The Tragedy of the Commons
Writing on the problem of human overpopulation in a 1968 essay titled The Tragedy of the Commons, American ecologist and philosopher Garrett Hardin asked,
Indeed, overbreeding as a policy is the strategy immigrants to the West have been pursuing in order to conquer Europe and America from within. A Western welfare state drunk on cheap immigrant labor that willfully opens its borders to an unrestricted influx certainly risks the possibility of self-induced extinction, namely suicide by immigration. Hardin further notes that there is “no technical solution to the problem” of overbreeding in an enclosed setting, whether local, national or global. Regardless of technological advances, overall human reproductive rates eventually catch up with the latest developments.
Those dreaming of building underwater cities will not escape the Tragedy either,
“It is fair to say that most people who anguish over the population problem are trying to find a way to avoid the evils of overpopulation without relinquishing any of the privileges they now enjoy. They think that farming the seas or developing new strains of wheat will solve the problem—technologically. I try to show here that the solution they seek cannot be found.”
The finite world we live in is what Hardin calls the Commons. A term taken from political economics, the commons refers to all natural and cultural resources people or societies hold in common such as air, water, and the habitable earth, as opposed to privately-owned property. The phrase Tragedy of the Commons refers to mankind’s inability to escape the consequences of its own continued population growth, namely overpopulation, resources shortage, war, famine, disease outbreak, and the subsequent reality of (partial) population collapse. Hardin explains the Tragedy of the Commons as follows:
“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.”
The impossibility of a peaceful solution led Hardin to the conclusion that an individual’s freedom to reproduce lies at the heart of the problem:
“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.”
Hardin proposed a political solution to the unsolvable technical problem, stating, “The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon.”
In his view, individuals should no longer be allowed to reproduce at will. Hardin’s suggestion is surprising because it is precisely the sort of ‘solution’ Nazi Germany employed by enacting racial purity laws that barred ‘impure’ people from having children. Still, the idea of licensing parents to have children is gaining popularity among the progressive left. But there’s a problem. If we would go full leftist and choose to license only economically successful people, whites would remain a substantial part of the licensees—the whole world would cry racism.
(There’s a risk that progressives may decide to down-breed the human species in order to create more obedient specimen.)
Hardin’s solution to overbreeding was an argument for communism, namely the belief that individual people may not be left to decide for themselves what is best for them. Under communism, it is the State that decides who may (or must) start a family, how many children each woman may have, and who should be barred from having children—like a shepherd in charge of his flock.
What, then, is the solution to the Tragedy? There is none. At some point in time, the human species must either face the Gulag or the Hunger Games. Those who prepare for it today have a better chance at winning tomorrow.
Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162, no. 3859 (December 13, 1968): 1243–48, doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243.
CLAUDIA PAP MANGEL, “Licensing Parents: How Feasible?,” Family Law Quarterly 22, no. 1 (1988): 17–39.