Updated 9 June, 2003
Garrett Hardin Oral History Project
RUSSELL: This is tape number fourteen in the Professor Garrett Hardin interview. The date is the 11th of August, 1983. The time is 3:00 p.m. The interview is being conducted at Professor Garrett Hardin's residence. Well, Professor Hardin, I thought that I'd give you a shot at that one question again, if you wanted to, that we talked about. And that was, books that maybe you would have liked to have written yourself. If you had any time to do any thinking on.... That was one of the questions that you wanted to reserve some time on.
HARDIN: Yes. You know, this is a thing that I find that hard to react to because, of course, I would like to have written The Origin of Species. You know, that sort of thing. I don't know quite what this means, you know, would I like to have written it myself. I don't feel envious of Charles Darwin for having written that, but it's a book I admire immensely as being a very honest book. Then, as I said earlier, Benjamin Lee Wharf. Now, in his case, he didn't really write a book; he wrote essays, which were later gathered together in a book. I've forgotten the exact title, but I can get that before we get through. And I have an immense admiration for that book. What else? Those are the ones that come immediately to mind. Well, I can think of other things that are so far beyond my abilities that it's silly to think of. For example, R. A. Fisher's The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection is an immensely powerful and stimulating book that only R. A. Fisher could have written. I couldn't have written it, but just what a marvelous book. You know. So, I guess that's what you mean? Things that I admire. Yes, that's right.
RUSSELL: The other thing that I was thinking of, as far as a response from you would be concerned.... Yourself, you're prolific; you've written a tremendous amount of material. But I was thinking of some of the great scientists of our day who have made tremendous contributions, but, as far as the literature is concerned, do not put pen to paper. And I was thinking of Jonas Salk and his work as far as polio is concerned. And the double helix. These men sitting down and actually discussing their experiences.
HARDIN: Well, yes. There are a number that I have great admiration for. Of course, George Beadle, whom I had close contact with at Stanford. As I said, he would talk over his ideas for the experiments before he did them. This was a great privilege to hear this and then see them work out, and so on. Just tremendous admiration for him. He's not a writer. He knows that himself. He writes what he has to, as little as possible. Later, after he got married a second time--married a newspaper woman--and together they wrote a rather nice little book explaining genetics. That was the two of them together. It was a good book. I mean, nothing earth-shaking, but nice.
Of course, the one that I have the most admiration for of all is C. B. Van Neal, whom I've mentioned, who's just in a class completely different from me. A fantastic man and a fantastically beautiful writer, but doing all of his writing in a field that's so rarefied that very few people can appreciate it. This is like R. A. Fisher again. The material itself is so inherently difficult, though, as compared with R. A. Fisher--R. A. Fisher writes with great brevity, but never, in any sense, with great clarity.
Other people spend hours figuring out what one page means. This
is not true with C. B. Van Neal. His pages are absolute marvels
of clarity, and you realize that, considering the difficulty of
the material, it could not possibly be clearer. So whatever difficulties
there are, are in the material itself and not in his writing. So
there's a man I admire a great deal. I admire also Linus Pauling,
whom I'm fairly well acquainted with. He stayed at our house a couple
of times, for the weekend. And I have a great admiration for him
as a scientist; I do not admire him for his political positions,
which I think are naive. But, as a scientist, he's absolutely first-rate--just
HARDIN: Well, I don't know whether it's a flaw. There is the great contrast, which many people have noted, between American and English education. The English elementary and secondary education in the so-called public schools does emphasize the written word so much, and they do the job so well in the "public schools," that they have many good scientists who write very well indeed.
RUSSELL: Snow would be an example?
HARDIN: Snow would be an example, and just many of them. And we have few. I guess one of the best here is... Oh, dear, now I'm trying to think of his name. He's head of a research foundation in New York, and he's written The Medusa and The Snail. He has a Welch name. Lewis Thomas, or Thomas Lewis--which is it? Lewis Thomas. And he writes beautifully, but I believe I saw that he was educated in Canada, so I think it's the English educational system again.
RUSSELL: We broke away too soon.
HARDIN: That's right. He writes beautifully--just charming essays, no question about it. But there isn't much.... Well, another thing that comes in--I don't know whether this figures in England or not--in this country, the emphasis in universities is such that a person in a science department who starts writing charming essays is going to be looked askance. You're not supposed to do that, you know? It's a funny thing.
