Monday, January 24, 2011

Absolute Must Reads

There is no way anyone should teach a course on environmental economics and not assign these papers by Garrett Hardin and John Krutilla.

Enjoy!

40 comments:

Colin Elliott said...

Hardin and Krutilla's underlying assumptions conclude in the same policy prescription. Both see that inaction in controlling non-market goods could have irreversible affects. In Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons," his famous point is illustrated that too many consumers pursuing there own self-interest results in a depletion of resources and tragedy. Thus, the commons has overtime been restricted, ie. private property and farming, to in effect increase freedom by decreasing rights. This is also illustrated in the example of a bank robber, the robber loses his right to steal from a bank but the bank as a commons is protected and bank customers have increased freedom. Hardin sees this restriction of commons as necessary, although it is usually hard to initially restrict freedom, in the future the legislation will be seen as rational and obvious. Likewise, as illustrated in the case of population, were the population allowed to grow forever it would be unsustainable and eventually deplete all natural resources. Despite the current legislation that number of children is a family decision, Hardin believes population, like pollution, is dangerous variable that needs policy to control.
Krutilla essentially argues the same thing: that policy is necessary to maintain a high level of well being, but he appeals more to moral reasoning. First, only a small fraction of the medicinal uses of natural resources are currently known, thus, we can not possibly know the current cost-benefit ratio of destroying our natural resources because the true benefit to many of the resources is unbeknownst to man. Second, Man enjoys the option of being able to see natural phonomena such as the Grand Canyon or endangered species and destroying such will potentially lower the maximum level of well-being one can achieve, assuming that recreating extinct or destroyed resources is not as pleasing as the original. Similarly, Man has an inert desire to bequest these gifts and our world to future generations out of a sense of personal responsibility, Ultimately, Hardin and Krutilla both insinuate that policy is necessary to preserve our world and protect was is common from being destroyed by self-interest and personal gain.

Ben Bartlett said...

Though Krutilla makes a number of compelling points in his essay, “Conservation Reconsidered,” I think the most interesting part of the article is the way in which he describes the phenomenon of natural environment destruction in much the same way that increased carbon levels in the atmosphere are talked about today. He says, “given the irreversibility of natural environments…it will not be possible to achieve a level of wellbeing in the future that would have been possible had the conversion of natural environments been retarded.” For me, the corollaries between the physical landscapes he describes and carbon levels in the atmosphere are quite evident. This idea of destruction gaining momentum is very applicable to the greenhouse gas issue today. As professor Casey once said, one cannot think of the process of reversing carbon levels in the atmosphere like doing a 180 in a racecar. Instead one must think about the 180 being attempted in an ocean liner. This analogy speaks to this concept of momentum that is present in Krutilla’s commentary on the destruction of natural environments and the necessity of early and prolonged action to take care of the Earth.

Ryan Hanson said...

Krutilla looks at the idea of option and bequest values in relation to our valuation of the environment. He says that there is a limit on our resources, whether it's land or other goods. However, it is hard to gauge what kind of emphasis the public places on these goods. He asserts that as these resources are scarce and have limit, we must protect them. Technology will not keep pace with our destruction.He says that while there is a market for option demand, there is an absence of knowledge "as to whether a particular ecosystem has special characteristics not widely shared by others." Krutilla argues that most of such goods are irreplaceable and must be respected. We also must take into account free riders that will not put a value on a resource if someone else does. Another issue broad up is how we should determine the minimum reserve. I don't think this is a good policy as it is hard to find such a value and we should be looking to maximize a good, not deplete it to its lowest level.

Hardin's piece analyzes population problems. He, too, says that we cannot rely on technological solutions, but rather we must have a change in human values. His discussion of a finite world also poses difficulties. He says it is hard to predict a maximum population level that the world can support. Thus, such uncertainty does not imply that we can continue population growth exponentially. Rather, we must understand that the invisible hand does not work in such a scenario. His policy prescription is to have laws to keep people from seeking their own personal gain. His idea is that you give up some freedom (as seen in the case of the bank robber) in order for the mutual benefit of society. Thus, in the end, people will be "free" because they will be able to continue on this planet. This concept is mutual coercion mutually agreed upon. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity"

ChampionJ said...

The two articles basically argue for the same thing: Some form of policy needs to be created in order to prevent society from destroying the things it holds dear. Both articles provide scenarios in which society could hurt itself without some form of intervention, from recreation to robbing banks. Hardin's example of proposed population control makes sense; though I may not agree with his final proposition. It seems undeniable that the population will continue to grow until we eventually cause our own downfall. We will demand more than we can supply in terms of food or energy as Hardin’s example states. It is this greed that could prevent society from reaching its optimum population, given that we haven’t already passed this point.

The main point is essentially that humans will act in their own self-interest, even if that hurts others. Humans would have to change their own values or it may take an act of government intervention to preserve the environment and/or society. I find it very interesting that these papers are in disagreement with Coase's theory that basically deemed government intervention unnecessary. These recent readings have provided insight into the multitude of opinions that different economists may hold.

Bobby Gorman said...

Garrett Hardin bases his argument on his statement that the rebuttal to the invisible hand in population control can be found in the tragedy of the commons. However, this is not necessarily the case. The invisible hand can play a role in the tragedy of the commons. There has to be a point at which adding another animal to the herd will not be beneficial to each individual, meaning resources have become scarce to the point where life expectancy of each animal is shortened by enough so that the cost of purchasing the animal outweighs the economic benefit that the animal can provide within its useful life. Because of the invisible hand, people will stop adding animals to their herds at this point. Grass will slowly grow back, and as it does, herdsmen will begin adding to their herd again until the invisible hand stops them again.

