Garrett Hardin

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Garrett Hardin
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Garrett Hardin (1986)
Garrett James Hardin

April 21, 1915
DiedSeptember 14, 2003(2003-09-14) (aged 88)
Nationality American
Known for The Tragedy of the Commons (essay)
Scientific career
Fields Ecology

Garrett James Hardin (April 21, 1915 – September 14, 2003) was an American ecologist who warned of the dangers of human overpopulation. He is most famous for his exposition of the tragedy of the commons, in a 1968 paper of the same title in Science , [1] which called attention to "the damage that innocent actions by individuals can inflict on the environment". [2] 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." [3] :112 He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist, whose publications were "frank in their racism and quasi-fascist ethnonationalism". [4]



Hardin received a B.S. 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. [5] 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, [6] 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 [7] and creationism. [8] He is also a proponent of eugenics. [9]

Neomalthusian approach and "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". [10]

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, [11] 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. [12] Hardin's work was also criticized [13] as historically inaccurate in failing to account for the demographic transition, and for failing to distinguish between common property and open access resources. [14] [15]

Despite the criticisms, the theory has nonetheless been influential. [16] [17]

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", [18] 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. [19] 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. [19] Hardin writes, "At this late date millions of people believe in the fertility of money with an ardor seldom accorded to traditional religious doctrines". [19] :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 the aftermath of childhood poliomyelitis, [20] 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 completed suicide in their Santa Barbara home in September 2003, shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. He was 88 and she was 81. [21]

Association with white nationalism

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". [4]

In 1994, he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence", [22] 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 . [4]

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


See also

Related Research Articles

Malthusian catastrophe Prediction of a forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth has outpaced agricultural production

A Malthusian catastrophe occurs when population growth outpaces agricultural production, causing population to be limited by famine. It is named after Thomas Robert Malthus, who suggested that while technological advances could increase a society's supply of resources, such as food, and thereby improve the standard of living, the resource abundance would enable population growth, which would eventually bring the per capita supply of resources back to its original level. Some economists contend that since the industrial revolution, mankind has broken out of the trap. Others argue that the continuation of extreme poverty indicates that the Malthusian trap continues to operate. Others further argue that due to lack of food availability coupled with excessive pollution, developing countries show more evidence of the trap.

Overgrazing intensive grazing

Overgrazing occurs when plants are exposed to intensive grazing for extended periods of time, or without sufficient recovery periods. It can be caused by either livestock in poorly managed agricultural applications, game reserves, or nature reserves. It can also be caused by immobile, travel restricted populations of native or non-native wild animals. However, "overgrazing" is a controversial concept, based on equilibrium system theory. A strong indicator of overgrazing is where additional feed needs to be brought in from outside the farm, often to support livestock through the winter. Traditionally this feed was sourced on the farm, with fewer animals being kept and some fields being used for hay and silage production. Modern farm businesses often choose to keep more animals than their land can support alone; buying in external feed to offset this.

Sustainable Development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services on which the economy and society depend. The desired result is a state of society where living conditions and resources are used to continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural system. Sustainable development can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Tragedy of the commons Depletion of a shared resource according to ones self-interests

The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action. The concept originated in an essay written in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land in Great Britain and Ireland. The concept became widely known as the "tragedy of the commons" over a century later after an article written by Garrett Hardin in 1968. In a modern economic context, "commons" is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, ocean fish stocks, or even an office refrigerator.

Human ecology Study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments

Human ecology is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments. The philosophy and study of human ecology has a diffuse history with advancements in ecology, geography, sociology, psychology, anthropology, zoology, epidemiology, public health, and home economics, among others.

In environmental philosophy, environmental ethics is an established field of practical philosophy "which reconstructs the essential types of argumentation that can be made for protecting natural entities and the sustainable use of natural resources." The main competing paradigms are anthropocentrism, physiocentrism, and theocentrism. Environmmental ethics exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including environmental law, environmental sociology, ecotheology, ecological economics, ecology and environmental geography.


Eco-capitalism, also known as environmental capitalism or (sometimes) green capitalism, is the view that capital exists in nature as "natural capital" on which all wealth depends. Therefore, governments should use market-based policy-instruments to resolve environmental problems.