RUSSELL: Yes, we have it in history, too.
HARDIN: Yes, I suppose Barbara Tuchman is...
RUSSELL: She's frowned upon.
HARDIN: Really, really.
RUSSELL: Yes. And yet, it's so good.
HARDIN: So good, yes.
RUSSELL: If I could now turn to... I thought we'd do a thing on institutions, and I wanted to talk about various things in relationship to population. The idea here would be, what do you think these will be like one-hundred years from now, or in the future, as far as looking at them and what impact they will have upon the population problem? There has been a lot of speculation recently about marriage as an institution--the monogamous nature of man, as to how we view that. Do you think it will change, and if so, what impact would it have on the population? And if not that way, then possibly, how could it change to greatly enhance...?
HARDIN: I don't know about the population angle. I would guess that the institution of marriage--the sort of change that is plausible there is one that has, to a large extent, has already taken place and has been labeled "serial monogamy"--that we now recognize that it should be no great reflection on a person if the first marriage doesn't pan out. And we regard it almost as normal that a person should have to go through two marriages, and beyond that, we begin to wonder. But this is such a common pattern, you know, that the childhood sweetheart or something that represents a phase of life that the person outgrows and then the second marriage.
On the other hand, to get beyond serial monogamy--say, to have polygamy, simultaneous polygamy--I don't think that will be particularly a growing thing, simply because the issue of jealousy enters in here. And this also enters into various attempts at devising an open marriage, for example. I notice that the couple who wrote the book on the open marriage got divorced. I mean, it didn't work for them--after beating the drum for this open marriage, it didn't work. Whatever you do has to fit in with this issue of jealousy. It's just a fact of life. So, it may be that serial monogamy is what it will be. Well, already there has been this change, and I regard it as, on the whole, for the good--that is, namely, recognition that before marriage, there may be a period of considerable promiscuity. Not gross, but considerable.
And this one finds in many, many societies, being pursued successfully, where it's recognized that from puberty until the time of marriage the young try many partners. There's no commitment, no children--I mean, this is always important--no children, no commitment. And then they settle down and, in many societies in which once they settle down to marriage, then they're really monogamous. They've gotten it out of their system, and that's that. This, I would say, should be encouraged. Unfortunately, you can't say this in the public schools in a course in marriage and the family.
So whatever we do in the public schools--I mean, this represents a real interfering factor is, in the public schools, one should have something in the way of sex education, of courses on marriage and the family. But there has to be a large element of fiction in those courses. And how do you do that without losing respect of the students, because they know you're not telling the truth? So you have to tell half-truths and then hope they'll pick up the best of the information they need from outside. And it's a real problem.
RUSSELL: We were watching TV the other night--this program my children were watching, anyway--and I was thinking of other programs in relationship to this interview. The one that was quite stimulating, where there was a law that was passed that said individuals could only have so many children--I don't know if you remember seeing that?--and this couple was evading the position, getting to Canada where they would be able to have their baby. Do you see some type of law that way, that...?
HARDIN: You know, I have no clear vision of what will happen, say, in the case of the United States, because I think we have a far more difficult problem than China has. China shows signs of being able to solve this problem through their recognition that the coercion has to be exerted by the production group of a hundred and fifty or less, and exerted by shame, and that's what they're doing. But we have no such production groups; we have no such mechanisms for shame; we would resist installing it--it just being contrary to so much. So I don't know.
If we work our way through to some sort of a reasonable solution
to the population problem in the United States, I don't know what
it will be. We could, for example, manage things very well just
by decreasing--getting away with--all provisions for paying for
children at state expense. In other words, no advantage. And maybe
even taxing people for having children. And taxing the price of
all building materials for houses: drive up the prices of houses,
and this would automatically take care of it. A housing shortage
is a great contraceptive, as somebody said. But I cannot imagine
a man running for president on that platform and being elected,
or, for any other public office. So, if it happens, it will have
to happen just by happenstance, or sneakily--something of that sort.
I have no idea what will happen. I just can't see anything. The
United States is much more of a puzzle than, say, a place like China,
as far as I'm concerned.
