide may have an important side effect on herbivores, thereby diminishing its value to humans; an insecticide may kill more than just harmful insects. Bactericides may select for inheritable resistance not only among useful microorganisms, but also among the harmful ones. So widespread are these effects that, as a working hypothesis, we now say that each blank-icide selects for its own defeat as a controller of the unwanted blank. Not meliorism, but rather pejoration is the new expectation in the Era of Ecology.

The ecolate view is not welcome to timid minds. Even if you come up with a true answer, you may have a hard time persuading others that you are on the right track. But we have to try. Literacy, numeracy, ecolacy: we need all three abilities.

We moderns are following in the footsteps of the old Romans who habitually asked, “Cui bono? Cui malo?” Who is benefited (by a new measure), and who is harmed? Though the word “society” is grammatically singular, the reality is very plural indeed: many people, many vested interests. Whenever we propose changing a system of reward and control, we must try to predict who will be harmed, and who helped by the change. Most pressing is the need to foresee how those who are harmed will respond to the change. We must not forget that we cannot just throw away unwanted things. In whose backyard might they land? What is he or she then likely to do about it? Such questions must be ever in the forefront of the environmentalist’s mind.

Numbers influence results; situation ethics acknowledges this. The relative blindness of traditional ethics to real-world situations creates ever-new problems for environmentalists. As long ago as the fourth century A.D. one of the Fathers of the Christian church, Tertullian, implied as much in a passage that has shocked many traditionalists over the centuries: “The scourges of pestilence, famine, wars, and earthquakes have come to be regarded as a blessing to overcrowded nations, since they serve to prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race.”

A standard reaction to that statement is that the writer must really have hated human beings, since he saw some good in death. But let us take a second look. Note, first, that Tertullian implies that this was not a new thought in the world: he says that the negative factors (disease, etc.) “have come to be regarded” as benefits, in part. He did not originate the thought; he merely reported it. The second thing to notice is the agricultural image that shaped Tertullian’s words. He says that pestilences can be regarded as blessings because “they serve to prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race.” That is both a numerate and an ecolate contention, since it implies the reality of limits and carrying capacity. And “pruning” is an eminently agricultural figure of speech: a city dweller would be unlikely to use such language. These days most Americans are born and raised in cities; for that reason they seldom think in the rural images implied by the concepts of carrying capacity, overpopulation, and pruning.

It is amusing to observe the results of citified thinking when a long-time urban resident moves to more spacious suburbs and decides to have a garden. He is almost sure to plant seeds too close together, being poor at imagining the future as biological expansiveness threatens the inflexible limits of the environment. As his crowded plants get bigger, he has trouble bringing himself to thin them out: long exposure to the propaganda resident in the phrase “the sanctity of life” has stunted his imagination. Citified persons need to muster courage to reject the “civilized” images they were brought up on as they liquidate the excess members of the population of plants for the sake of a fraction that can survive into the future in a state of vigorous health. Ours is now a thoroughly citified world. To save civilization, we must educate its citified denizens to understand the language of agriculture and the environment. People must become ecolate in their thinking.

By virtue of the content of their specialty, economists should be among the principal supporters of ecolate thinking. Unfortunately, the accidents of history have made them powerful opponents of the concept. Through and through, their theory assumes limitless supplies. This has led to the amazing assumption that if a society wants more of a good thing, it has only to raise the price of it and supplies will increase without limit. Julian Simon and Herman Kahn stated in 1984 that “the term carrying capacity has by now no useful meaning.” It is true that when we are dealing with the earth’s carrying capacity for human beings, there is considerable wiggle room for variations in the standard of living assumed; but wiggling at what cost?

One of the peculiarities of modern economics is that though the indexes of elementary texts sometimes include the entry “diseconomies of scale” — the important observation that in many situations, beyond a point things may get worse as size or numbers increase — the subject is not treated extensively in most of them. But the positive economies of scale are always dwelt upon at length. One can only conclude that both sales personnel in business firms and economics professors in colleges know that optimism pays.

In the opinion of human ecologists, the bottom line of economic and political organization is this: with unfettered growth, diseconomies of scale rule. Consider democracy, for example. As the number of participants grows, a reasonable facsimile of true democracy is still possible — up to about 100-150 souls, according to the centuries-old experiments of the Hutterites, an earnest religious group in the northwestern United States. Beyond that point, the greater the population, the less the democracy, and eventually it must be abandoned and replaced by some sort of representative government. But were we to achieve the idealists’ dream of “One World,” our schoolbooks would no doubt crow about a global democracy of ten billion people. “Democracy” is a sacred word, and sacred words cannot be easily replaced by the truth.

More generally, many aspects of the quality of human life are negatively related to the number of people living in the community, once it exceeds a certain size. If every family now living on Earth is to have two automobiles, the number of families living on nature’s bounty will have to be markedly reduced. The question that begins with “How many people…” is meaningless if it is not preceded by the question, “What kind of life…” Widespread agreement on the second question will be hard to achieve; once it is introduced, the pejorative word “elitism” is likely to dominate the discussion.

Reaching a community-wide agreement on the size of the population to strive for involves not only scientific questions but also arbitrary decisions. Unfortunately, the word “arbitrary” is understood differently in science and law. In the law, the word is used with obvious distaste. By contrast, scientists frankly defend the word and its related practices, particularly in the field of statistics, where an arbitrary standard of significance has to be agreed upon. If you want to make one in twenty the limit for non-significant deviation from pure chance, fine. If you choose one in one hundred, also fine. But in every contested case some arbitrary decision has to be made. (Actually, John Q. Citizen makes such decisions every day, but he may not be aware of this fact.) If you cringe at “arbitrary,” you might try to coin a new word.