George Brooke said...

Hardin's essay approaches the Tragedy of the Commons by stating the primary problem of overpopulation and its increasing size. "A finite world can support only a finite population". He states that every rational human being will maximize their gain if the cost (split up to the entire commons) is less than the benefit. Unfortunately that means that everyone will have the same reasoning, and with an increasing population the social costs will eventually exhaust natural elements. This problem can't be solved simply by information and guilty conscience because it is "self-eliminating". I agree more with Krutilla's essay and the emphasis of improvements in technology. Investments in research and development are the most realistic and effective ways of solving the problems illustrated in the Tragedy of Commons.

Mackenzie Doss said...

Lest the basic point of our study of The Tragedy of the Commons get lost in the analysis, the reason this comes up in our studies is because biological resources tend to create these “commons” problems. Be it trees, fish, water, etc consumers will take as much as they can and all shall do the same until resources are depleted and we are left with nothing. This, of course, is not considered by those who are gaining individually in the short term and neglecting to acknowledge how their behavior affects everyone collectively. What we overlook in the Tragedy of the Commons is that not only are we worse off collectively (all of us together have less) but we are worse off individually (each one of us has less, with no exceptions). As with our biological resources, the more we take, the less capable we are of replenishing our supply (if we collectively held off from cutting down trees and worked instead on planting them, we would gain more in the long run). The true question being: how does the commons work best? As we have discussed, Hardin is speaking of overpopulation. Overpopulation, in my understanding, would lead to concern about resource scarcity, but this is probably redundant. Over use of a renewable resource due to overpopulation means that the resource is scarce (the surplus beyond what is needed to continue replenishment is limited). It is my understanding that there the two most basic solutions to scarcity are fewer consumers or more of the product that fits the demand. While nature could arguably take care of the consumer issue (a little morbid, I know), it is in our fortune and capabilities to be able to increase the amount of a resource. Essentially, the problem begins from the fact that unless someone “owns” it, it will not get “fixed”. Thus, if we want to offer a “shared resource”, there must be some kind of steward (some kind of government intervention), in order to enforce this or else we must resort to private property. I cannot see any other compromises.

michelle said...

Hardin’s argument on the tragedy of the commons basically says that the increase population in a finite world is the main cause of the problem. It is due to this increasing population and the individuals’ utility maximizing behavior that there must exist restrictions or coercions to prevent complete chaos. His argument that coercion and social arrangements are better polices than appeals to the conscience was interesting, with the idea that in the long run those without a conscience are the ones who persevere. The coercion and social arrangements prevent the possibility of free riding, which tend to occur with a conscience appeal approach. Krutilla places more emphasis on the values that people have, for instance, with option value or existence value people are more likely to take care of the environment, which although intended for their own benefit, in turn benefits society as well. From the arguments made by Krutilla and Hardin, it seems the best ways to preserve environment are to slow down the exponential population growth to slow down damage and give people hands on experience so they place personal value on the environment.

Katie Garratt said...

Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” discusses resource problems that cannot be solved with purely technical solutions because of human involvement. He uses population as his main example. The essential “tragedy” that Hardin refers to is man’s rational tendency to maximize gain. Often this transpires with people pursuing their self-interests at the expense of others. The tragedy of the commons occurs in reverse with regard to pollution. In this case, the problem is emitting waste into the commons. As long as humans act rationally, individuals’ cost of emitting waste is less than the cost of purifying it before it’s released into the commons. Hardin argues that higher population density overwhelmed natural chemical and biological recycling processes. Ultimately, he promotes a redefinition of property rights as a solution.

Amy said...

In Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" his main concern seems to be the need for population control. He sees the UN resolution for freedom of the family and procreation decisions as a mistake. Other human rights and freedoms will be damaged by allowing free population growth. Each family that produces children may not do so at an efficient level, especially with welfare programs in place in most countries. Hardin's answer is some form of a government birth control program, possibly like the policies enacted in China.

Hardin ignores in his argument the tendency for developed countries to have lower fertility rates, probably due to factors such as women's education and career options. The major areas of populations growth are in underdeveloped countries, whose governments often don't have the control or means to enact any birth control programs. Further, there is the moral issue of a government controlling the number of children a family chooses to produce. While I don't wish to engage in a moral debate, I doubt the policy recommendation would be well met by the American public.

Jennie said...

I was very interested when Krutilla mentioned the idea of an options market for environmental products such as recreational spaces or travel destinations. There are a lot of issues with this idea but there is also a potential of this market emerging at some point in the future. An option market would work more efficiently than any sort of futures market because an option constitutes the right to buy rather than a future which is an obligation. This may not be realistic at this point in time but it the environment deteriorates to the point where these places could be destroyed I believe that people would pay for the option for themselves or their future generations to visit the site. This market would operate to maintain these sites because as the risk of their deterioration increases the more people will be willing to pay to for their future right to visit them.

Garrett Hardin’s discussion on eliminating “work calories” was interesting because it brings up the question of whether a life like that is worth living. In connection to Krutilla’s article would there be a competitive market for bio energy, and if it were illegal would there be a black market?

Jeffrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey Stirling said...

The two articles both have similar assumptions in how to control the loss of finite resources in a world where there is no such thing as an infinite resource. Policy must be enacted in order to preserve these resources. Only problem is that most of humanity does not recognize, or at least act on, the conservation of resources that, if are continued to be consumed at a similar rate may eventually be depleted. Only do people recognize resources disappearing quantity or quality gets low. At that point, a lot of the time it is too late to get it back to where it was before. Hardin talks a lot about population control and how a population shares a set amount of finite resources. When a population increases, people each share a little less. He believes there needs to be a policy to control for population as it accelerates the depletion of the finite resources, however it is very hard to enact. As long as Hardin and Krutilla's ideas are only in theory, I agree with them, however looking for a population control can only lead to an obstruction of many moral codes.

