Thoughts 2/22

A required reading for our next class is by Garrett Hardin titled “Tragedy of the Commons.” Tragedy of the commons is a phenomenon that most of us have definitely of heard, and probably know something. This article incorporates examples in philosophy and human population to explain this phenomenon, and while I found this reading hard to read through (please feel free to tell me if I misread something!), I want to talk about two things in particular. I want to talk about possible roles of government and the phenomenon of the tragedy of the commons in fishing in detail.

Freedom was mentioned frequently in this article, but I didn’t see many references to government and I wonder if government could help alleviate tragedy of the commons. I agree that “the commons… is only justifiable under the conditions of low-population density,” and am specifically thinking of China’s One Child Policy. Under rapid population growth, China decided to introduce this policy and saw population growth die down and stay down as the country developed. Population growth was a topic for my Human Biology core, and usually the cycle of a nation starts off with rapid population growth but eventually plateaus to about replacement rate. A developing nation has the incentive to have many offspring to work in the fields (in addition to poor medical care, so not all your children would even survive in the first place), but in a developed nation there is enough education and work that parents see the importance in investing in a child, which averages to a little over 2 children per family for highly developed countries like the US. What are your thoughts about government injecting itself into something that could be as intimate as growing a family in order to better the world?

Another example of the tragedy of the commons also comes from the HumBio core, and I wanted to mention it just to provide perspective on how this exists beyond what is mentioned in the reading. Fishing is a prime example of tragedy of the commons because the ocean is a public space and it’s difficult for each fisherman to internalize the environmental effects of catching so much fish. Not only might they not know how they are specifically harming the earth, but they are also pressured from their competitors to fish more extensively. Our reading talked briefly about allocation of these spaces based on money; while I appreciate this, it’s often hard for these plans to actually work. First of all, it’s one thing to have a law that states what will happen, but another to actually have someone enforce these rules and punish those who don’t follow them. Oftentimes there isn’t enforcement on the playing field, so these laws don’t cause any significant change (keep in mind all the time and money costs that would also raise to have enforcement). Moreover, monetary rank wouldn’t help much either. If I were a poor fisherman and I ended up paying a more experienced fisherman to fish for me, that’s just a shift in the responsibility of catching fish – the quota hasn’t changed. In conclusion, fishing is just one example of a modern tragedy of the commons, and I’m sure we can find others that definitely relate to social media.

Perhaps the solution is to change our attitudes about these phenomenon. Maybe the media should tell us that fish are bad for us, or that it’s socially looked down upon to have more than 2 children. What are your thoughts?