Pastoralism branch of agriculture concerned with raising livestock

Pastoralism is a form of animal husbandry where domesticated animals known as livestock are released onto large vegetated outdoor lands (pastures) for grazing, historically by nomadic people who moved around with their herds. The species involved include cattle, camels, goats, yaks, llamas, reindeer, horse and sheep.

Malthusianism Idea of restricting population growth to conserve resources and avoid catastrophe

Malthusianism is the idea that population growth is potentially exponential while the growth of the food supply or other resources is linear. It derives from the political and economic thought of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, as laid out in his 1798 writings, An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus believed there were two types of "checks" that in all times and places kept population growth in line with the growth of the food supply: "preventive checks", such as moral restraints, and restricting marriage against persons suffering poverty or perceived as defective, and "positive checks", which lead to premature death such as disease, starvation and war, resulting in what is called a Malthusian catastrophe. The catastrophe would return the population to a lower, more sustainable, level. Malthusianism has been linked to a variety of political and social movements, but almost always refers to advocates of population control.

Ecology is a new science and considered as an important branch of biological science, having only become prominent during the second half of the 20th century. Ecological thought is derivative of established currents in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics. Its history stems all the way back to the 4th century. One of the first ecologists whose writings survive may have been Aristotle or perhaps his student, Theophrastus, both of whom had interest in many species of animals and plants. Theophrastus described interrelationships between animals and their environment as early as the 4th century BC. Ecology developed substantially in the 18th and 19th century. It began with Carl Linnaeus and his work with the economy of nature. Soon after came Alexander von Humboldt and his work with botanical geography. Alexander von Humboldt and Karl Möbius then contributed with the notion of biocoenosis. Eugenius Warming’s work with ecological plant geography led to the founding of ecology as a discipline. Charles Darwin’s work also contributed to the science of ecology, and Darwin is often attributed with progressing the discipline more than anyone else in its young history. Ecological thought expanded even more in the early 20th century. Major contributions included: Eduard Suess’ and Vladimir Vernadsky’s work with the biosphere, Arthur Tansley’s ecosystem, Charles Elton's Animal Ecology, and Henry Cowles ecological succession. Ecology influenced the social sciences and humanities. Human ecology began in the early 20th century and it recognized humans as an ecological factor. Later James Lovelock advanced views on earth as a macro-organism with the Gaia hypothesis. Conservation stemmed from the science of ecology. Important figures and movements include Shelford and the ESA, National Environmental Policy act, George Perkins Marsh, Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen A. Forbes, and post-Dust Bowl conservation. Later in the 20th century world governments collaborated on man’s effects on the biosphere and Earth’s environment.

St. Matthew Island island in the United States of America

St. Matthew Island is a remote island in the Bering Sea in Alaska, 183 miles (295 km) west-northwest of Nunivak Island. The entire island's natural scenery and wildlife is protected as it is part of the Bering Sea unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people manage for individual and collective benefit. Characteristically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values employed for a governance mechanism. Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.

William Forster Lloyd FRS was a British writer on economics. He is best known today for one of his 1833 lectures on population control which have influenced writers in modern economic theory.

Global commons is a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found. Global commons include the earth's shared natural resources, such as the high oceans, the atmosphere and outer space and the Antarctic in particular. Cyberspace may also meet the definition of a global commons.

In psychology, a social trap is a situation in which a group of people act to obtain short-term individual gains, which in the long run leads to a loss for the group as a whole. Examples of social traps include overfishing, energy "brownout" and "blackout" power outages during periods of extreme temperatures, the overgrazing of cattle on the Sahelian Desert, and the destruction of the rainforest by logging interests and agriculture.

In social dynamics, critical mass is a sufficient number of adopters of a new idea, technology or innovation in a social system so that the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth. The point at which critical mass is achieved sometimes referred to as a threshold within the threshold model of statistical modeling.

The Commonize Costs–Privatize Profits Game is a concept developed by the ecologist Garrett Hardin to describe a "game" widely played in matters of resource allocation. The concept is Hardin's interpretation of the closely related phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons, and is referred to in political discourse as "privatizing profits and socializing losses."

Overexploitation Depleting a renewable resource

Overexploitation, also called overharvesting, refers to harvesting a renewable resource to the point of diminishing returns. Continued overexploitation can lead to the destruction of the resource. The term applies to natural resources such as: wild medicinal plants, grazing pastures, game animals, fish stocks, forests, and water aquifers.