The ecologist’s basic question, “And then what?” runs all through human affairs. Different stages in the development of a nation may evoke different answers. For example, in this country, there was a time when Kit Carson, traveling across the prairies, would shoot a buffalo, cut out the tongue for eating and leave the rest of the carcass to rot. “What a waste!” we say now, but the lonely horseman had no refrigerator with him; and for him to interrupt his journey to build a fire (with what fuel?) and smoke-dry the extra carcass would involve wastes of other sorts. “Waste” is defined by circumstances.

The ecologist’s “And then what?” needs to be applied to one of the most ancient of the commandments in the Bible. “Be fruitful and multiply.” The rabbi who wrote this was living in a village, and it was a village version of morality that he was calling for. In a world of many separate villages, tribes, and ethnic groups, vigorous reproductive competition arises naturally. (If you do not believe that, read the Old Testament.) Other things being equal, fast multipliers win out over slow ones.

Circumstances have changed now, but most ethnic groups continue to follow the biblical advice just cited. We are thus laying the ground for the great tragedy that would follow from transgressing the carrying capacity of the earth, unless we somehow find the wisdom and ability to come to grips with the situation. There may not be much time, but we do not have too many other choices.

As you can see, ecological analysis is not for the faint of heart.

Garrett Hardin, Ph. D., is Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of many articles and books including

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Nobody Ever Dies of Overpopulation (Garrett Hardin)

Saturday, August 29th, 1970
Nobody Ever Dies of Overpopulation
The Social Contract (Summer 1991)
by Garrett Hardin

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Following the recent loss of life due to a cyclone in Bangladesh Dr. Garrett Hardin’s 20 year-old column came to mind. It is here reprinted with permission from Science, 12 February 1971, Volume 171, Number 3971, © 1971 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Hardin has retired from teaching in the biology department of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Those of us who are deeply concerned about population and the environment — econuts, we’re called, — are accused of seeing herbicides in trees, pollution in running brooks, radiation in rocks, and overpopulation everywhere. There is merit in the accusation.

I was in Calcutta when the cyclone struck East Bengal in November 1970. Early dispatches spoke of 15,000 dead, but the estimates rapidly escalated to 2,000,000 and then dropped back to 500,000. A nice round number it will do as well as any, for we will never know. The nameless ones who died, unimportant people far beyond the fringes of the social power structure, left no trace of their existence. Pakistani parents repaired the population loss in just 40 days, and the world turned its attention to other matters.1

What killed those unfortunate people? The cyclone, newspapers said. But one can just as logically say that overpopulation killed them. The Gangetic Delta is barely above sea level. Every year several thousand people are killed in quite ordinary storms. If Pakistan were not overcrowded, no sane man would bring his family to such a place. Ecologically speaking, a delta belongs to the river and the sea; man obtrudes there at his peril.

In the web of life every event has many antecedents. Only by an arbitrary decision can we designate a single antecedent as cause. Our choice is biased — biased to protect our egos against the onslaught of unwelcome truths. As T.S. Eliot put it in Burnt Norton

Go, go, go, said the bird human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

Were we to identify overpopulation as the cause of a half-million deaths, we would threaten ourselves with a question to which we do not know the answer How can we control population without recourse to repugnant measures? Fearfully we close our minds to an inventory of possibilities. Instead, we say that a cyclone caused the deaths, thus relieving ourselves of responsibility for this and future catastrophes. Fate is so comforting.

Every year we list tuberculosis, leprosy, enteric diseases, or animal parasites as the cause of death of millions of people. It is well known that malnutrition is an important antecedent of death in all these categories; and that malnutrition is connected with overpopulation. But overpopulation is not called the cause of death. We cannot bear the thought.

People are dying now of respiratory diseases in Tokyo, Birmingham, and Gary, because of the need for more industry. The need for more food justifies overfertilization of the land, leading to eutrophication of the waters, and lessened fish production — which leads to more need for food.

What will we say when the power shuts down some fine summer on our eastern seaboard and several thousand people die of heat prostration? Will we blame the weather? Or the power companies for not building enough generators? Or the econuts for insisting on pollution controls?

One thing is certain we won’t blame the deaths on overpopulation. No one ever dies of overpopulation. It is unthinkable.

1 The UN Population Card indicates that the population of Bangladesh has a net gain of 6 persons per minute. Please see the article about the Population Card on page 216.

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Living on a Lifeboat (Garrett Hardin)

Saturday, August 29th, 1970
Living on a Lifeboat
The Social Contract (Fall 2001)
by Garrett Hardin

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Susanne Langer (1942) has shown that it is probably impossible to approach an unsolved problem save through the door of metaphor. Later, attempting to meet the demands of rigor, we may achieve some success in cleansing theory of metaphor, though our success is limited if we are unable to avoid using common language, which is shot through and through with fossil metaphors. (I count no less than five in the preceding two sentences.)

Since metaphorical thinking is inescapable it is pointless merely to weep about our human limitations. We must learn to live with them, to understand them, and to control them. “All of us,” said George Eliot in Middlemarch, “get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.” To avoid unconscious suicide we are well advised to pit one metaphor against another. From the interplay of competitive metaphors, thoroughly developed, we may come closer to metaphor-free solutions to our problems.

No generation has viewed the problem of the survival of the human species as seriously as we have. Inevitably, we have entered this world of concern through the door of metaphor. Environmentalists have emphasized the image of the earth as a spaceship — Spaceship Earth. Kenneth Boulding (1966) is the principal architect of this metaphor. It is time, he says, that we replace the wasteful “cowboy economy” of the past with the frugal “spaceship economy” required for continued survival in the limited world we now see ours to be. The metaphor is notably useful in justifying pollution control measures.