HARDIN: Well, you have to go through them one by one. And many of the Third World countries have, unfortunately, been imbued with Western ideals. I'm thinking of India, which is the second biggest nation, and she has so thoroughly imbued the individualist, democratic ideas, with all of the Christian compassion for the downtrodden, and so on--all this is heavily in India that she got through England. And so India has a terrible problem, and making really no progress on this.
RUSSELL: So we could look at our sowing our seeds, as far as colonization is concerned, and maybe, in many cases, it would...
HARDIN: Yes. I mean, we may have done more harm to India by what we would call our noble and good ideas than we did by any financial exploitation. Financial exploitation you get over. Okay, you've lost a lot of money. Now you can go ahead and make it a different way. But, if you've got ideas that have encouraged you to grow to this monstrous population--ideas and techniques, such as medical ideas, and so on--see, India has received these from their masters--and these have probably done them more harm than the bad things their masters did to them.
RUSSELL: In looking at politics as an institution, as we begin to get older as a generation, et cetera, et cetera, do you think we'll become more conservative and that as--obviously, we will be more conservative--as we become more conservative, we'll become an ally to conservative decisions that will have to be made vis-a-vis population?
HARDIN: I think yes. I think this generalization is true, that
increasing age does tend towards conservatism. The other thing is,
I think that the realization that we are competing with other nations
is going to make us more conservative, and is already. You see,
it's all right to have a very lackadaisical welfare state as long
as we're so rich we're really not competing with anybody else. But,
from here on out, I think the competition is going to get rougher
and rougher and is going to influence more of our decisions. Just
sheer survival and commercial competition with other nations.
HARDIN: Yes, I think so. You know, if you take the post-World War II period up until, say, the magic year, 1973, when the oil shortage began, this was the time of unprecedented prosperity. So I think so many of the liberal reforms that took place during that time are, in considerable part, attributable to the just sheer prosperity. We could afford to do all sorts of things like that.
RUSSELL: And poses a greater problem now that we've had these and we've created a welfare state. Now to try to curb it.
HARDIN: That's right. It's very hard to take the lollipop away after it's once been stuck in the mouth.
RUSSELL: We need the robots and yet we can't afford, in many cases, socially, to put them in place. This concept of capitalism versus communism, the "-isms" of our society--is that, do you think, an erroneous division?
HARDIN: I don't think it's very good, and this is because, from my own point of view of my own work, I found the word "commonism" far more enlightening than the word "communism." As I see it, the word "communism" covers two quite different political-economic systems: one I call "commonism;" the other I call "socialism," as everybody else does. In the case of socialistic enterprise, you have the means owned in common--say, the means of production owned in common--and then managed by managers, elected or appointed or whatever, and so on. This has various problems, but it can work more or less.
And the same way, privatism, usually called capitalism, also works more or less. It has different advantages and disadvantages, but either one can work. But the commonism--namely, where the property is owned in common, but is not managed--this won't work, and, as I see it, we constantly drift into commonistic-like arrangements. For example, insurance itself, which begins as a wager with a company--a bet that I will or will not die, or a bet that I will or will not have an automobile accident--by the time it becomes universal, ceases to be a wager and becomes commonism. Now, in the case of a person's death, this is not a bad wager because a person's betting that he will die, and he doesn't want to die. So he's working against his own economic self-interest, so to speak, in a certain curious sense. And, of course, to take account of that, usually newly-bought life insurance is void if the person kills himself within six months or two years, or whatever it is, you see, just to avoid that thing. But, once past that, they say, "Okay, we'll take the risk."
But, in the case of something like automobile accidents or health insurance or fire insurance, these really are serious temptations to abuse: arson, in the case of fire insurance; careless driving, in the case of automobile insurance; and a careless overseeing of expenses in the case of all. That is, most of us don't worry about having an accident with our car now, because the insurance is going to pay it. When we go to a repairman, he knows that, and so he just puts a whacking big fee on it. Now, if you can go to a repairman--a few of them you can find--where you go to them and say, "Look, I don't have any insurance on this; I'm going to have to pay it myself," they'll give you quite a bit lower price. He's just fattening off of these companies. It tempts them to. And the same way this is a problem with the medical insurance. The price of medical attention for the last ten or fifteen years has gone up far faster than general inflation and has been a significant contribution to inflation, for that reason, simply because nobody is bearing down on them.
