Tag Archives: Garrett Hardin

Further Hardin Debunking

yacouba.jpg Regarding Perry’s comment to the previous post, the point is that the specific example on which Hardin based his thesis, the one everyone cites in support of it, is not borne out by the evidence, not that he presented any evidence for it in the first place.

Further, that it’s not a tragedy in the sense Hardin meant: that of a Greek tragedy in which a flaw of character inevitably leads to the demise of the protagonist. Individuals are not inevitably disposed to claw out their own at the expense of everyone else. Sometimes people realize that there really is such a thing as the common good; that benefiting everyone benefits themselves.

Yes, I know about the Sahara and the Sahel; I’ve been there; I’ve seen the goats gnawing away at everything.

The solution is not state central planning: you cite Chinese lakes; I’ll cite the Aral Sea.

The solution is also not privatization of the commons: look at the wildfires in the U.S. west exacerbated by subdivisions built in forests.

Solutions that work seem to involve combinations of innovation, education, and especially cooperation. Like this one:

In the late 1970s, when the problems of desertification, combined with population growth, drought and grinding poverty in West Africa first began to get sustained global attention, the prognosis was mostly gloom and doom. And as has been well documented, foreign aid has been less than successful in improving matters. In Yahenga, Reij and Fabore note, efforts to modernize agriculture through large-scale mechanized operations usually failed, for a variety of reasons. The spread of zai hole planting spearheaded by Sawadogo was mostly carried out by the local farmers themselves, with limited support from the government or foreign donors. Those with access to labor dug the holes, and used local sources of organic manure to fill them.

A tree grows in the Sahel, Andrew Leonard, How the World Works, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 11:22 PDT

The “free market” isn’t enough. Cooperation on scales from local to global is also needed. And it does happen, despite Garrett Hardin’s myth that it can’t.


Debunking the Tragedy of the Commons

x7579e05.gif Interesting article here making a point that should have been obvious for forty years. When Garrett Hardin published his famous article about the “tragedy of the commons” in Science in December 1968, he cited no evidence whatsoever for his assertion that a commons would always be overgrazed; that community-owned resources would always be mismanaged. Quite a bit of evidence was already available, but he ignored it, because it said quite the opposite: villagers would band together to manage their commons, including setting limits (stints) on how many animals any villager could graze, and they would enforce those limits.

Finding evidence for Hardin’s thesis is much harder:

The only significant cases of overstocking found by the leading modern expert on the English commons involved wealthy landowners who deliberately put too many animals onto the pasture in order to weaken their much poorer neighbours’ position in disputes over the enclosure (privatisation) of common lands (Neeson 1993: 156).

Hardin assumed that peasant farmers are unable to change their behaviour in the face of certain disaster. But in the real world, small farmers, fishers and others have created their own institutions and rules for preserving resources and ensuring that the commons community survived through good years and bad.

Debunking the `Tragedy of the Commons’, By Ian Angus, Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal, August 24, 2008

So privatization is not, as so many disciples of Hardin have argued, the cure for the non-existant tragedy of the commons. Rather, privatization can be the enemy of the common management of common resources.

What does this have to do with risk management? Well, insurance is the creation of a managed commons by pooling resources. Catastrophe bonds are another form of pooled resources, that is, a form of a commons.

On the Internet, the big problem with fighting risks like phishing, pharming, spam, and DDoS attacks is that the victims will fail if they go it alone. The Internet is a commons, and pretending that it isn’t is the problem. Most people and companies don’t abuse the Internet. But a few, such as spam herders and some extremist copyright holders (MPAA, RIAA), do. They need to be given stints by the village.