Unfortunately, the image of a spaceship is also used to promote measures that are suicidal. One of these is a generous immigration policy, which is only a particular instance of a class of policies that are in error because they lead to the tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968). These suicidal policies are attractive because they mesh with what we unthinkingly take to be the ideals of “the best people.” What is missing in the idealistic view is an insistence that rights and responsibilities must go together. The “generous” attitude of all too many people results in asserting inalienable rights while ignoring or denying matching responsibilities.

For the metaphor of a spaceship to be correct, the aggregate of people on board would have to be under unitary sovereign control (Ophuls 1974). A true ship always has a captain. It is conceivable that a ship could be run by a committee. But it could not possibly survive if its course were determined by bickering tribes that claimed rights without responsibilities.

What about Spaceship Earth? It certainly has no captain, and no executive committee. The United Nations is a toothless tiger, because the signatories of its charter wanted it that way. The spaceship metaphor is used only to justify spaceship demands on common resources without acknowledging corresponding spaceship responsibilities.

An understandable fear of decisive action leads people to embrace “incrementalism” — moving toward reform by tiny stages. As we shall see, this strategy is counterproductive in the area discussed here if it means accepting rights before responsibilities. Where human survival is at stake, the acceptance of responsibilities is a precondition to the acceptance of rights, if the two cannot be introduced simultaneously.


Before taking up certain substantive issues let us look at an alternative metaphor, that of a lifeboat. In developing some relevant examples the following numerical values are assumed. Approximately two-thirds of the world is desperately poor, and only one-third is comparatively rich. The people in poor countries have an average per capita GNP (Gross National Product) of about $200 per year, the rich, of about $3,000. (For the United States it is nearly $5,000 per year.) Metaphorically, each rich nation amounts to a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. The poor of the world are in other, much more crowded, lifeboats. Continuously, so to speak, the poor fall out of their lifeboats and swim for a while in the water outside, hoping to be admitted to a rich lifeboat, or in some other way to benefit from the “goodies” on board. What should the passengers on a rich lifeboat do? This is the central problem of “the ethics of a lifeboat.”

First we must acknowledge that each lifeboat is effectively limited in capacity. The land of every nation has a limited carrying capacity. The exact limit is a matter for argument, but the energy crunch is convincing more people every day that we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of the land. We have been living on “capital” — stored petroleum and coal — and soon we must live on income alone.

Let us look at only one lifeboat — ours. The ethical problem is the same for all, and is as follows. Here we sit, say fifty people in a lifeboat. To be generous, let us assume our boat has a capacity of ten more, making sixty. (This, however, is to violate the engineering principle of the “safety factor.” A new plant disease or a bad change in the weather may decimate our population if we don’t preserve some excess capacity as a safety factor.)

The fifty of us in the lifeboat see a hundred others swimming in the water outside, asking for admission to the boat, or for handouts. How shall we respond to their calls? There are several possibilities.

One. We may be tempted to try to live by the Christian ideal of being “our brother’s keeper,” or by the Marxian ideal (Marx 1875) of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Since the needs of all are the same, we take all the needy into our boat, making a total of one hundred and fifty in a boat with a capacity of sixty. The boat is swamped, and everyone drowns. Complete justice, complete catastrophe.

Two. Since the boat has an unused excess capacity of ten, we admit just ten more to it. This has the disadvantage of getting rid of the safety factor, for which action we will sooner or later pay dearly. Moreover, which ten do we let in? “First come, first served?” The best ten? The neediest ten? How do we discriminate? And what do we say to the ninety who are excluded?

Three. Admit no more to the boat and preserve the small safety factor. Survival of the people in the lifeboat is then possible (though we shall have to be on our guard against boarding parties).

The last solution is abhorrent to many people. It is unjust, they say. Let us grant that it is.

“I feel guilty about my good luck,” say some. The reply to this is simple: Get out and yield your place to others. Such a selfless action might satisfy the conscience of those who are addicted to guilt but it would not change the ethics of the lifeboat. The needy person to whom a guilt addict yields his place will not himself feel guilty about his sudden good luck. (If he did he would not climb aboard.) The net result of conscience-stricken people relinquishing their unjustly held positions is the elimination of their kind of conscience from the lifeboat. The lifeboat, as it were, purifies itself of guilt. The ethics of the lifeboat persist, unchanged by such momentary aberrations.

This then is the basic metaphor within which we must work out our solutions. Let us enrich the image step by step with substantive additions from the real world.


The harsh characteristics of lifeboat ethics are heightened by reproduction, particularly by reproductive differences. The people inside the lifeboats of the wealthy nations are doubling in numbers every eighty-seven years; those outside are doubling every thirty-five years, on the average. And the relative difference in prosperity is becoming greater.

Let us, for a while, think primarily of the U.S. lifeboat. As of 1973, the United States had a population of 210 million people who were increasing by 0.8 percent per year, that is, doubling in number every eighty-seven years.

Although the citizens of rich nations are outnumbered two to one by the poor, let us imagine an equal number of poor people outside our lifeboat — a mere 210 million poor people reproducing at a quite different rate. If we imagine these to be the combined populations of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Morocco, Thailand, Pakistan, and the Philippines, the average rate of increase of the people “outside” is a 3.3 percent per year. The doubling time of this population is twenty-one years.

Suppose that all these countries, and the United States, agreed to live by the Marxian ideal, “to each according to his needs,” the ideal of most Christians as well. Needs, of course, are determined by population size, which is affected by reproduction. Every nation regards its rate of reproduction as a sovereign right. If our lifeboat were big enough in the beginning it might be possible to live for a while by Christian-Marxian ideals. Might.

