It is quite evident that the world population nowadays is exceeding the capacity to be sustained, especially in developing countries. Given the limited resources available in such countries, the excess populace is perishing at the hands of famine, poverty and natural disasters. In these cases, moral quandaries arise. Do developed nations have an obligation to help the developing ones? Garrett Hardin argues that this is not the case. If each country were to be likened as passengers in a lifeboat, the passengers of one lifeboat are not obligated to share theirs to more passengers in need of a lifeboat, especially if it would exceed its capacity. In the real scenario, this is likened to aiding developing countries whose resources cannot support its growing population. This may come in the form of donating precious resources to developing countries that have suffered or is suffering from various disasters such as war or poverty. Another form would be allowing outsiders to immigrate in the country to spend the subsistence of developed nations that may otherwise be devoted to the future generations of the said developed nation.
P1) Population cannot naturally self-correct if we offer aid to nations facing emergencies.
P2) If populations in nations which do not have a “strong and farsighted sovereign” who can manage the growing population do not naturally self-correct, then the population will escalate to the point of a system collapse.
C1) If we offer aid to nations without “strong and farsighted sovereigns” that are facing emergencies, then the population size will escalate until the entire system collapses.
P3) We should avoid taking actions that will collapse the entire system.
C2) We should avoid offering aid to nations without “strong and farsighted sovereigns” facing emergencies.
For these premises to hold true, Hardin set several assumptions: that the population of developed countries is growing at a continuous rate and will do so indefinitely, that natural disasters and “strong, farsighted sovereigns” are able to manage the growing populace to a level which can be supported by their limited resources and that offering aid to nations without “strong, farsighted sovereigns” will counteract the natural self-correction of the growing populace and eventually help the population increase. Basically, the situation is hinged on the fact that the resources available cannot support the entire populace and those in a position to either redistribute the resources or let others perish must take a stand. Hardin believes that for the sake of the greater good, the populace of developing countries must be corrected if we were to hope for a better future for posterity. Otherwise, the entire population will grow to catastrophic levels and eventually cause the system to collapse.
However, it seems faulty to assume that offering aid to developing countries which suffered from natural disasters will sustain the population growth. Assuming that disasters such as war or famine have occurred, the fatalities that these tragedies have sustained cannot be undone. Offering aid would apply only to those victims of these tragedies who were able to survive but cannot be helped by their own government as it lacks strength and foresight. If developed countries simply stand at the sidelines while they watch the survivors die off, this would count against them as a sin of omission. Moreover, it is not as if developed nations are asked to give more help than they can spare. All they are asked for is whatever help they can provide.
Following the assumption that a continually growing population size will eventually cause a collapse and that population reduction to more manageable levels is a must, there are two general methods of population reduction according to economist Thomas Malthus: preventive and positive. Preventive measures generally decrease the birth rate; moral restraint (such as marrying late), birth control, child-number policies, etc. while positive measures increase the death rate; wars, poverty, famine, and natural disasters.
While the latter seems more efficient in reduction of the population in general, it is morally questionable. Is the moral obligation of developed countries to help those in need of less value to their obligation of reducing the population through positive measures when it is clear that there are other methods available? True, it is imperative that the population of developing countries—especially those lacking in competent governance—be diminished to a manageable level. But wouldn’t choosing preventive measures be a sounder choice since it meets the objective of reducing the population while being more morally acceptable?
“No.” would probably be Hardin’s reply. “Likening the situation once more to the lifeboat example, developing countries have only just enough space to spare. Even if it’s to support preventive measures, providing aid to nations without ‘strong and farsighted sovereigns’ would be useless since preventive measures would only retard the rate of growth of the populace. It would still continue to escalate to uncontrollable levels. The only form of aid we should provide these nations is the kind that would reduce its populace; i.e. to let their population ‘self-correct’ through natural disasters such as famine, typhoons, war, etc. For posterity’s sake, any form of aid to developing countries that might compromise the current stability experienced by developed countries should not be undertaken. Otherwise, our entire system will collapse.”
It is understandable that a more efficient method of lessening the population would want to be adopted (i.e. positive measures). However, this does not mean that preventive measures are useless. Admittedly, it is slower in decreasing the population but eventually, it will reach a point where the trend of population growth would drop. Moreover, another factor of system collapse is the lack of resources. Given enough time, research and manpower, a more efficient manner of producing food through agriculture and industrial means may be developed.
Preventive measures may balance time and population rate such that the limited amount of subsistence (and it the quality and efficiency of its production) may be improved by a significant degree; a benefit that cannot be brought about by positive measures If developed nations provided help that would enhance preventive measures and perhaps strengthen the governance of developing nations, population may be managed in a morally sound manner. Moreover, technology in particular is always being innovated—even in the field of agriculture. Hence, advocating preventive measures and sending aids in this form to developing countries is able to successfully avoid system collapse through a morally sound manner.
Rosenberg, Matt. Thomas Malthus on Population. About, 26 January 2012. Web. 8 April 2012