Parker Pritchett said...

Both Hardin and Krutilla clearly argue that we must make some serious changes in this generation in order to preserve those aspects of the environment, such as National Parks, wilderness, and clean natural resources, that we currently enjoy, need, and hope to leave to future generations in plenty and purity. However, I found an incongruity in their solution to some of the most imminent problems in modern environmental ethic. Hardin references the non-exclusive availability of our National Parks as a commons that will inevitably turn to tragedy if we do not implement practices that limit public access. Krutilla, on the other hand, cites activities that are often associated with National Parks (such as camping, hiking, canoeing, etc) as an essential way to develop a conservationist ethic. He claims that recreational activities such as these are the way to promote a desire to develop a stronger environmental and conservational ethic that will not only translate to future generations, but also grow stronger in time. Creating more exclusive conditions in National Parks certainly will not facilitate the concept of developing human relationships with nature through the more common use of its recreational amenities. So should we make commons such as National Parks exclusive so as to conserve them in more entirety? Or should we encourage public use of them by a greater number of people in order to create a human-nature bond in this and future generations? It is a difficult call that involves many pros and cons and perhaps does not have a right or wrong answer.

sturgesa12 said...

Both authors understand that the government must play a role in preventing over consumption. They believe that policy is the only way to prevent this. In Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons," he makes the point that individuals pursuing their own self-interest will lead to the depletion of all natural resources and is unsustainable. Freedoms have to be limited for the good of society. These limitations, like the bank rober example, help preserve the commons and allow society to have more freedom. He is talking about over population and the unsustainable rate of growth the population is experiencing.

Krutilla makes the same argument as Hardin but through a different lens. He believes policy is needed to control the use of natural resources. Many medicines are based off of plants and other natural resources. So if these resources are destroyed, we will be losing many possible cures or other medicines that have yet to be discovered. People believe that technology will save the day. However, technology is not able to stay at the same pace as the damage we are doing to the environment

Becca Bolton said...

Hardin and Krutilla both discuss the problems associated with consumption and depletion of many natural resources. Hardin believes that even if we don’t know whether a resource is finite, we must treat it as such to realize that we have a finite population. He uses an example of cows grazing in a common pasture to illustrate how unlimited human growth will ultimately lead to our demise. Hardin stresses the importance of using laws and regulations to prevent many societal problems such as overpopulation, pollution, and expoitation of environmental resources. He suggests that we must give up some of our freedom to preserve the commons. I tend to agree with most of the points that Hardin presents. Overpopulation is at the center of the majority of our environmental problems, and until this issue is addressed, the “tragedy of the commons” will continue to occur.

Krutilla argues that when dealing with conservation issues and finite natural resources, a new economic approach must be used. He suggests that the market may not be able to allocate resources efficiently especially when dealing with irreplaceable areas, species, or ecosystems. The market system also cannot adequately account for an option value placed on much of the natural world. It is difficult to put a price on the importance of genetic diversity, future medicinal uses, or aesthetics. Krutilla point of view differs somewhat from Hardins, in that he believes that technology does have a role to play in conservation. I agree that we cannot depend solely on technology to solve the problems of overconsumption, but it can definitely be a part of the solution.

Shane Ramee said...

“Once we are aware that the status quo is action, we can then compare its discoverable advantages and disadvantages with the predicted advantages and disadvantages of the proposed reform, discounting as best we can for our lack of experience. On the basis of such a comparison, we can make a rational decision which will not involve the unworkable assumption that only perfect systems are tolerable.” This quote is Hardin’s rational about making difficult but necessary choices. Continuing down our business as usual, capitalist road will end very poorly. Hardin calls for us to make some considerable sacrifices. Basic freedoms of the commons need reconsidered. Freedom of the seas has been heavily restricted after several fisheries crashes over that last century. Freedom of the air is under heavy debate with pollution and global warming being huge concerns. But freedom to reproduce is going to be the hardest thing to put a check on. Stabilizing our population is the easiest theoretical way to reduce environmental harm but the hardest to put into practice. Krutilla rationalizes making the hard environmental decision in the present by taking into account the long-term awards in the future. It takes far less time to destroy the environment for short-term gain than it does to replenish the environment back to a state where it can be utilized by everyone, present and future.

Siwan said...

I find it interesting that Hardin, as a voice of the West, vehemently opposes the “freedom of reproduction” aspect in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, something that we, inhabitants of the Western world, would take for granted. It is an abstruse idea for most of us to imagine a government controlling our reproductive plans. At the end of the chapter Hardin states that “the most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding.” I wonder whether he would support the Chinese one-child policy (sorry about mentioning this every other class...)? Unfortunately, in the case of China, it is difficult to speak of a “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon”, even though many argue that the majority of the urban Chinese population (who have been most affected by the one-child-policy) are content with having just one, or even no child at all.
Since most countries in the world do not restrict human reproduction, this debate about the “freedom to breed” raises the issue of people’s perception of identity and responsibility. What do we commonly relate to geographically and what government institution do we feel obliged to (if at all)? A village, a city, a country, a region, or even the world? If a person possesses a strong national identity, he or she might feel responsible for the specific country’s well-being and prosperity. Hence, someone’s felt responsibility to reproduce (or not) would vary by nationality. For instance, being a German, one would produce more children considering the low national birth rate. However, if we perceive ourselves as responsible “global citizens”, nationality and national birthrates should not have an impact on our understanding of the dangers of a seemingly ever-growing world population. I guess Hardin was very far-sighted in this respect and appealed for the idea that we should perceive our actions as accountable on a global scale. However, clearly hardly anyone would consider the greater well-being of humankind when deciding to have children. After all, we decided collectively that the “freedom to breed” should be a human right.