Initially, in the model given, the ratio of non-Americans to Americans would be one to one. But consider what the ratio would be eighty-seven years later. By this time Americans would have doubled to a population of 420 million. The other group (doubling every twenty-one years) would now have swollen to 3,540 million. Each American would have more than eight people to share with. How could the lifeboat possibly keep afloat?

All this involves extrapolation of current trends into the future and is consequently suspect. Trends may change. Granted, but the change will not necessarily be favorable. If, as seems likely, the rate of population increase falls faster in the ethnic group presently inside the lifeboat than it does among those now outside, the future will turn out to be even worse than mathematics predicts, and sharing will be even more suicidal.


The fundamental error of the sharing ethics is that it leads to the tragedy of the commons. Under a system of private property the man (or group of men) who own property recognize their responsibility to care for it, for if they don’t they will eventually suffer. A farmer, for instance, if he is intelligent, will allow no more cattle in a pasture than its carrying capacity justifies. If he overloads the pasture, weeds take over, erosion sets in, and the owner loses in the long run.

But if a pasture is run as a commons open to all, the right of each to use it is not matched by an operational responsibility to take care of it. It is no use asking independent herdsmen in a commons to act responsibly, for they dare not. The considerate herdsman who refrains from overloading the commons suffers more than a selfish one who says his needs are greater. (As Leo Durocher says, “Nice guys finish last.”) Christian-Marxian idealism is counterproductive. That it sounds nice is no excuse. With distribution systems, as with individual morality, good intentions are no substitute for good performance.

A social system is stable only if it is insensitive to errors. To the Christian-Marxian idealist a selfish person is a sort of “error.” Prosperity in the system of the commons cannot survive errors. If everyone would only restrain himself, all would be well; but it takes only one less than everyone to ruin a system of voluntary restraint. In a crowded world of less than perfect human beings — and we will never know any other — mutual ruin is inevitable in the commons. This is the core of the tragedy of the commons.

One of the major tasks of education today is to create such an awareness of the dangers of the commons that people will be able to recognize its many varieties, however disguised. There is pollution of the air and water because these media are treated as commons. Further growth of population and growth in the per capita conversion of natural resources into pollutants require that the system of the commons be modified or abandoned in the disposal of “externalities.”

The fish populations of the oceans are exploited as commons, and ruin lies ahead. No technological invention can prevent this fate; in fact, all improvements in the art of fishing merely hasten the day of complete ruin. Only the replacement of the system of the commons with a responsible system can save oceanic fisheries.

The management of western rangelands, though nominally rational, is in fact (under the steady pressure of cattle ranchers) often merely a government-sanctioned system of the commons, drifting toward ultimate ruin for both the rangelands and the residual enterprisers.


In the international arena we have recently heard a proposal to create a new commons, namely an international depository of food reserves to which nations will contribute according to their abilities, and from which nations may draw according to their needs. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug has lent the prestige of his name to this proposal.

A world food bank appeals powerfully to our humanitarian impulses. We remember John Donne¡¦s celebrated line, “Any man’s death diminishes me.” But before we rush out to see for whom the bell tolls let us recognize where the greatest political push for international granaries comes from, lest we be disillusioned later. Our experience with Public Law 480 clearly reveals the answer. This was the law that moved billions of dollars worth of U.S. grain to food-short, population-long countries during the past two decades. When P.L. 480 first came into being, a headline in the business magazine Forbes (Paddock and Paddock 1970) revealed the power behind it: “Feeding the World’s Hungry Millions: How It Will Mean Billions for U.S. Business.”

And indeed it did. In the years 1960 to 1970 a total of $7.9 billion was spent on the “Food for Peace” program, as P.L. 480 was called. During the years 1948 to 1970 an additional $49.9 billion were extracted from American taxpayers to pay for other economic aid programs, some of which went for food and food-producing machinery. (This figure does not include military aid.) That P.L. 480 was a give-away program was concealed. Recipient countries went through the motions of paying for P.L. 480 food — with IOUs. In December 1973 the charade was brought to an end as far as India was concerned when the United States “forgave” India’s $3.2 billon debt (Anonymous 1974). Public announcement of the cancellation of the debt was delayed for two months; one wonders why.

“Famine — 1974” (Paddock and Paddock 1970) is one of the few publications that points out the commercial roots of this humanitarian attempt. Though all U.S. taxpayers lost by P.L. 480, special interest groups gained handsomely. Farmers benefited because they were not asked to contribute the grain — it was bought from them by the taxpayers. Besides the direct benefit there was the indirect effect of increasing demand and thus raising prices of farm products generally. The manufacturers of farm machinery, fertilizers, and pesticides benefited by the farmers’ extra efforts to grow more food. Grain elevators profited from storing the grain for varying lengths of time. Railroads made money hauling it to port, and shipping lines by carrying it overseas. Moreover, once the machinery for P.L. 480 was established, an immense bureaucracy had a vested interest in its continuance regardless of its merits.

Very little was ever heard of these selfish interests when P.L. 480 was defended in public. The emphasis was always on its humanitarian effects. The combination of multiple and relatively silent selfish interests with highly vocal humanitarian apologists constitutes a powerful lobby for extracting money from taxpayers. Foreign aid has become a habit that can apparently survive in the absence of any known justification. A news commentator in a weekly magazine (Lansner 1974), after exhaustively going over all the conventional arguments for foreign aid, self-interest, social justice, political advantage, and charity, and concluding that none of the known arguments really held water, concluded: “So the search continues for some logically compelling reasons for giving aid…” In other words, Act now, Justify later — if ever. (Apparently a quarter of a century is too short a time to find the justification for expending several billion dollars yearly.)

