May 28, 2015 Pages 712 – 736
Do We Have Obligations to the Poor and Hungry?
The main question concerning the topic raised by Hardin and Singer is how much help we should give to third world countries in poverty. The two authors assert contrasting point of views, which are completely opposite to one another. Hardin believes that no aid should be given to nations in poverty whereas Singer says we should assist them as long as it does not cause comparable sufferings on us.
Garrett Hardin, in his essay “Living on a lifeboat,” asserts that providing aid to poor nations will lead to disaster and worsen the situation for all. When rich nations share their wealth with impoverished countries, it increases the rate of consumption in poor countries. Combined with the much higher reproductive rate in poor countries, it will lead to exponential growth in the population. The population will be beyond the capability of control and will ultimately destroy all the world’s resources. If resources are available free for everyone to use, rational self-interested individuals will lead to ruin for all.
Through the metaphor of a lifeboat, Hardin proposes a situation where fifty people are on a lifeboat. Even though there are ten more seats available, allowing others to board will diminish the safety factor of the lifeboat. Hardin argues that the most rational choice to make in this situation is to admit no more onto the boat because by doing so, the lifeboat will sink. In Hardin’s words “complete justice, complete catastrophe”1 The people living in rich nations (United States) are implied as the ones aboard in the lifeboat. The problem is taken to a level further by the introduction of the concept “tragedy of the commons”2 If resources are available to public for free and are unmanaged, Hardin claims that “it takes only one less than everyone to ruin a system of voluntary restraint.”
Hardin reinforces the lifeboat model by presenting the “tragedy of the commons,” and makes his stance on issues of immigration and the world food bank. The world food bank was originally established so that nations in emergency could draw from the food reserve. However, the food reserve will deteriorate the situation of these countries in dire need, because it will eventually turn into a cycle of population reproduction through the ratchet effect. The food reserve will be a one-way transfer where rich nations will contribute and poor countries will extract. Although we might save lives in the short run, in the long run the poor countries will not be able to restrain their population thus resulting in catastrophe. Lastly, Hardin takes a stance on immigration, saying that immigration will only diminish resources by “moving people to food.” Presently, the justified reason for immigration is the interest of employers in cheap labor that is needed for degrading jobs.
Compare this argument with Singer’s argument from “Famine, Affluence, and morality.” In particular, in what sense do they disagree with each other? Whose arguments do you find more convincing and why? The arguments from Hardin and Singer bring forth contrasting positions on issues of morality to other current generations. Hardin believes that giving aid to poor nations will push the nation to have a greater burden when the population increases over its capacity. Because of finite resources, in the long run, aids to poor nations will result in more suffering overall. On the other hand, Singer claims that any kind of suffering and death from lack of food is bad. He continues