Hardin challenges common notions about “freedom.” He points out that societies have been able to increase their freedom by agreeing to laws and regulations. The concept of freedom is a highly contextual issue, varying with the structures human beings are embedded in. Self-evidently, if there was only one individual living on this earth, freedom would not include any kind of “social contracts.” However, faced with the challenges of man being a social as well as a herd animal requires compromises - compromises that enhance our freedom by coercion (in the sense of laws and regulations).

Peter O'Donnell said...

The tragedy of the commons is one of my favorite papers because it addresses environmental issues which are problems now and can be exacerbated in the future unless action is taken.

At the end of Krutilla's paper he indicates there is a need for a policy and mechanism which guarentee natural areas with recreation potential be considered as potential recreational areas (way to make a bold statement Krutilla!) I agree with Krutilla that a policy for such areas is good (as long as the people vote on it).

After reading both Hardin's and Krutilla's paper, I began to think about the exploitation of common goods. What happens when a common good is near or in a conditional state from which it cannot return it its condition worsens? It policy and diplomatic agreements fail, should the good's condition be allowed to degrade beyond repair or function (e.g. major fisheries in the ocean)? I do not think so, and this is one reason why I support Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in their efforts to protect marine life. If all major fisheries are supposed to collapse by ~2050 (quite a morbid thought), then I am glad someone is willing to exert more than a verbal effort to prevent this catastrophe.

Ann McCampbell said...

Both Krutilla and Hardin highlight the value humans derive from natural resources. Both articles explain that resources are scarce, especially environmental resources which can only support a finite population.Therefore population growth must eventually be zero or the population must change the way in which it consumes resources. Krutilla looks at the benefit people recieve from bequesting resources for the future. Conserving natural resources provides the option of using them later as well as existance value for knowing they are there. The argument for bequesting resources is that although advancing technology can somewhat compensate for depletion of resources but it can never replace a resouce that is wiped out. Hardin discussing a different human action where each person looks to maximize their own utility by using all common resources available. The article suggests that there can never really be "commons" such as pastures or national parks without rules to curb the free rider effect. Mutual coercion is presented as a way for all people to mutally agree upon a solution to use resources now while being mindful of future use.

Kelsey Sizer said...

For Hardin, the biggest environmental and social issues facing us today all seem to stem from an ever-increasing population. He discusses the idea of the "commons," and emphasizes that it can only truly work successfully within a world of low-population density, and the more modern movement towards privatization of public goods is crucial to avoid future "tragedy of the commons situations".
Similarly, Krutilla discusses the issue of resource scarcity, but includes the positive impact that technology has had/can have on maximizing resources. He goes further, though, and raises the question of intrinsic value within nature itself, and the idea of individuals respecting the environment for its option or bequeathing value in the future. He recognizes that a market for existence value and future use exists, but states that much more research is necessary in order to distinguish the "magnitude of the option demand".
Both authors reference the need for policy changes and government intervention, which was interesting in comparison to Coase's idea of minimal involvement. Although, Krutilla's reference to more technological improvement rather than pure population control seems a much more realistic to me, I found both pieces interesting and completely applicable to modern environmental and social issues, even though they were written over 40 years ago.

Graham Sheridan said...

Generally, when we think about externalities, we think about the effects of actions. The smell from the pig farm that lowers the value of surrounding property, or the exhaust from driving that ticks global temperatures ever upward. Yet, these papers focus on the negative effects of inaction. People who do not act still lose in the Tragedy of the Commons. They sit there, feeling duped while they watch others exploit the commons. Conscience, when it comes to the Commons, is costly. Others, who ignore conscience or pleas of temperance, gain from those who, by their inaction, protect the commons.
Krutilla sees a cost for inaction as well. Option preference is about preventing actions. When someone, perhaps a developer, considers a project some people worry that implementing the project (taking action) could irreversibly damage natural resources. Thus, when people want to stall development (inaction), they have to pay for the profit that could possibly have come from development, which are not simple to calculate. Thus, both authors discuss the problems of inaction when it comes to protecting the environment.

Graham Sheridan said...

Generally, when we think about externalities, we think about the effects of actions. The smell from the pig farm that lowers the value of surrounding property, or the exhaust from driving that ticks global temperatures ever upward. Yet, these papers focus on the negative effects of inaction. People who do not act still lose in the Tragedy of the Commons. They sit there, feeling duped while they watch others exploit the commons. Conscience, when it comes to the Commons, is costly. Others, who ignore conscience or pleas of temperance, gain from those who, by their inaction, protect the commons.
Krutilla sees a cost for inaction as well. Option preference is about preventing actions. When someone, perhaps a developer, considers a project some people worry that implementing the project (taking action) could irreversibly damage natural resources. Thus, when people want to stall development (inaction), they have to pay for the profit that could possibly have come from development, which are not simple to calculate. Thus, both authors discuss the problems of inaction when it comes to protecting the environment.

David Dennis said...

Garrett Hardin addresses the issue of human overpopulation and how attempts at “technical solutions” cannot ultimately produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Achieving an optimal population level cannot be achieved by simply telling people they should feel guilty for having too many children. Hardin believes that people should be mutually coerced to give up the freedom to breed in order for those living to have the greater freedoms.