The search for a rational justification can be short-circuited by interjecting the word “emergency.” Borlaug uses this word. We need to look sharply at it. What is an “emergency?” It is surely something like an accident, which is correctly defined as “an event that is certain to happen, though with a low frequency” (Hardin 1972a). A well-run organization prepares for everything that is certain, including accidents and emergencies. It budget for them. It saves for them. It expects them — and mature decision-makers do not waste time complaining about accidents when they occur.

What happens if some organizations budget for emergencies and other do not? If each organization is solely responsible for its own well-being, poorly managed ones will suffer. But they should be able to learn from experience. They have a chance to mend their ways and learn to budget for infrequent but certain emergencies. The weather, for instance, always varies and periodic crop failures are certain. A wise and competent government saves out of the production of the good years in anticipation of bad years that are sure to come. This is not a new idea. The Bible tells us that Joseph taught this policy to Pharaoh in Egypt more than two thousand years ago. Yet it is literally true that the vast majority of the governments of the world today have no such policy. They lack either the wisdom or the competence, or both. Far more difficult than the transfer of wealth from one country to another is the transfer of wisdom between sovereign powers or between generations.

“But it isn’t their fault! How can we blame the poor people who are caught in an emergency? Why must we punish them?” The concepts of blame and punishment are irrelevant. The question is, what are the operational consequences of establishing a world food bank? If it is open to every country every time a need develops, slovenly rulers will not be motivated to take Joseph’s advice. Why should they? Others will bail them out whenever they are in trouble.

Some countries will make deposits in the world food bank and others will withdraw from it: There will be almost no overlap. Calling such a depository-transfer unit a “bank” is stretching the metaphor of bank beyond its elastic limits. The proposers, of course, never call attention to the metaphorical nature of the word they use.


An “international food bank” is really, then, not a true bank but a disguised one-way transfer device for moving wealth from rich countries to poor. In the absence of such a bank, in a world inhabited by individually responsible sovereign nations, the population of each nation would repeatedly go through a cycle of the sort shown in Figure l. P2 is greater than P1, either in absolute numbers or because a deterioration of the food supply has removed the safety factor and produced a dangerously low ratio of resources to population. P2 may be said to represent a state of overpopulation, which becomes obvious upon the appearance of an “accident,” e.g., a crop failure. If the “emergency” is not met by outside help, the population drops back to the “normal” level — the “carrying capacity” of the environment — or even below. In the absence of population control by a sovereign, sooner or later the population grows to P2 again and the cycle repeats. The long-term population curve (Hardin 1966) is an irregularly fluctuating one, equilibrating more or less about the carrying capacity.

A demographic cycle of this sort obviously involves great suffering in the restrictive phase, but such a cycle is normal to any independent country with inadequate population control. The third century theologian Tertullian (Hardin 1969a) expressed what must have been the recognition of many wise men when he wrote: “The scourges of pestilence, famine, wars, and earthquakes have come to be regarded as a blessing to overcrowded nations, since they serve to prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race.”

Only under a strong and farsighted sovereign — which theoretically could be the people themselves, democratically organized — can a population equilibrate at some set point below the carrying capacity, thus avoiding the pains normally caused by periodic and unavoidable disasters. For this happy state to be achieved it is necessary that those in power be able to contemplate with equanimity the “waste” of surplus food in times of bountiful harvests. It is essential that those in power resist the temptation to convert extra food into extra babies. On the public relations level it is necessary that the phrase “surplus food” be replaced by “safety factor.”

But wise sovereigns seem not to exist in the poor world today. The most anguishing problems are created by poor countries that are governed by rulers insufficiently wise and powerful. If such countries can draw on a world food bank in times of “emergency,” the population cycle of Figure 1 will be replaced by the population escalator of Figure 2. The input of food from a food bank acts as the pawl of a ratchet, preventing the population from retracing its steps to a lower level. Reproduction pushes the population upward, inputs from the World Bank prevent its moving downward. Population size escalates, as does the absolute magnitude of “accidents” and “emergencies.” The process is brought to an end only by the total collapse of the whole system, producing a catastrophe of scarcely imaginable proportions.

Such are the implications of the well-meant sharing of food in a world of irresponsible reproduction.

I think we need a new word for systems like this. The adjective “melioristic” is applied to systems that produce continual improvement; the English word is derived from the Latin meliorare, to become or make better. Parallel with this it would be useful to bring in the word “pejoristic” (from the Latin pejorare, to become or make worse.) This word can be applied to those systems which, by their very nature, can be relied upon to make matters worse. A world food bank coupled with sovereign state irresponsibility in reproduction is an example of a pejoristic system.

This pejoristic system creates an unacknowledged commons. People have more motivation to draw from than to add to the common store. The license to make such withdrawals diminishes whatever motivation poor countries might otherwise have to control their populations. Under the guidance of this ratchet, wealth can be steadily moved in one direction only, from the slowly breeding rich to the rapidly breeding poor, the process finally coming to a halt only when all countries are equally and miserably poor.

All this is terribly obvious once we are acutely aware of the pervasiveness and danger of the commons. But many people still lack this awareness and the euphoria of the ¡§benign demographic transition¡¨ (Hardin 1973) interferes with the realistic appraisal of pejoristic mechanisms. As concerns public policy, the deductions drawn from the benign demographic transition are these:

1. If the per capita GNP rises the birth rate will fall; hence, the rate of population increase will fall, ultimately producing ZPG (Zero Population Growth).

2. The long-term trend all over the world (including the poor countries) is of a rising per capita GNP (for which no limit is seen).

3. Therefore, all political interference in population matters is unnecessary; all we need to do is foster economic “development” — note the metaphor — and population problems will solve themselves.

