Garrett Hardin
Garrett Hardin (1986)
Garrett James Hardin

April 21, 1915
DiedSeptember 14, 2003(2003-09-14) (aged 88)
Alma materUniversity of Chicago (BS)
Stanford University (PhD)
Known for"The Tragedy of the Commons" (essay)
Scientific career

Garrett James Hardin (April 21, 1915 – September 14, 2003) was an American ecologist and microbiologist. He focused his career on the issue of human overpopulation, and is best known for his exposition of the tragedy of the commons in a 1968 paper of the same title in Science,[1][2][3] which called attention to "the damage that innocent actions by individuals can inflict on the environment".[4] 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."[5][6]: 112  Garrett held hardline anti-immigrant positions as well as positions on eugenics and multiethnicism that have led multiple sources to label him a white nationalist. Beginning in the late 2010s, the Southern Poverty Law Center declared his publications "frank in their racism and quasi-fascist ethnonationalism".[7][8][9][10][11]


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.[12] 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.

Major works and positions

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,[13] 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[14] and creationism.[15] He was also a proponent of eugenics and a vice-president of American Eugenics Society.[9]

Neomalthusian approach and "The Tragedy of the Commons"

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.[1][citation needed] 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,[citation needed] Malthusian catastrophe is inevitable. Hardin stated in his analysis of the tragedy of the commons that "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all."[1]: 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".[16]

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,[17] 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.[18] Hardin's work was also criticized[19] as historically inaccurate in failing to account for the demographic transition, and for failing to distinguish between common property and open access resources.[20][21]

Despite the criticisms, the theory has nonetheless been influential.[9][22]

Living Within Limits

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",[23] 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.[24] 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.[24] Hardin writes, "At this late date millions of people believe in the fertility of money with an ardor seldom accorded to traditional religious doctrines".[24]: 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.

Personal life

Participation in death-with-dignity movement and suicide

Hardin, who suffered from a heart disorder and post-polio syndrome,[25] 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 killed themselves in their Santa Barbara home in September 2003, shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. He was 88 and she was 81.[26]


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".[8]

In 1994, he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence",[27] 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.[8]

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.



Selected journal articles

Chapters in books

Awards and honors

See also


  1. ^ a b c Hardin, G (1968). "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science. 162 (3859): 1243–1248. Bibcode:1968Sci...162.1243H. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243. PMID 5699198.
  2. ^ Locher, Fabien (August 19, 2013). "Cold War Pastures: Garrett Hardin and the 'Tragedy of the Commons'". Revue d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine. 60 (1): 7–36. doi:10.3917/rhmc.601.0007. ISSN 0048-8003.
  3. ^ "Debunking the Tragedy of the Commons". CNRS News. French National Center for Scientific Research. January 5, 2018. Retrieved November 29, 2022. In December 1968, the American biologist Garrett Hardin (1915–2003) published one of the most influential articles in the history of environmental thought. ... The concept was soon being widely cited in academic circles, as well as by journalists, ecologists, government authorities and politicians. Many saw it as a scientific justification for the state control or (more often) the privatization of resources and ecosystems. Today, our historical perspective and improved understanding show this line of thinking for what it is: a misconception with no concrete basis, skewed by a highly ideological perception of social systems.
  4. ^ Lavietes, Stuart (October 28, 2003). "Garrett Hardin, 88, Ecologist Who Warned About Excesses". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  5. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1963). "Hardin, Garrett. "The cybernetics of competition: A biologist's view of society". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 7 (1): 80. doi:10.1353/pbm.1963.0034. PMID 14070000. S2CID 9236063. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  6. ^ Miller, George Tyler (1993). Environmental Science: Sustaining the Earth. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0534178086.
  7. ^ Biss, Eula (June 8, 2022). "The Theft of the Commons". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 13, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c "Garrett Hardin". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Mildenberger, Matto (April 23, 2019). "The tragedy of the tragedy of the commons". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  10. ^ Abegglen, Martin (September 26, 2019). "First as Tragedy, Then as Fascism". The Baffler.
  11. ^ Nijhuis, Michelle (May 4, 2021). "The miracle of the commons". Aeon.
  12. ^ Hardin, Garrett (July 1, 1944). "Symbiosis of Paramecium and Oikomonas". Ecology. 25 (3): 304–311. doi:10.2307/1931278. ISSN 1939-9170. JSTOR 1931278.
  13. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1973). "Chapter 1: I Become an Abortionist". Stalking the Wild Taboo. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 3–9. ISBN 978-0913232033.
  14. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1982). "Chapter 22: Conservation's Secret Question". Naked Emperors. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 190–195. ISBN 978-0865760325.
  15. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1982). "Chapter 7: "Scientific Creationism" – Marketing Deception as Truth". Naked Emperors. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 49–57. ISBN 978-0865760325.
  16. ^ Radkau, Joachim (2008). Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0521851299. Radkau cites Grove and Rackham, The Nature of Mediterranean Europe: An Ecological History.
  17. ^ Araral, E. (2014). "Ostrom, Hardin and the commons: A critical appreciation and a revisionist view". Environmental Science & Policy. 36: 11–23. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2013.07.011. S2CID 153755518.
  18. ^ Bollier, David; Helfrich, Silke, eds. (2014). The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State. Levellers Press. ISBN 978-1937146146.
  19. ^ Dasgupta, Partha (2001). Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199247882.
  20. ^ Ciriacy-Wantrup, S. V.; Bishop, Richard C. (1975). ""Common Property" as a Concept in Natural Resources Policy" (PDF). Natural Resources Journal. 15 (4): 713–727. ISSN 0028-0739.
  21. ^ Cox, Susan Jane Buck (1985). "No Tragedy of the Commons:" (PDF). Environmental Ethics. 7 (1): 49–61. doi:10.5840/enviroethics1985716. ISSN 0163-4275.
  22. ^ DeRobertis, Michelle; Lee, Richard W (June 2017). "The Tragedy of the Commons of the Urban (and Suburban) Arterial". ITE Journal. 87 (6): 44–49. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  23. ^ "Stalking the Wild Taboo – Stalkers: Hardin: Book Review". Archived from the original on November 14, 2010.
  24. ^ a b c Hardin, Garrett (1993). Living Within Limits. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198024033. "Chapter 8. Growth Real and Spurious" available online at Garrett Hardin Society.
  25. ^ Keynote Address 'We must learn again for ourselves what we have inherited', Wilderness Conference, SF, 1970, or perhaps *A 110. The economics of wilderness. Natural History, 78(6):20-27. 1969.
  26. ^ Steepleton, Scott (September 19, 2003). "Pioneering professor, wife die in apparent double suicide". Santa Barbara News-Press. Retrieved September 28, 2007.
  27. ^ Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (PDF). Wall Street Journal. p. A18. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  28. ^ "Garrett Hardin Bibliography" (PDF). Garrett Hardin Society. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  29. ^ "Garrett James Hardin". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  30. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  31. ^ "Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science – List of Previous Winners". The Phi Beta Kappa Society. Archived from the original on December 19, 2010. Retrieved October 22, 2023.

Further reading