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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Economy, Ecology and Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin is well-known for his 1968 article on The Tragedy of the Commons, which is considered a classic (Science, 13 December 1968, vol. 162, pp. 1243-48). His subject matter was overpopulation. The example he chose was an agricultural land used by several people, none of whom want to take care of the land. If everyone with the right and access to the land grazes as many sheep or cattle as possible for his own interest and profit, and no one shares the responsibility of maintaining the land or think of the interest of the others, the land will be barren sooner or later. In this era of technology, we can develop new technology to increase the yield or trap the pollution. But, every technology comes with its own problems. Ultimately, a change in our own behavior is needed to bring back stability. This is the core of Garrett Hardin’s thesis.

We can easily replace this example with uncontrolled fishing, ocean dumping and atmospheric pollution. This idea of the commons is traced back to Sir William Foster Lloyd, a professor of Political Economy at Oxford in 1832. This fact is mentioned by Garrett Hardin in his scholarly book on “Filters against Folly” (Penguin Books, 1985).

In addition to learning about the original source of the idea, I also noted two other points in this book.

1. Garrett Hardin defines Economics as an ego-based discipline and naturally, it deals with how to maximize the economic return to the individual. Just by the nature of the discipline, concern for others, fairness and compassion are not in its domain.

2. The etymology of the words “economics” and “ecology” leads us to the Greek word Oikos, meaning home or household. “The first word (economics) deals with the accounts of the household of human beings, while the second word (ecology) ranges over all living things”.  (page 70)

Now, oikos has become a “corporate” brand name for yogurt!

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