Krutilla focuses on the value of nature and how difficult it can be to account for all of the variables. The option value, aesthetics, unknown benefits, etc of natural resources should be considered before irreversible damage is incurred. Krutilla believes that the best way to encourage environmental conservation is to get people immersed in the experiences. Simply setting aside land will not effectively protect the resources if people don’t value the non-monetary benefits. A large proportion of society is disconnected from nature for reasons including commercialized agriculture and urbanization.

We are not able to know what future generations will value and how we should allocate resources accordingly. The basic resources they will need include food, clean water, clean air, etc. of which we need ourselves. But how can we give so much attention to future generation’s needs when millions of people that are currently alive need these basic commodities. It is in our best interest to allocate resources wisely, not for the future, but because of the potential short term consequences.

David Dennis said...

Garrett Hardin addresses the issue of human overpopulation and how attempts at “technical solutions” cannot ultimately produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Achieving an optimal population level cannot be achieved by simply telling people they should feel guilty for having too many children. Hardin believes that people should be mutually coerced to give up the freedom to breed in order for those living to have the greater freedoms.

Krutilla focuses on the value of nature and how difficult it can be to account for all of the variables. The option value, aesthetics, unknown benefits, etc of natural resources should be considered before irreversible damage is incurred. Krutilla believes that the best way to encourage environmental conservation is to get people immersed in the experiences. Simply setting aside land will not effectively protect the resources if people don’t value the non-monetary benefits. A large proportion of society is disconnected from nature for reasons including commercialized agriculture and urbanization.

We are not able to know what future generations will value and how we should allocate resources accordingly. The basic resources they will need include food, clean water, clean air, etc. of which we need ourselves. But how can we give so much attention to future generation’s needs when millions of people that are currently alive need these basic commodities. It is in our best interest to allocate resources wisely, not for the future, but because of the potential short term consequences.

Bobby R. said...

I found John Krutilla’s analysis of intertemporal resource allocation to be insightful. While it is a central tenant of economics that consumption today reduces the ability to consume in the future, Krutilla extends it one step farther by arguing that demand today influences utility in the future. If people enjoy camping or skiing in parks today, they will be much more likely to demand the same activities in the future.
At its core, “Conservation Reconsidered” is a discussion of values. As we talked about in class, he focuses his paper on bequest value, but he also spends much of the paper talking about option and existence value. He explains the need to change our consumption habitats in the present so that future generations will have access to the resource to both consume and enjoy.
Krutilla’s commentary on technological advances is valuable for today’s environmental debate. He argues that technology must be used to preserve resources, not simply fabricate/replicate the resource. While synthetic alternatives can serve as a substitute for consumption, they do not replicate the value of the natural resource. Krutilla states that “Natural environments will represent irreplaceable assets of appreciating value with the passage of time.” This is particularly important in today’s environmental and natural resource landscape. Advances in the internal-combustion engine have lead to more fuel efficient automobiles. Advances in biofiltration have reduced air and water pollution. These technologies are focused on preservation. But has technology also lead increase consumption of these resources? I think few would disagree that technology has also had this effect. If we do not focus our efforts (R&D and policy recommendations) on preserving natural amenities, they will become increasing scarce (and thus, more expensive).

vesgaogarotao said...

I believe that these lines written by Krutilla link both articles: "it appears that the utility to individuals of direct association with natural environments may be increasing while the supply is not readily subject to enlargement by man". That is, all in all, they could be considered Neomalthusians, and, therefore, pessimists.
Even though I find this "space" approach brilliant, I wonder how important time is. If humans fully understood the fact that, in a hundred years, virtually every man, woman and child alive today will be dead, and that life does not end because they passed away (their offspring will carry on living), maybe they wouldn't "play the game" with a short-term strategy.
For instance, let us assume that there are two families in a town where there is only one well, which provides infinite pure water. If each family goes for a short-term strategy, it is feasible to believe they would eventually go to war, kill each other or they might even destroy the well, just for the sake of not allowing the rival family to drink its water.
The thing is, if they come to realize that life does not end in a hundred years, it would become clear that long-term benefits would exceed any short-term benefits obtained through war. That is, similarly to considerations of limited space, a time approach could also be interesting.
Of course, the commons has non-infinite resources, like land and oil, so my example does not actually fit the tragedy of the commons. Still, I find that any model which focuses on time, instead of space (or even both together!) sounds exciting.

Guilherme fernandes said...

I believe that these lines written by Krutilla link both articles: "it appears that the utility to individuals of direct association with natural environments may be increasing while the supply is not readily subject to enlargement by man". That is, all in all, they could be considered Neomalthusians, and, therefore, pessimists.
Even though I find this "space" approach brilliant, I wonder how important time is. If humans fully understood the fact that, in a hundred years, virtually every man, woman and child alive today will be dead, and that life does not end because they passed away (their offspring will carry on living), maybe they wouldn't "play the game" with a short-term strategy.
For instance, let us assume that there are two families in a town where there is only one well, which provides infinite pure water. If each family goes for a short-term strategy, it is feasible to believe they would eventually go to war, kill each other or they might even destroy the well, just for the sake of not allowing the rival family to drink its water.
The thing is, if they come to realize that life does not end in a hundred years, it would become clear that long-term benefits would exceed any short-term benefits obtained through war. That is, similarly to considerations of limited space, a time approach could also be interesting.
Of course, the commons has non-infinite resources, like land and oil, so my example does not actually fit the tragedy of the commons. Still, I find that any model which focuses on time, instead of space (or even both together!) sounds exciting.

Alli Shearin said...