This year, for the first time, the federal government is starting to bear down and the hospitals are starting to look seriously. See, so all these things, by throwing the bills, by throwing the costs into a commons, you diminish the individual's motivation for cutting down on costs. It just isn't worth his time to fight the costs if they're in the commons. So, that's the way it goes. And that, I think, is a major danger in our society; not that we're becoming communistic, but commonistic, is a constant temptation. We have to keep fighting it all the time, and if we don't, we thereby waste a lot of our substance and diminish the disposable wealth of all of us. And, in terms of international things, we have a lower real individual income because we don't manage things well, as compared with somebody else where other situations are the same, but they don't throw all these costs into the commons.
RUSSELL: I was thinking also in the area
of the ignorance that these two "-isms" will produce within
the political realm, where we produce all these horrendous military
costs on society: the development of a bomber that is obsolete in
twenty years and sits in an Arizona desert and, you know, that type
HARDIN: It really is, yes. Of course, it's the least of our dangers. The gross danger is that antagonists will stimulate each other mutually to the point where they become the two scorpions in the bottle and sting each other to death. That's far more serious, but it's all a part of the same syndrome.
RUSSELL: Yes. I've noticed now they have a black code that they're putting on things--that if a particular military project is considered to be in this category, then you not only cannot question them as far as funding is concerned, but they spend how they want and...
HARDIN: I had missed that, but I'm not the least bit surprised.
RUSSELL: The Stealth bomber is one of the ones that's in that type of a situation. As far as the next thing I was going to ask you would be fears that you might have for your grandchildren in growing up.
HARDIN: Well, they're just the standard fears. It seems to me.... I find it difficult to believe that my grandchildren will ever have as easy a time as my generation did, say, post-World War II. In a way, I'm not even sure it would be good for them if they did. I'm not sure it was good for us. What I'd hope is that they don't have perfectly dreadful times. And, of course, if there is an all-out nuclear conflagration, then all bets are off. Then this becomes really an utterly new ball game in which all that survives are the most violent, most despicable parts of our society, I'm afraid. That I really....But I don't know a thing I can do about it. I just don't want to scare the.... And how do you get across to children and grandchildren the seriousness of the thing without demoralizing them.
It's a very serious problem. So, it raises a serious problem that's now coming before, what should be said in the schools about this? See, there's hardly anything you can say in the schools that you can defend. And, if you don't say it in the schools, that doesn't mean they won't get it. They'll get it elsewhere. So, again, it's like the sex in the schools. The sex education in schools has to be bad, just by the nature of the public school system. And maybe the nuclear education may end up the same way; it has to be bad because you cannot give honest nuclear education in public school.
RUSSELL: Like the British film that's been banned because...
HARDIN: This is a fantastically difficult problem.
RUSSELL: Who, in our society, do you think should stand up to these people as an example to get the idea about, you know, what a nuclear.... The idea of where your mail will be delivered, if the United States government is saying, you know, we're going to evacuate Los Angeles by city streets?
HARDIN: Yes, where your mail will be delivered. Oh, I think just every man of good sense, when something comes up, and try to do it with a sense of humor and point out the ridiculousness of it. I was glad to see that the local physicians' organization stood up to this demand by the federal government that we make plans for taking in eight-hundred-thousand Angelinos in Santa Ynez Valley. I mean, this is absolute insanity. There's no point in making plans. Now, they might come, but the plans won't help and the results will be unpredictable. It'll just have to be devil-take-the-hindmost, if this happens. There's no way that planning will help.
RUSSELL: It's like the speed limit. They wanted people to... It's really absurd. Is there anything else besides nuclear...? I was thinking, also--this is beyond the nuclear explosion--such things as dioxin, and our polluting of our environment, and you being an ecologist. You know, we seem to be fighting the devil here to spite ourselves. Such things as curbing air pollution controls now, because of some of the problems...
HARDIN: Well, like everybody else, I say that the number one problem is the nuclear problem. Number two is population--everybody else said that. I'd say number three possibly--though it's only a possibility and not at all certain--would be the single pollution problem of the greenhouse effect: carbon dioxide and other things in the air that convert us into a greenhouse. Because if this got past a certain point, it could turn us into another Venus with a surface temperature of around six hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Well, there's no life.
