The perception of an infinite and endless goods

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Last updated: September 15, 2019

The English economist Adam Smith once wrote inhis book Wealth of Nations, “Men like all other animals, naturally multiplyin proportion to the means of their subsistence.” Those immortal words of Adam Smith seem tohave been in the mind of Garret Hardin when he penned his much-debated essay aboutthe problem of human over breeding and the ill-conceived idea of utilitymaximization for one’s own gains at the expense of others in what hecalled “TheTragedy of the Commons,” and questioned the perception of an infiniteand endless goods in the world. Hardin also scrutinized the wisdom of overpopulating as a meansof maximizing one’s utility in a world wherethe existing resource is limited and far too scarce. In his argument, Hardin challengedthe myth that says the more population a nation has the better future thatawaits, by pointing out the poor living conditions that exist in regions wheresuch practice is the norm. One of the most compelling evidence of Hardin’sargument against uncontrolled population growth is laid to bare, however, whenhe argued that “the most rapidly growingpopulations on earth are (in general) the most miserable,”hence the inaccuracy of such believes (Hardin 1244).             Although Hardin accepts his view ofa finite world with exhaustible resources is up for debate, he does not, nonethelessbelieve that the current trajectory of population growth is going to besustainable in the long run.

Hardin believes that such untethered populationgrowth, coupled with the freedom to breed and the existence of the welfarestate would indeed, lead to misery and depletion of public good resources, thuscausing ruins, hastening a scenario of doomsday for all. The solution to suchmultilayer problem requires the precipitation of many actors acknowledges Hardinand gives few suggestions as starting points. For example, Hardin believes thateducating societies about the nature of limited resources in the world, privatizingany publicly own commons or setting up a system where the right to access thecommons is appropriated. Hardin also believes that limiting the welfare stateby way of restraining the freedom to breed as a means of maximizing one’sutility in the commons would take some restrains away from the commons.

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Another subject that Hardin’sessay tackled is the issue of pollution in a time of private property andpersonal rights. Hardin argues that while polluters don’t necessarilydeplete the commons by way of extracting existing resources, they arenonetheless exploiting public goods by contaminating what is already scarceresources in the commons. Hardin further explains how Industrialization coupledwith population increase among other things are the main culprits that aredestroying the social construct of the environment.

Hardin’sargument here implies that often times, the individual’srational behavior could lead to collective destruction outcome for everyone else.This part of Hardin’s argument illustrates the phenomenonthat came with the industrialization of the 20th century wherestates and other transnational organization began to exploit the commons byeither blasting dirty bombs in the environment or setting up large factoriesthat omitted dirty chemicals and other toxic wastes into the air and rivers inorder to maximize their utility in the commons. In a period where privateproperty, territorial rights, and state sovereignty are all at the forefront ofenvironmental and climate issues, a solution to such problem seems far-fetchedand hard to envision, concedes Hardin. Nonetheless, Hardin believes thatpassing laws against such pollution or imposing certain fees on polluters mightmitigate the environmental damage or at least make it less incentive for those actorsto undertake such tasks in the first place. 

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