The tragedy of the commons is a very difficult issue, and as Hardin points out, overpopulation seems to be the most important factor. The tragedy of the commons is also crucial to consider, because many natural resources become the “commons,” such as the air, the seas, the forests, etc. Because overpopulation is one of the most important factors leading to the tragedy of the commons, it makes sense that the growth rate needs to become zero in order to fix the problem. In order for the growth rate to reach zero, a restriction on the freedom to breed is inevitable. Realistically, however, I don’t see how a policy like this could ever work. Sure there could be legislation restricting the number of children a family or person could have, but what if someone breaks the law? There is no humane way to reverse or fix their “crime”. And what if someone is doing their best to follow the law, but then becomes pregnant by accident. Should they be forced to terminate their pregnancy even if it is against their religion to do so? I just think that it would be very unrealistic to put this law into action. As far as government intervention to control natural resources as the “commons,” I think it can be possible in some instances, and less likely in others. For example, when national parks only exist in one country, it is possible for that one country to take action or ownership, and potentially alter or limit the use of this “good”. It becomes trickier with “commons” like air and the oceans, however. Although the United States could make policies limiting or even restricting air pollution in the United States, this does nothing to solve the air pollution problem unless other countries join in the effort. It is obviously extremely hard to get every country on the same page, and thus it is extremely difficult, and almost impossible, to solve the tragedy of the commons, especially with resources such as the air and the seas in which the world shares as a whole. In my opinion, the best thing we can do right now is try to educate people, companies, countries, etc about the tragedy of the commons and the potential dangers of overpopulation. If these groups are educated about these issues, hopefully they will be more conscious of their individual use, and have more incentives to regulate their own pollution, overpopulation, etc. Obviously this isn’t the best answer, but until we can think of better policies or solutions, I think focusing on education is a start.

Levi said...

Like many others have noted, The Tragedy of the Commons revolves around the core Economic principle of limited resources, and natural resources in particular. However, I find that the argument owes a great deal to Hardin's introductory section that discusses "technical solutions." I find that this section keeps the idea that technology can only delay the eventual trade-off that one will eventually face when dealing with finite resources.

Moreover, I feel that Harden should take into consideration that rationality is an easy assumption in theory but might not be entirely realistic, as the human psyche is a wonderfully complex phenomenon.

As an aside, I find the last couple of paragraphs under the "Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon" to be a very intriguing way to look at mutually agreed upon decision-making. However, I feel that Hardin need only to look at the state of Congress for the past few years to understand that the statement "But we can never do nothing" may only hold in the most technical of sense.

Levi said...

Like many others have noted, The Tragedy of the Commons revolves around the core Economic principle of limited resources, and natural resources in particular. However, I find that the argument owes a great deal to Hardin's introductory section that discusses "technical solutions." I find that this section keeps the idea that technology can only delay the eventual trade-off that one will eventually face when dealing with finite resources.

Moreover, I feel that Harden should take into consideration that rationality is an easy assumption in theory but might not be entirely realistic, as the human psyche is a wonderfully complex phenomenon.

As an aside, I find the last couple of paragraphs under the "Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon" to be a very intriguing way to look at mutually agreed upon decision-making. However, I feel that Hardin need only to look at the state of Congress for the past few years to understand that the statement "But we can never do nothing" may only hold in the most technical of sense.

Van Nguyen said...

I found Hardin’s and Krutilla’s discussions on the lack of technical solutions to “the commons” problem fascinating. For me, they both seem like prophets of doom by clearly stating that there might not be solutions for the future of our natural resources if people are not willing to fundamentally change their ways of life – socially, economically, psychologically, and politically- because science might fail to clean up our acts in the future. Given the impossible stalemate in which global leaders cannot agree on a set of solutions to alleviate our urgent and encroaching environmental problems, both authors are right on the money to focus on ways that we, as national or global citizens, will have to change in order to preserve these resources.
Hardin’s discussion on “guilt”, “double bind” and the “appeal to conscience” really resonates with me because that’s what behavioral economics is all about and one of the policies that President Obama is pursuing (as demonstrated in his State of the Union Address last night). Asking people to appeal to their conscience to limit their action that harms the overall good is completely going again the self-interest nature of people and against our rent-seeking behaviors as well. Yet, public leaders still actively pursue these policies to “attempt to get something for nothing”. It is non-sense. It should be about incentives.

Krutilla’s biggest contribution in his paper, in my opinion, is his discussion on how prior association of natural environments via less arduous activities will drive up demands for more advanced participation in the future. Thus, the idea of dynamic efficiency is important more than ever, even though our analysis is still centered on static efficiency. It seems to me that it is next to impossible for us to fully quantify within the present period and upcoming period how much natural resources are actually worth in order to implement the right incentive-based structures for people to conserve these value-appreciating resources.

I also would like to point out that Hardin and Coase’s definition on property rights are rather similar since they both believe that an enclosure of the commons or the assignment of rights infringes upon another person’s personal liberty. Hence, in the end, property rights do not matter in a perfect world, but in our current world, they are necessary for establishing the most optimal “social arrangement”.

Van Nguyen said...

I found Hardin’s and Krutilla’s discussions on the lack of technical solutions to “the commons” problem fascinating. For me, they both seem like prophets of doom by clearly stating that there might not be solutions for the future of our natural resources if people are not willing to fundamentally change their ways of life – socially, economically, psychologically, and politically- because science might fail to clean up our acts in the future. Given the impossible stalemate in which global leaders cannot agree on a set of solutions to alleviate our urgent and encroaching environmental problems, both authors are right on the money to focus on ways that we, as national or global citizens, will have to change in order to preserve these resources.
Hardin’s discussion on “guilt”, “double bind” and the “appeal to conscience” really resonates with me because that’s what behavioral economics is all about and one of the policies that President Obama is pursuing (as demonstrated in his State of the Union Address last night). Asking people to appeal to their conscience to limit their action that harms the overall good is completely going again the self-interest nature of people and against our rent-seeking behaviors as well. Yet, public leaders still actively pursue these policies to “attempt to get something for nothing”. It is non-sense. It should be about incentives.