Those who believe in the benign demographic transition dismiss the pejoristic mechanism of Figure 2 in the belief that each input of food from the world outside fosters development within a poor country thus resulting in a drop in the rate of population increase. Foreign aid has proceeded on this assumption for more than two decades. Unfortunately, it has produced no indubitable instance of the asserted effect. It has, however, produced a library of excuses. The air is filled with plaintive calls for more massive foreign aid appropriations so that the hypothetical melioristic process can get started.

The doctrine of demographic laissez-faire implicit in the hypothesis of the benign demographic transition is immensely attractive. Unfortunately there is more evidence against the melioristic system than there is for it (Davis 1963). On the historical side there are many counter examples. The rise in per capita GNP in France and Ireland during the past century has been accompanied by a rise in population growth. In the twenty years following the Second World War the same positive correlation was noted almost everywhere in the world. Never in world history before 1950 did the worldwide population growth reach one percent per annum. Now the average population growth is over two percent and shows no signs of slackening.

On the theoretical side, the denial of the pejoristic scheme of Figure 2 probably springs from the hidden acceptance of the “cowboy economy” that Boulding castigated. Those who recognize the limitations of a spaceship, if they are unable to achieve population control at a safe and comfortable level, accept the necessity of the corrective feedback of the population cycle shown in Figure 1. No one who knew in his bones that he was living on a true spaceship would countenance political support of the population escalator shown in Figure 2.


The demoralizing effect of charity on the recipient has long been known. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his days.” So runs an ancient Chinese proverb. Acting on this advice the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations have financed a multipronged program for improving agriculture in the hungry nations. The result, known as the “Green Revolution,” has been quite remarkable. “Miracle wheat” and “miracle rice” are splendid technological achievements in the realm of plant genetics.

Whether or not the Green Revolution can increase food production is doubtful (Harris 1972, Paddock 1970, Wilkes 1972), but in any event not particularly important. What is missing in this great and well-meaning humanitarian effort is a firm grasp of fundamentals. Considering the importance of the Rockefeller Foundation in this effort it is ironic that the late Alan Gregg, a much-respected vice-president of the Foundation, strongly expressed his doubts of the wisdom of all attempts to increase food production some two decades ago. (This was before Bourlaug’s work — supported by Rockefeller — had resulted in the development of “miracle wheat.”) Gregg (1955) likened the growth and spreading of humanity over the surface of the earth to the metastasis of cancer in the human body, wryly remarking that “Cancerous growths demand food; but, as far as I know, they have never been cured by getting it.”

“Man does not live by bread alone” — the scriptural statement has a rich meaning even in the material realm. Every human being born constitutes a draft on all aspects of the environment ¡X food, air, water, unspoiled scenery, occasional and optional solitude, beaches, contact with wild animals, fishing and hunting; the list is long and incompletely known. Food can, perhaps, be significantly increased, but what about clean beaches, unspoiled forests, and solitude? If we satisfy the need for food in a growing population we necessarily decrease the supply of other goods, and thereby increase the difficulty of equitably allocating scarce goods (Hardin 1969b, 1972b).

The present population of India is 600 million, and it is increasing by 15 million per year. The environmental load of this population is already great. The forests of India are only a small fraction of what they were three centuries ago. Soil erosion, floods, and the psychological costs of crowding are serious. Every one of the net 15 million lives added each year stresses the Indian environment more severely. Every life saved this year in a poor country diminishes the quality of life for subsequent generations.

Observant critics have shown how much harm we wealthy nations have already done to poor nations through our well-intentioned but misguided attempts to help them (Paddock and Paddock 1973). Particularly reprehensible is our failure to carry out post-audits of these attempts (Farvar and Milton 1972). Thus have we shielded our tender consciences from knowledge of the harm we have done. Must we Americans continue to fail to monitor the consequences of our external “do-gooding?” If, for instance, we thoughtlessly make it possible for the present 600 million Indians to swell to 1,200 million by the year 2001, as their present growth rate promises, will posterity in India thank us for facilitating an even greater destruction of their environment? Are good intentions ever a sufficient excuse for bad consequences?


I come now to the final example of a commons in action, one for which the public is least prepared for rational discussion. The topic is at present enveloped by a great silence which reminds me of a comment made by Sherlock Holmes in A. Conan Doyle’s story “Silver Blaze.” Inspector Gregory had asked, “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” To this Holmes responded:

“To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.”
“The dog did nothing in the nighttime,” said the Inspector.
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

By asking himself what would repress the normal barking instinct of a watchdog, Holmes realized that it must be the dog’s recognition of his master as the criminal trespasser. In a similar way we should ask ourselves what repression keeps us from discussing something as important as immigration.

It cannot be that immigration is numerically of no consequence. Our government acknowledges a net inflow of 400,000 a year. Hard data are understandably lacking on the extent of illegal entries, but a not implausible figure is 600,000 per year (Buchanan 1973). The natural increase of the resident population is now about 1.7 million per year. This means that the yearly gain from immigration is at least nineteen percent, and may be thirty-seven percent, of the total increase. It is quite conceivable that educational campaigns like that of Zero Population Growth, Inc., coupled with adverse social and economic factors — inflation, housing shortage, depression, and loss of confidence in national leaders — may lower the fertility of American women to a point at which all of the yearly increase in population would be accounted for by immigration. Should we not at least ask if that is what we want? How curious it is that we so seldom discuss immigration these days!

Curious, but understandable, as one finds out the moment he publicly questions the wisdom of the status quo in immigration. He who does so is promptly charged with isolationism, bigotry, prejudice, ethnocentrism, chauvinism, and selfishness. These are hard accusations to bear. It is pleasanter to talk about other matters, leaving immigration policy to wallow in the crosscurrents of special interests that take no account of the good of the whole, or of the interests of posterity.