And the question is, can it get so far that we then are unable to undo it, you see, and turn it back? At what point do we finally say, "Well, here we've got to stop," because the moment we decide we have to stop, this is going to require fantastic revolution in the whole way of dealing with all resources. And in our case, the whole political-economic system will have to be changed overnight. This will be very difficult to do because you could no longer--it would then become a major crime--to encourage anybody to use anything, you see. You want to discourage them from using everything, which means that the entire advertising industry should disappear.
Advertising at the present time--I believe it accounts for two percent of the GNP. Now two percent means a fantastically big, powerful organization, and maybe we should have no advertising whatever. Or, what advertising we had would encourage people to live the simple life, to be chilly at all times, to be uncomfortable, to have very few or no children, and so forth. Just try to run this through your mind; the mind boggles at the thought of this. Now, actually, we don't know whether this greenhouse effect is serious, and it will probably be another ten years or so before we can have the technical facts. It may not be. But, if it is, this would be a tremendous challenge, because it would require completely different.... Well, not only political differences here, but all over the world.
This would be the one thing that would really require something in the way of world government. I constantly pooh-pooh all these people who say we have to have a world government, because most problems are better solved on a local basis; but this is incapable of being solved on a local basis. We couldn't control our CO2 emission and allow England, Holland, Russia, you know, and so on, to not control theirs. Everybody has to. And we have no possibility at the present time of creating a world government.
RUSSELL: So we could have an "-ism" crash, so to speak.
HARDIN: Yes. That's pretty good. All the "-isms" would crash at that point.
RUSSELL: Back to basics. What are you working on right now? How do you view your work that you're doing?
HARDIN: Well, I'm working on a book in which I'm trying to show the similarities and differences between ecology and economics--many of the things we've been talking about here. When I get that done, I may next start on a book that I've put off for years and maybe too long--maybe it's overripe--a book on population. I don't think there is any good book on population--not as I see it. I think, in a way, it's a very simple thing, but, on the other hand.... Well, the nearest thing that comes to it that I know of is one by Jonas Salk--I think Jonas Salk and his son--which is published very obscurely. I happened to get a copy because I was visiting his institution with some other people, and he gave me a copy. I hadn't even heard of it. It's actually rather good, but I think I can do a lot better. Typical author--__________. But he has the right idea of having the diagrams and the curves and things an integral part of it. I don't think you can do a good book on population without having, you might say, the basic mathematics. But, I think it's also possible to keep it very simple, and then see if...
Because without the mathematics, the rest of it is merely plausible. With the mathematics, I think it becomes more than plausible, but sure knowledge. Along that line, I would say that the general--from the point of view of presentation--the approach of Salk is the one I would use, but using the material that Al Bartlett, a physicist at the University of Colorado, used in a very famous lecture of his--the exact title of which I've forgotten. But it's on the consequences of exponential growth. This, by the way, is a lecture that, when I first discovered it about two years ago had been given by him more than five hundred times--if you can imagine giving the same lecture five hundred times!--published in a reputable physics journal, and then republished a number of places. The Environmental Fund republished it.
I think it's an absolute masterpiece, and it's the sort of thing, really.... Well, you were asking what would I like to have written? I would like to have written this. It's just a paper, but it's a gem, and absolute gem. Let me give you one before you go, because I think everybody in the United States ought to read it. Now, a lot of people would be unable to understand it, but I think even if you can't understand all of it, I think the message comes through loud and clear. It's beautifully done. We asked him to give this lecture, which he's done all these times, to the board of the Environmental Fund, which he did. And it's a polished, perfectly-presented thing. It convinces everybody who hears it.
RUSSELL: For the record, what is his message? How does he get it across?
HARDIN: Well, it's just that once you have exponential growth in a finite world, then all hell breaks loose. It's Malthus' message all over, and he applies it not just to population, but to all the resources we have. Exponential growth in the use of copper, in the use of everything. One thing after another. And he has some wonderful examples that he's worked up to show how this overshadows all other considerations. It's beautifully done.
RUSSELL: How to reach a larger audience, though, and how to convince them that...?
