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Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Aid That Does Harm

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The article “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Aid That Does Harm,” Garrett Hardin discusses how the distribution of foreign aid affects the world. Hardin uses the analogy of a lifeboat to describe the rich nations and swimmers as the poorer nations. Harden says that in the lifeboat, there are already 50 people but it has room for 10 more. Yet Harden says there are 100 swimmers that are asking for help. Harden believes that the passengers on the lifeboat must understand that there are only so many resources to spare. Harden talks about the “tragedy of the commons.” Harden tells the reader to image a farmer who has rights of a pasture. Harden says the farmer who owns the pasture will have to understand that he cannot take more cattle than the land can handle, because if he did it would lead to a ruined environment. Harden then says if the pasture was open to everyone, none will match the responsibility for the common area. “If everyone would restrain himself, all would be well; but it takes only one less than everyone to ruin a system of voluntary restraint. In a crowded world of less than perfect human beings, mutual ruin is inevitable if there are no controls.

This is the tragedy of the commons.” Pg 597. Harden believes that the tragedy of the commons needs to change to a system of control in order to conserve the natural Resources. Harden says the World Food Bank was an attempt to create a new commons system. Harden says that the Food Bank was an international food storage system in which countries would contribute according to their ability and withdraw due to their countries’ needs. Harden states that while the world food bank appeals to our good nature it but it costs money to the taxpayers and only benefits the business. Harden states the food bank is “a commons in disguise.” Harden believes that people will lose their motivation to add and instead increase their motivation to take from the food bank. Harden goes on to state that poorer countries have an increase in their population while richer countries have a lesser population growth. However, Harden says that the richer countries only have a way of setting aside food, while the poorer countries don’t. Harden believes that if the poorer countries didn’t receive their aid their populations wouldn’t increase. Harden states that even though the world food bank is helping them (the poorer countries) it causes the need to increase.

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