Reality Check

By Wayne Lutton
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 4, Number 3 (Spring 1994)
Issue theme: "End of the migration epoch?"



by Professor Garrett Hardin

Approximately 75 minutes, $20.00

Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform (C-FAR)

P.O. Box 332, Rexdale, Ontario M9W 5L3 Canada

Since the publication of his landmark paper,'The Tragedy of the Commons,' (Science, 1968) Garrett Hardin has been among the foremost critics of Western foreign aid programs. Last fall Professor Hardin addressed a conference on Immigration & Population sponsored by the Canadian group, Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform (C-FAR). His remarks are now available in video format.

Professor Hardin opens his remarks by pointing out that the media consistently fail to show the connection between overpopulation and many human disasters. He cites the treatment accorded the casualties of storm and earthquakes in the Indian subcontinent. As he explains, had the people been living away from the flood plains, or in homes constructed of pliable wood instead of the cement blocks which came crashing down on their occupants, few would have died. The media reported that floods and earthquakes killed the hapless folk. Hardin argues that it would be more accurate to say that overpopulation was the culprit, since people would not have been living in frequently-flooded areas if they didn't have to. And wood should have been available for housing, were it not in very short supply thanks to decades of overharvesting to meet the past demands made by India's too numerous inhabitants. But, he notes, the connection between population density and resource availability is never made 'no one ever dies of overpopulation,' he says.

Reviewing Western foreign aid programs, he points out that supporters refuse to ask the question,'And then, what?' when coming up with policy proposals. He gives the example of various expensive dam projects, such as the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, which ended up displacing people from their farmlands, led to salinization of heavily irrigated and over-fertilized land, and encouraged additional population growth. Whatever immediate benefits may be attributed to the projects have been more than offset by the long-term bad consequences.

Turning to Western intervention in Somalia and Ethiopia, he cautions that food rushed in today only makes it more certain that many will starve tomorrow. Hardin admits that he cannot recall an instance when foreign aid actually did any good over an extended period of time. His conclusion is that, aside from encouraging birth-control, Western nations would be best advised to get out of the foreign aid business altogether.

Readers of The Social Contract will want to order a copy of this video to share with their friends and associates. Contemporary newsreel footage compliments Dr. Hardin's presentation. This is a good way to introduce others to the concept of 'carrying capacity' (how many people a given area can support without outside aid) and the problems associated with population growth. After seeing this video, viewers should then be encouraged to read Garrett Hardin's latest book, Living Within Limits Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos (Oxford University Press, 1993).

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