Garrett James Hardin
April 21, 1915
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
|Died||September 14, 2003 (aged 88)|
|Known for||The Tragedy of the Commons (essay)|
Garrett James Hardin (April 21, 1915 – September 14, 2003) was an American ecologist who warned of the dangers of human overpopulation. He is most known for his exposition of the tragedy of the commons, in a 1968 paper of the same title in Science, which called attention to "the damage that innocent actions by individuals can inflict on the environment". He is also known for Hardin's First Law of Human Ecology: "We can never do merely one thing. Any intrusion into nature has numerous effects, many of which are unpredictable.":112 He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist, whose publications were "frank in their racism and quasi-fascist ethnonationalism".
Hardin received a BS in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1936 and a PhD in microbiology from Stanford University in 1941 where his dissertation research addressed symbiosis among microorganisms. Moving to the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1946, he served there as Professor of Human Ecology from 1963 until his (nominal) retirement in 1978. He was among the first members of the Society for General Systems Research.
A major focus of his career, and one to which he returned repeatedly, was the issue of human overpopulation. This led to writings on controversial subjects such as advocating abortion rights, which earned him criticism from the political right, and advocating strict limits to all immigration, which earned him criticism from the political left. In his essays, he also tackled subjects such as conservation and creationism. He was also a proponent of eugenics.
In 1968, Hardin applied his conceptual model developed in his essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" to human population growth, the use of the Earth's natural resources, and the welfare state. His essay cited an 1833 pamphlet by the English economist William Forster Lloyd which included an example of herders sharing a common parcel of land, which would lead to overgrazing.
Hardin blamed the welfare state for allowing the tragedy of the commons; where the state provides for children and supports over-breeding as a fundamental human right, Malthusian catastrophe is inevitable. Hardin stated in his analysis of the tragedy of the commons that "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.":1244 Environmental historians Joachim Radkau, Alfred Thomas Grove and Oliver Rackham criticized Hardin "as an American with no notion at all how Commons actually work".
In addition, Hardin's pessimistic outlook was subsequently contradicted by Elinor Ostrom's later work on success of co-operative structures like the management of common land, for which she shared the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Oliver E. Williamson. In contrast to Hardin, they stated neither commons or "Allmende" in the generic nor classical meaning are bound to fail; to the contrary "the wealth of the commons" has gained renewed interest in the scientific community. Hardin's work was also criticized as historically inaccurate in failing to account for the demographic transition, and for failing to distinguish between common property and open access resources.
Despite the criticisms, the theory has nonetheless been influential.
In 1993, Garrett Hardin published Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, which he described at the time as a summation of all his previous works. The book won the 1993 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. In the book, he argues that the natural sciences are grounded in the concept of limits (such as the speed of light), while social sciences, such as economics, are grounded in concepts that have no limits (such as the widespread "infinite-Earth" economic models). He notes that most of the more notable scientific (as opposed to political) debates concerning ecological economics are between natural scientists, such as Paul R. Ehrlich, and economists, such as Julian Simon, one of Ehrlich's most well known and vocal detractors. A strong theme throughout the book is that economics, as a discipline, can be as much about mythology and ideology as it is about real science.
Hardin goes on to label those who reflexively argue for growth as "growthmaniacs", and argues against the institutional faith in exponential growth on a finite planet. Typical of Hardin's writing style, he illustrates exponential growth by way of a Biblical metaphor. Using compound interest, or "usury", he starts from the infamous "thirty pieces of silver" and, using five percent compounded interest, finds that after around 2,000 years, "every man, woman, and child would be entitled to only (!) 160,000 earth-masses of gold". As a consequence, he argues that any economy based on long-term compound interest must eventually fail due to the physical and mathematical impossibility of long-term exponential growth on a finite planet. Hardin writes, "At this late date millions of people believe in the fertility of money with an ardor seldom accorded to traditional religious doctrines".:67 He argues that, contrary to some socially-motivated claims, population growth is also exponential growth, therefore even a little would be disastrous anywhere in the world, and that even the richest nations are not immune.
Hardin, who suffered from a heart disorder and Post-polio syndrome, and his wife, Jane, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, were members of End-of-Life Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society.
Believing in individuals' choice of when to die, they completed suicide in their Santa Barbara home in September 2003, shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. He was 88 and she was 81.
Hardin caused controversy for his support of anti-immigrant causes during his lifetime and possible connections to the white nationalist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted that Hardin served on the board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Social Contract Press and co-founded the anti-immigration Californians for Population Stabilization and The Environmental Fund, which according to the SPLC "served to lobby Congress for nativist and isolationist policies".
In 1994, he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence", an editorial written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal, which declared the consensus of the signing scholars on issues related to race and intelligence following the publication of the book The Bell Curve.
Hardin's last book The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia (1999), a warning about the threat of overpopulation to the Earth's sustainable economic future, called for coercive constraints on "unqualified reproductive rights" and argued that affirmative action is a form of racism.