Krutilla’s biggest contribution in his paper, in my opinion, is his discussion on how prior association of natural environments via less arduous activities will drive up demands for more advanced participation in the future. Thus, the idea of dynamic efficiency is important more than ever, even though our analysis is still centered on static efficiency. It seems to me that it is next to impossible for us to fully quantify within the present period and upcoming period how much natural resources are actually worth in order to implement the right incentive-based structures for people to conserve these value-appreciating resources.

I also would like to point out that Hardin and Coase’s definition on property rights are rather similar since they both believe that an enclosure of the commons or the assignment of rights infringes upon another person’s personal liberty. Hence, in the end, property rights do not matter in a perfect world, but in our current world, they are necessary for establishing the most optimal “social arrangement”.

curriee13 said...

A well-known truth that we have learned through our study of economics and that was reinforced with the allegory of the “tragedy of the commons,” is that people will act in their own self-interest with little regard for the welfare of the rest of society. This natural instinct of self-interest is why regulations and mutual contracts are necessary to keep society stable, and although many argue that it is too sensitive a moral issue, it is evident that human reproduction has become one of the topics that needs to be addressed in this type of mutual contract. There is no doubt that some form of mandatory regulation on population is absolutely necessary if the human species does not want to bear the consequences of having too few resources for too many people. The numbers do not lie; Hardin refers to Malthus and his conclusion that population has been growing exponentially while food production has been only growing linearly. Add to this discrepancy the overuse and desecration of natural resources that are absolutely vital to a stable society, and we have ourselves a recipe for epic disaster and the consequential dieback of many humans. We already fail at distributing food resources to people that need them, and adding even more people would only make this competition more cutthroat. Hardin wants us to imagine a life where we could barely receive the necessary calories to exist, let alone to continue to participate in activities that we love or even be able to achieve the technology that would be necessary to sustain the population, only exacerbating the problem already at hand. Unless humans can come up with a technology that will somehow perpetuate these natural resources forever (which does not look likely, as we continue to deplete them at unbelievably rapid rates), population regulation is the only logical solution thus far.

gioioson12 said...

Both of these articles discuss how humanity can prolong its use of finite resources in conditions and among mindsets that are not conducive to the perpetuation of our environment. The authors tackle the question of how to make humanity look beyond the private costs and understand the social costs of the actions we undertake.

Bizarrely and a bit morbidly, Hardin’s paper reminded me both of “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift and the movie Idiocracy. While he doesn’t write of eating Irish children, or a future in which we revert to Neanderthal-levels of intelligence, he does rail against overpopulation as being a threat to the commons and to natural resource stocks around the world, and discusses the future prospects of humanity if a general agreement or policy of population control were not agreed upon. He writes of the “self-eliminating conscience” – an idea that the human species would eventually lose its “conscience” through evolutionary processes because the people, namely intellectuals, who would be most likely to heed his advice of curbing population growth through limits of offspring, would eventually eliminate themselves from the gene pool. What Hardin seems to stress in his paper is that sometimes we have to give up our freedoms for the good of the environment, namely the freedoms of reproduction and our access to the commons, else we will lose more than these freedoms afford.

In Krutilla’s paper, he discusses the governing of the use of the current stocks of natural resources, of which technology can help us to expand or lengthen our finite supply, while keeping in mind the worth of unspoiled environmental resources for future generations. But could technology ever even come close to replicating natural wonders, resurrecting extinct species, or creating adequate or even comparable replacements? Krutilla argues the negative, and I would tend to have to agree. There is no substitute for environmental resources in their natural state, however there is a substitute for the energy created from natural resources gained from destroying environmental resources. We just need to convince ourselves that the benefits in the future outweigh the costs we bear in the present to find alternatives.

gioioson12 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Moravec said...

As a politics major, I really appreciated Hardin's attempt to merge economic ideas with policy implications, something not usually confronted by economists. I do agree with the simple math of Hardin's "population problem," that eventually if human populations grow without ceasing, we will overpopulate the earth. True, but I think that with present-day evidence, we can see he has far overstated his point. Human populations have are nowhere near reaching their maximum level, at least as far as food consumption is concerned. Humans produce enough at present to feed 12 billion people, almost double global populations. I would argue that it is not overpopulation that has led to hunger and the "population problem," but market failures and transaction costs associated with the distribution of food. (I do recognize that even though the earth has the potential to feed 12 billion people, I have no idea as to the earth's ability to support the waste/pollution, water usage, or physical existence of those people.) However, I do think that the "population problem" is possible to solve with science, as are many others, we just haven't figured out how yet. I would argue, per the above mentioned information, that at present the population is not a "problem" yet, but that rather than trying to solve it we should be considering alternative methods at food distribution and finding ways to lower transaction costs to feed the present population. All in all, two interesting papers.

Wendelbo said...

