The tragedy of the commons

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What Shanl We Mam?

Population, as Malthus said, naturally tends to grow "geometrically," or, as we would now say, exponentially. In a finite world this means that the per capita share of the world's goods must steadily decrease. Is ours a finite world? A fair defense can be put forward for the view that the world is infinite; or The population problem has no technical solution; that we do notknow that it is not. But, it requires a fundamental extension in morality. in terms of the practical problems that we must face in the next few generations with the foreseeable technology, it Garrett Hardin is clear that we will greatly increase human misery if we do not, during the immediate future, assume that the world available to the terrestrial human popAt the end of a thoughtful article onsional judgment. . . ." Vhether they ulation is finite. "Space" is no escape the future of nuclear war, Wiesner and were right or not is not the concern of (2). A finite world can support only a York (1) concluded that: "Both sides in the present article. Rather, the concern the arms race are ... confronted by the here is with the important concept of a finite population; therefore, populationdilemma of steadily increasing military class of human problems which can be growth must eventually equal zero. (The power and steadily decreasing national called "no technical solution problems," case of perpetual wide fluctuations security. It is our considered profes- and, more specifically, with the identifi- above and below zero is a trivial variant sional judgment that this dilemma has cationand discussion of one of these. that need not be discussed.) When this no technical solution. If the great powIt is easy to show that the class is not condition is met, what will be the situaers continue to look for solutions in a null class. Recall the game of tick- tion of mankind? Specifically, can Benthe area of science and technology only, tack-toe. Consider the problem, "How tham's goal of"the greatest good for the result will be to worsen the situa- can I win. the game of tick-tack-toe?" the greatest number" be realized? tion." It is well known that I cannot, if I asNo-for two reasons, each sufficient I would like to focus your attention sume (in keeping with the conventions by itself. The first is a theoretical one. not on the subject of the article (na- of game theory) that myopponent un- It is not mathematically possible to tional security in a nuclear world) but derstands the game perfectly. Put an- maximize for two (or more) variables at on the kind of conclusion they reached, other way, there is no "technical solu- the same time. This was clearly stated namely that there is no technical solu- tion" to the problem. I can win only by von Neumann and Morgenstern (3),tion to the problem. An implicit and by giving a radical meaning to the word but the principle is implicit in the theory almost universal assumption of discus- "win." I can hit my opponent over the of partial differential equations, dating sions published in professional and head; or I can drug him; or I can falsify back at least to D'Alembert (1717semipopular scientific journals is that the records.Every way in which I "win" 1783). the problem under discussion has a involves, in some sense, an abandonThe second reason springs directly technical solution. A technical solution ment of the game, as we intuitively un- from biological facts. To live, any may be defined as one that requires a derstand it. (I can also, of course, organism must have a source of energy change only in. the techniquesof the openly abandon the game-refuse to (for example, food). This energy is natural sciences, demanding little or play it. This is what most adults do.) utilized for two puposes: mere mainnothing in the way of change in human The class of "No technical solution tenance and work. For man, maintevalues or ideas of morality. problems" has members. My thesis is nance of life requires about 1600...
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