HARDIN: Yes, this isn't solved. I think he was, when I last talked
to him a year or so ago... Well, his local institution, the University
of Colorado, worked up a videotape of his lecture, but this is no
good. I haven't seen it, but a videotape of a lecture is a videotape
of a lecture. It has only the worst features, not the best features.
So, it's on the record, but no, this needs to be done in an imaginative
way. I know we were wondering what could be done. How could we get
somebody interested in financing this? The Environmental Fund isn't
rich enough. You know, movies cost just a... You know, suitable
for TV or something. You can spend five-million dollars without
any trouble at all. And if you do, you want to be very sure you've
got a winner.
HARDIN: Yes. And we didn't have that kind of money. If we could
talk somebody else into it, we would. But we haven't had any luck.
HARDIN: I think it's a masterpiece, you know. But within a certain narrow thing. To spread it so it could reach a television audience, you'd have to do something else. In the audiences he reaches, he talks to college groups; he talks to high level business community.... Things like that, you see. Very intelligent, motivated, small groups, and does a beautiful job.
RUSSELL: The work that you're working on right now--this international relations of economics and all that--this is probably the key, is convincing this element that this is the case, that they have to curb...
HARDIN: As a matter of fact, I'm soft-pedaling that in this book because I can't do everything, you see. I'm saving that for the next one. But I'm trying to lay out some of the reasons for the disagreements between ecologists and economists and show how, in a deep sense, I think, they're not necessary. One of the things is the meaning of short-term versus long-term. For an economist, long-term is anything beyond five years. For an ecologist, well, it depends. I mean, something beyond two-hundred years or maybe ten-thousand. You know, he divides short- and long-term quite differently. And this is connected with the technical details of discounting money in economics, which makes sense in the business situation, but trying to apply it to everything else leads to actions that I think are quite destructive of the aims of society.
So, how do we get society to say, "Yes, we're going to use the standard theory of discounting in our individual businesses"--we'll expect them to--but, for the overall goals of society, we'll say, "No, that just doesn't apply"? Instead, we have to have a different view, and how do we justify that, because the business system of discounting has an easy justification--ends up by being something we call rational. Whereas, if you depart from that, then you're in danger of being irrational and you can't defend something that's really irrational. Well, if this is a different kind of rationale, what kind is it? They're tough questions.
RUSSELL: And to get them to even curb,
like advertising, et cetera, et cetera, we're talking about a death
wish for them.
RUSSELL: Yes, it's very, very difficult. It would be a major change someone else would have to make. As you've gone through your stages in your life--and I was thinking of down in San Diego, talking to various retired professors--they look at life differently from the other side. How do you think generations have been, as far as your forties, fifties, sixties, et cetera? Now you're in your late sixties--do you view life differently?
HARDIN: Well, I suppose I'm aware of a lot of silly things I did when I was younger that I wish I hadn't done, but not even too much of that. No, I'm sorry. I'm sixty-eight years old and, unfortunately, I don't feel sixty-eight.
RUSSELL: As far as decision making is concerned, is there an ideal age, do you think, as far as the manager is concerned? I mean, there are some exceptions to the rule. We could say Thomas Jefferson obviously shouldn't have been denied his right at his age.
HARDIN: Well, the quality of decision making is certainly connected with experience, so the sooner the younger person can get experience--meaningful experience--the sooner he'll mature into a good manager. That means he has to make mistakes--not critical ones, but ones that are small enough to be correctable--then pick himself up and go ahead again. But, on the whole, I should think that at least from age thirty on, the person should be about in his prime. Now....
RUSSELL: Do you feel there's a point
So, with respect to your ability to handle one thread at a time,
that's quite different. You may improve because of other factors,
connected with experience, up through your sixties, even. Though,
finally, when your memory starts getting poorer, as it does past
age fifty, through failing to remember some things we ought to remember,
the quality of your decision would go down for that reason. These
being so unpredictable and so variable from person to person, I
think that society should have these arbitrary cut-off points at
which people are retired, regardless of how competent they appear
to be. Retire them from one job, then allow them the chance to pick
up some other job, largely on the basis of demonstrated ability,
if they can talk somebody into giving them another job. And those
that talk somebody into a new job, get it. But not be able to hold
on to your own job. I think sixty or sixty-five is probably a very
good cut-off point for most people. That's just a statistical thing.