We Americans have a bad conscience because of things we said in the past about immigrants. Two generations ago the popular press was rife with references to Dagos, Wops, Polacks, Japs, Chinks, and Krauts, all pejorative terms which failed to acknowledge our indebtedness to Goya, Leonardo, Copernicus, Hiroshige, Confucius, and Bach. Because the implied inferiority of foreigners was then the justification for keeping them out, it is now thoughtlessly assumed that restrictive policies can only be based on the assumption of immigrant inferiority. This is not so.

Existing immigration laws exclude idiots and known criminals; future laws will almost certainly continue this policy. But should we also consider the quality of the average immigrant, as compared with the quality of the average resident? Perhaps we should, perhaps we shouldn’t. (What is “quality” anyway?) But the quality issue is not our concern here.

From this point on, it will be assumed that immigrants and native-born citizens are of exactly equal quality, however quality may be defined. The focus is only on quantity. The conclusions reached depend on nothing else, so all charges of ethnocentrism are irrelevant.

World food banks move food to the people, thus facilitating the exhaustion of the environment of the poor. By contrast, unrestricted immigration moves people to the food, thus speeding up the destruction of the environment in rich countries. Why poor people should want to make this transfer is no mystery; but why should rich hosts encourage it? This transfer, like the reverse one, is supported by both selfish interests and humanitarian impulses.

The principal selfish interest in unimpeded immigration is easy to identify: It is the interest of the employers of cheap labor, particularly that needed for degrading jobs. We have been deceived about the forces of history by the lines of Emma Lazarus inscribed [inside the entrance to] the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your
teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the
golden door.

The image is one of an infinitely generous earth mother, passively opening her arms to hordes of immigrants who come here on their own initiative. Such an image may have been adequate for the early days of colonization, but by the time these lines were written (1886) the force for immigration was largely manufactured inside our own borders by factory and mine owners who sought cheap labor not to be found among laborers already here. One group of foreigners after another was thus enticed into the United States to work at wretched jobs for wretched wages.

At present, it is largely the Mexicans who are being so exploited. It is particularly to the advantage of certain employers that there be many illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrant workers dare not complain about their working conditions for fear of being repatriated. Their presence reduces the bargaining power of all Mexican-American laborers. Cesar Chavez has repeatedly pleaded with congressional committees to close the doors to more Mexicans so that those here can negotiate effectively for higher wages and decent working conditions. Chavez understands the ethics of a lifeboat.

The interests of the employers of cheap labor are well served by the silence of the intelligentsia of the country. WASPS — White Anglo-Saxon Protestants — are particularly reluctant to call for a closing of the doors to immigration for fear of being called ethnocentric bigots. It was, therefore, an occasion of pure delight for this particular WASP to be present at a meeting when the points he would like to have made were made better by a non-WASP, speaking to other non-WASPS. It was in Hawaii, and most of the people in the room were second-level Hawaiian officials of Japanese ancestry. All Hawaiians are keenly aware of the limits of their environment, and the speaker had asked how it might be practically and constitutionally possible to close the doors to more immigrants to the islands. (To Hawaiians, immigrants from the other 49 states are as much of a threat as those from other nations. There is only so much room in the islands, and the islanders know it. Sophistical arguments that imply otherwise do not impress them.)

Yet the Japanese-Americans of Hawaii have active ties with the land of their origin. This point was raised by a Japanese-American member of the audience who asked the Japanese-American speaker: “But how can we shut the doors now? We have many friends and relations in Japan that we’d like to bring to Hawaii some day so that they can enjoy this land.”

The speaker smiled sympathetically and responded slowly: “Yes, but we have children now and someday we’ll have grandchildren. We can bring more people here from Japan only by giving away some of the land that we hope to pass on to our grandchildren some day. What right do we have to do that?”

To be generous with one’s own possessions is one thing; to be generous with posterity’s is quite another. This, I think, is the point that must be gotten across to those who would, from a commendable love of distributive justice, institute a ruinous system of the commons, either in the form of a world food bank or that of unrestricted immigration. Since every speaker is a member of some ethnic group it is always possible to charge him with ethnocentrism. But even after purging an argument of ethnocentrism the rejection of the commons is still valid and necessary if we are to save at least some parts of the world from environmental ruin. Is it not desirable that at least some of the grandchildren of people now living should have a decent place in which to live?


We must now answer this telling point: “How can you justify slamming the door once you’re inside? You say that immigrants should be kept out. But aren’t we all immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants? Since we refuse to leave, must we not, as a matter of justice and symmetry, admit all others?”

It is literally true that we Americans of non-Indian ancestry are the descendants of thieves. Should we not, then, “give back” the land to the Indians; that is, give it to the now-living Americans of Indian ancestry? As an exercise in pure logic I see no way to reject this proposal. Yet I am unwilling to live by it, and I know no one who is. Our reluctance to embrace pure justice may spring from pure selfishness. On the other hand, it may arise from an unspoken recognition of consequences that have not yet been clearly spelled out.

Suppose, becoming intoxicated with pure justice, we “Anglos” should decide to turn our land over to the Indians. Since all our other wealth has also been derived from the land, we would have to give that to the Indians, too. Then what would we non-Indians do? Where would we go? There is no open land in the world on which men without capital can make their living (and not much unoccupied land on which men with capital can, either). Where would 200 million putatively justice-loving, non-Indian, Americans go? Most of them — in the persons of their ancestors — came from Europe, but they wouldn’t be welcomed back there. Anyway, Europeans have no better title to their land than we to ours. They also would have to give up their homes. (But to whom? And where would they go?)

