on 20 June 2007
1st edition, reissued (1995), 311 pages
This is another of the twenty books that Charlie Munger recommends in the 2nd edition of Poor Charlie's Almanack (which I cannot recommend more highly). When a very widely read and highly effective thinker like Munger gets to eighty years old and recommends a list of just twenty books, I think one would be justified in expecting all of them to be pretty good.
Even so, as I make my way through his list I find myself pleasantly surprised at just how good some of them are. The clarity of thought Hardin demonstrates in this book is simply superb.
There is an important difference comparing this book to most others. Because so much of his subject matter (the subtitle is: `Ecology, Economics and Population Taboos') is smeared over by taboo and emotion, Hardin appears to have decided that in order to deal with this problem he also needs to demonstrate how to think properly.
Thus it is really two books in one: a manual on how to think effectively and a treatise on his chosen subject. For example, he hammers home the importance of default positions to provide the foundation for critical judgement (in economics: there's no such thing as a free lunch; in psychology: reward determines behaviour; in ecology: and then what?).
I am left with a feeling of gratitude towards both Munger and Hardin - without either of whom I would not have read this marvellous book.
on 1 August 2008
I did not expect to read much new thinking - after all, the subject has been covered ad nauseam - but gave it a try based on a flattering review. And wow - some highly unconventional thinking, shattering the 'left/right' stereotypes, discussing questions (and offering answers) you would not expect from an 'ecologist'.
Fascinating, wide-ranging erudition; sharp deductive thinking; fearless debunking of myths and intellectual laziness.
A joy to read; sadly, I will have to keep most of it for myself as the contents are just too far out for politically correct dinner partners...
on 4 December 2010
This is the first and only book I've read by the notorious Garrett Hardin. I must say that I wasn't disappointed: the man's reputation is well deserved. The book is called "Living within limits" and argues that overpopulation is a problem. Maybe, maybe not. But why is overpopulation a problem? And who should be living within limits?
If read carefully, Hardin wants to limit the population of the Third World. He does *not* question the high rate of consumption in the United States, since he explicitly opposes the notion that Americans should tighten their belts. In other words, Hardin wants to limit the population of the Third World, so that America can exploit more of the Third World's resources! True, he doesn't say this writ large, but the conclusion is obvious, if the book is read carefully.
Hardin also supports modern, "free market" capitalism, the very system which destroys the environment in the first place. He believes that a free market would discipline the owners to...well, live within limits. Since capitalism is based on accumulation, competition and always tends to corrupt the state apparatus, this is difficult to take seriously. While saying his prayers to the global market, Hardin nevertheless wants to curb immigration. Presumably, then, the remaining Third World population should work in sweat-shops south of the Rio Grande, rather than claiming a share of the pie when its brought up north.
This is a rapacious, Social Darwinist screed, written by a man who wants all the world's resources for himself. Essentially, the author calls for resource war. In Hardin's ideal world, he would eat, and we would be living within limits.