This goes to show that Stavins knew what he was talking about. Markets are not always the best solution, and we know it. Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons has been an influential piece from the start – it bridges some of the large gaps that still existed then (and we allow to exist today) between economics and the other disciplines which are important to understand economic choices, policy choices and so on. The implications for psychology, politics and sociology are no less striking than the implications which fit economics.
The interesting part, as both Hardin and Krutilla well know, is that we are faced with a trade-off. One of the classical assumptions is that goods are best traded and this optimized privately, by letting the preservation/conservation of something be expressed through the value individuals put on it, shown by their willingness to compensate the owner for leaving a resource alone, improving it, etc. But as both author’s argue, the private sector is unlikely to capture all the benefit from a resource, because some value is put on, for example, their property, that they will not be compensated for.
Hardin argues that the only way to maximize utility is by declining population rates. This may well be, but it has some significant implications for us in economics. Hardin, in the sixties, has yet to see a prosperous people with a growth rate of zero. That’s no longer the case! As we know, this is happening all over Europe where some rates are now negative (and not merely fluctuations such as those he dismisses). What, today, separates these societies from, for example, America? Who is to say that they have better chances of survival? It seems perhaps that the case is reversed: populations in Europe are facing a demographic shift, which we can only think will at first, at least, harm the economy, as many older people retire and fewer younger people are there to take over and foot the bill. Interestingly, populations do not need to reach zero for this to be relevant: take a look at China. They have done more for global population stabilization, but they are not even close to zero percent growth rate. Yet, given the proportion of this nation, the shifting demographics will be felt not only in China, but around the world. While we might maximize by cutting births and such, I find that Hardin’s argument is not a compelling reason to fight population growth right here and now.
Lastly, Krutilla’s piece is interesting for a number of reasons, many of which are mentioned above and I will not repeat. The most striking part, though, is one which I think has been forgotten somewhat above and I wish touch on. If we assume that we are liable to each other about decisions, then overall wellbeing is what we seek to maximize. As both Hardin and Krutilla point out, we are using finite resources, but we use them as infinites because we believe that our technological advances will keep improving extraction and consumption rates. All the while the environment is degrading. But the point is this: While our trust in yet unknown technology is keeping our consumption rate at an all time high, science about the consequences are as of yet, minimal and inconclusive in the proportions that we cannot reliably predict the consequence of our extraction 100 generations into the future. If we assume we have to keep polluting to extract, some might believe that we can negotiate the best combination: But, with no scientific background we can never find PARETO optimality, because we don’t know if we can compensate for all the damage.

Matt Benson said...

I found that the two articles agreed with each other to a great extent. In “The Tragedy of the Commons” the threat Hardin perceives is that of unregulated and unbridled breeding. He fears that an ever increasing population within a finite world will lead to human suffering. Krutilla fears what would happen if non-market goods do not have some established value. He claims that many of these goods, such as ecosystems, are irreplaceable and as such should be protected. Both authors raise interesting points in support of more regulation, and I think even Coase would agree most of these regulations would be appropriate and make sense. Coase would absolutely support regulating the amount of pollution factories are allowed to produce, but would support a different way of doing it. Coase would support regulating the amount of pollution through some negotiation such as local taxes on the amount of pollution a factory produces. Hardin would agree that this policy increases the future viability of the air because the factories are being coerced into polluting less through the disincentive of taxes.
I find that I agree with Hardin that there is a problem with a market if one user may gain a full benefit of occupying a resource and disperse the cost of occupying that resource onto society. In the situation of the commons every action taken by an individual in their own self interest will result in a negative externality for the rest of society. Society needs to therefore strike a balance in that place Hardin refers to as “Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon.”

Elise Parker said...

I thought both articles focused on separate, but equally valid points regarding conservation and the free-rider problem. In Tragedy of the Commons for example – Hardin points out that population control cannot be fixed by a simple technical solution. Nor is moral suasion an effective measure against overpopulation. In his words, conscience is self-eliminating. Assuming it provides incentive for certain people to have fewer children, it will in fact cause the more empathetic people to have fewer children and their genes will not be passed on. Also, it could create a ‘double-bind’ in the minds of the people, which creates psychological tension.
I was also intrigued by Hardin’s example to depict the tragedy via herdsmen using a public pasture. He gives three criteria to avoid the tragedy, and when applied to certain populations outside the western world, one can see that they have a working system to avoid the tragedy using the three criteria. For example, sticking to Hardin’s commons and over-grazing; Sahelian herders in Kenya widen the radius of grazing around wells progressively during the year to ensure available grazing lands during the dry season. (Berkes-Colding-Folke 2000).
1). The herders have developed a ‘criterion of judgment and system of weighting’. The judgment involves systematically avoiding certain grazing lands now in order to maximize them during the dry season.
2). That the possessing this criterion of judgment, ‘coercion can be mutually agreed upon’ – herdsmen agree to stay away from the better pastureland during the wet season in order to benefit from it in the dry season. On a side note – I find it interesting to apply this concept to sacred groves in India or sacred animals in Nepal. Cows roam freely in Nepal and beef consumption is almost nonexistent. It got me thinking about the effect of religious beliefs and practices as a means of ‘coercion’ that is so strong it influences an entire culture’s dietary practices. In these areas, religious beliefs can be a form of coercion mutually agreed upon, and I wonder if these beliefs could (in a morally right way?) be utilized to continue land/animal conservation. But, then again, maybe not.
3).The administrative system…can and will protect the commons – self-governing tribes have an agreed upon system to time grazing of the herds and adhere to this system.
I also wonder if short-run thinking is an additional cause to the tragedy of the commons. If each herdsmen is thinking about his profit in the near future, it is easy to create a criterion of judgment and system of weights that proves in favor of adding extra cows to the herd. However, if taken in a longer time-frame, the damage done to the commons may have such a heavy weight that it cannot justify adding cows now.
I enjoyed Krutilla’s paper –especially his points regarding unambiguous answers to allocative efficiency and his analysis of option demand. Option demand can be valuable for more than sentimental reasons – it can be important for medicinal and agricultural purposes.