The double diversion is two-part theory about environmental harm that was developed by William Freudenburg and colleagues beginning in the 1990s, and focusing on "disproportionality" and "distraction." The concept of disproportionality involves the observation that, rather than being a reflection of overall levels of economic activity, the majority of environmental destruction is actually due to a relatively small number of economic actors, which enjoy privileged access to natural resources, “diverting” those resources for the private benefit of the few. Freudenburg's original work on this concept was carried out in conjunction with his colleague from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Peter Nowak. The reference to the "double" diversion reflects the argument that this first diversion is made possible in large part by the second—the diversion of attention, or distraction, often ironically relying on the widespread but empirically inaccurate belief that environmental harm is economically beneficial to the population as a whole.

The tyranny of small decisions is a phenomenon explored in an essay of the same name, published in 1966 by the American economist Alfred E. Kahn. The article describes a situation in which a number of decisions, individually small and insignificant in size and time perspective, cumulatively result in a larger and significant outcome which is neither optimal nor desired. It is a situation where a series of small, individually rational decisions can negatively change the context of subsequent choices, even to the point where desired alternatives are irreversibly destroyed. Kahn described the problem as a common issue in market economics which can lead to market failure. The concept has since been extended to areas other than economic ones, such as environmental degradation, political elections and health outcomes.


  1. 1 2 3 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. Lavietes, Stuart (October 28, 2003). "Garrett Hardin, 88, Ecologist Who Warned About Excesses". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  3. Miller, George Tyler (1993). Environmental Science: Sustaining the Earth . Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN   9780534178086.
  4. 1 2 3 "Garrett Hardin". Southern Poverty Law Center . Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  5. Hardin, Garrett (July 1, 1944). "Symbiosis of Paramecium and Oikomonas". Ecology. 25 (3): 304–311. doi:10.2307/1931278. ISSN   1939-9170. JSTOR   1931278.
  6. Hardin, Garrett (1973). "Chapter 1: I Become an Abortionist". Stalking the Wild Taboo. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 3–9. ISBN   978-0-913232-03-3.
  7. Hardin, Garrett (1982). "Chapter 22: Conservation's Secret Question". Naked Emperors. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 190–195. ISBN   978-0-86576-032-5.
  8. Hardin, Garrett (1982). "Chapter 7: "Scientific Creationism" — Marketing Deception as Truth". Naked Emperors. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 49–57. ISBN   978-0-86576-032-5.
  9. "The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons". Scientific American . Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  10. Radkau, Joachim (2008). Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN   978-0-521-85129-9. Radkau cites Grove and Rackham, The Nature of Mediterranean Europe: An Ecological History.
  11. 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.
  12. Bollier, David; Helfrich, Silke, eds. (2014). The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State. Levellers Press. ISBN   978-1-937146-14-6.
  13. Dasgupta, Partha (2001). Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780199247882.
  14. Ciriacy-Wantrup, S.V.; Bishop, R.C. (October 1975). "'Common Property' as a Concept in Natural Resources Policy" (PDF). Natural Resources Journal. 15: 713–727. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  15. Cox, Susan Jane Buck (Spring 1985). "No tragedy of the commons" (PDF). Journal of Environmental Ethics. 7 (1): 49–61. doi:10.5840/enviroethics1985716 . Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  16. 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.
  17. Mildenberger, Matto (April 23, 2019). "The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons". Scientific American. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  18. Stalking the Wild Taboo – Stalkers: Hardin: Book Review Archived November 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  19. 1 2 3 Hardin, Garrett (1993). Living Within Limits . Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780198024033. "Chapter 8. Growth Real and Spurious" available online at Garrett Hardin Society.
  20. Uh, not sure what to put here. Personal acquaintance? 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.
  21. Steepleton, Scott (September 19, 2003). "Pioneering professor, wife die in apparent double suicide". Santa Barbara News-Press . Retrieved September 28, 2007.
  22. Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (PDF). Wall Street Journal . p. A18. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  23. "GARRETT HARDIN BIBLIOGRAPHY" (PDF). Garrett Hardin Society. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  24. "Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science – List of Previous Winners". The Phi Beta Kappa Society. Retrieved December 6, 2010.

Further reading