Clearly, the concept of pure justice produces an infinite regress. The law long ago invented statutes of limitations to justify the rejection of pure justice, in the interest of preventing massive disorder. The law zealously defends property rights — but only recent property rights. It is as though the physical principle of exponential decay applies to property rights. Drawing a line in time may be unjust, but any other action is practically worse.

We are all the descendants of thieves, and the world’s resources are inequitably distributed, but we must begin the journey to tomorrow from the point where we are today. We cannot remake the past. We cannot, without violent disorder and suffering, give land and resources back to the “original” owners — who are dead anyway.

We cannot safely divide the wealth equitably among all present peoples, so long as people reproduce at different rates, because to do so would guarantee that our grandchildren — everyone’s grandchildren — would have only a ruined world to inhabit.


To show the logical structure of the immigration problem I have ignored many factors that would enter into real decisions made in a real world. No matter how convincing the logic may be it is probable that we would want, from time to time, to admit a few people from the outside to our lifeboat. Political refugees in particular are likely to cause us to make exceptions. We remember the Jewish refugees from Germany after 1933, and the Hungarian refugees after 1956. Moreover, the interests of national defense, broadly conceived, could justify admitting many men and women of unusual talents, whether refugees or not. (This raises the quality issue, which is not the subject of this essay.)

Such exceptions threaten to create runaway population growth inside the lifeboat, i.e., the receiving country. However, the threat can be neutralized by a population policy that includes immigration. An effective policy is one of flexible control.

Suppose, for example, that the nation has achieved a stable condition of ZPG, which (say) permits 1.5 million births yearly. We must suppose that an acceptable system of allocating birthrights to potential parents is in effect. Now suppose that an inhumane regime in some other part of the world creates a horde of refugees, and that there is a widespread desire to admit some to our country. At the same time, we do not want to sabotage our population control system. Clearly, the rational path to pursue is the following: If we decide to admit 100,000 refugees this year we should compensate for this by reducing the allocation of birth rights in the following year by a similar amount, that is, downward to a total of 1.4 million. In that way we could achieve both humanitarian and population control goals. (And the refugees would have to accept the population controls of the society that admits them. It is not inconceivable that they might be given proportionately fewer rights than the native population.)

In a democracy, the admission of immigrants should properly be voted on. But by whom? It is not obvious. The usual rule of a democracy is votes for all. But it can be questioned whether a universal franchise is the most just one in a case of this sort. Whatever benefits there are in the admission of immigrants presumably accrue to everyone. But the costs would be seen as falling most heavily on potential parents, some of who would have to postpone or forego having their (next) child because of the influx of immigrants. The double question Who benefits? Who pays? suggests that a restriction of the usual democratic franchise would be appropriate and just in this case. Would our particular quasi-democratic form of government be flexible enough to institute such a novelty? If not, the majority might, out of humanitarian motives, impose an unacceptable burden (the foregoing of parenthood) on a minority, thus producing political instability.

Plainly many new problems will arise when we consciously face the immigration question and seek rational answers. No workable answers can be found if we ignore population problems. And ¡X if the argument of this essay is correct — so long as there is no true world government to control reproduction everywhere it is impossible to survive in dignity if we are to be guided by Spaceship ethics. Without a world government that is sovereign in reproductive matters mankind lives, in fact, on a number of sovereign lifeboats. For the foreseeable future survival demands that we govern our actions by the ethics of a lifeboat. Posterity will be ill served if we do not. ¡½

Anonymous. 1974. Wall Street Journal, 19 Feb.

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Buchanan, W. 1973. “Immigration Statistics.” Equilibrium 1(3): 16-19.

Davis, K. 1963. “Population.” Sci. Amer. 209(3): 62-71.

Farvar, M. T., and J. P. Milton. 1972. The Careless Technology. Natural History Press, Garden City, N.Y.

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Hardin, G. 1966. Chapter 9 in Biology: Its Principles and Implications, 2nd ed. Freeman, San Francisco.

–. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162:1243-1248.

–. 1969a Page 18 in Population, Evolution and Birth Control, 2nd ed. Freeman, San Francisco.

–. 1969b. “The Economics of Wilderness.” Nat. Hist. 78(6): 20-27.

–. 1972a. Pages 81-82 in Exploring New Ethics for Survival: The Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle. Viking, N.Y.

–. 1972b. “Preserving Quality on Spaceship Earth.” In J. B. Trefethen, ed. Transactions of the Thirty-Seventh North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, Wildlife Management Institute, Washington, DC.

–. 1973. Chapter 23 in Stalking the Wild Taboo. Kaufmann, Los Altos, CA.

Harris, M. 1972. “How Green the Revolution.” Nat. Hist. 81(3): 28-30.

Langer, S. K. 1942. Philosophy in a New Key. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Lansner, K. 1974. “Should Foreign Aid Begin at Home?” Newsweek, 11 Feb., p.32.

Marx, K. 1875. “Critique of the Gotha Program.” Page 388 in R. C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. Norton, N.Y., 1972.

Ophuls, W. 1974. “The Scarcity Society.” Harpers 243(1487): 47-52.

Paddock, W. C. 1970. “How Green Is the Green Revolution?” BioScience 20:897-902.

Paddock, W., and E. Paddock. 1973. We Don’t Know How. Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa.

Paddock, W. and P. Paddock. 1967. Famine–1975! Little, Brown, Boston.

Wilkes, H. G. 1972. “The Green Revolution.” Environment 14(8): 32-39.

Garrett Hardin, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of many articles and books including Creative Altruism An Ecologist Questions Motives; The Ostrich Factor: Overpopulation Myopia; The Immigration Dilemma: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons; Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos.

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