RUSSELL: So this is going to have to
be tailor-made, as far as each country...
So that cultural difference means that their population problem is slightly different, so we should go about it differently in a Moslem country. The worst thing you could do to a Moslem country would be to outlaw polygamy. This would immediately drive the birth rate higher. We've already seen that in East Africa, where, in effect, polygamy isn't outlawed, but it's frowned upon and there is less of it all the time and more monogamy--and the birth rate has gone right up. Because it used to be the pattern was that when a woman had a child, she was expected to nurse it for three years, during which time she was taboo for her husband. So she wasn't going to have another child for about four years. Four years between births. But then, once husbands got persuaded to have only one wife, he wasn't going to wait three years, you see? And so she gets pregnant sooner, and that's the doings of Western do-gooders, missionaries.
HARDIN: Meddling. That's right. Try to sell them on monogamy. We did, and now we're paying for it.
RUSSELL: Do you feel that your approach to this has come as a result of experience, or frustration?
HARDIN: No, that's experience. It's traveling around the world and seeing some of these things. Now, it's all in books, but, by gosh, you do pick it up faster when you're actually there and talking with people and seeing it. You pay more attention. In a book, it may pass you right by.
RUSSELL: Something that's laboriously put in the mind, and you don't really.... If you could take a look into the future, as far as technology is concerned, how do you see that changing? And still maintaining quality. It seems that our need to beat the other person out has been our great boom, as far as technology is concerned. Yet, if we curb this and say that we must live within our means--one car will last fifteen, twenty years, rather than five--is that going to...?
HARDIN: Well, I don't know. I'm not very good here; I haven't been in the past. During all of my life, I would say that there is no new invention that was made that was really needed. We could have done perfectly well without any of them, and could have been very happy. And I'd say the same thing is true now. And yet, the one that's made most difference in my lifetime, and will make more, is the whole computer thing: this shrinking information processing down to a very small level, so that you can now think of doing all sorts of things that were just unthinkable before because it would have taken too much time, and so forth. That is the most striking thing, and this was essentially unpredicted.
I mean, as of 1950--as late as that--even the wise people weren't
predicting it. For example, Norbert Wiener, who's one of the ones
responsible for perfecting the computer, as of about 1950 or '52,
made some remark that the machines we really need--say, for making
weather predictions--are out of the question because we'd have to
use all of Niagara Falls to cool one of these machines, because
of the immense number of vacuum tubes it'd have. He'd calculated
it out--it turned out Niagara Falls. Well, what he hadn't foreseen
was the solid state physics; and he was a good mathematician at
M.I.T. in the center of everything, and he never thought of transistors.
So here's a major thing that here this very wise technologist just
couldn't foresee. Well, that's the kind of surprise that makes everybody
hesitant to predict limits.
HARDIN: Oh, well, as everybody says, you know, GIGO--garbage in, garbage out. Population things, if you put garbage in, that's all you get out. The figures you put in, they're very inaccurate in the first place and there's absolutely nothing that says that a trend has to continue. So, the computer doesn't matter much--it would just give you "what if" things, but you don't know whether the "if" is true, so you don't need computers to work on population problems. You only use them for public relations effect. I've seen it. It's very good for this.
If you say, well--and this has been done, for example--I haven't been present at one of these sessions, but I can imagine it, where there are some people who are taking the computers out to, say, Senegal, to Chad--these places like that--and you get to talk to the people in power and you say, "Look, you're headed for trouble." And you run it in the computer, here's this population going up. And he says, "Well, we're conquering that; we're having this improvement, this improvement." And you say, "Well, how much are you improving per year?" And he says, "Five percent of this, eight percent of that." You say, "Okay, I'll plug that into the system; let's see what happens." And no matter what figure he gives you for improvement, it still ends up in disaster. Well, that begins to affect him, you see. So it has that very useful thing. Even the most optimistic scenario he can describe ends in disaster. So, obviously, something else is needed than business as usual.
RUSSELL: Has someone tried one of those on the White House?
HARDIN: Well, we're trying to.... The Environmental Fund is trying to get in. We haven't succeeded yet, but we're getting closer. We're trying to get in with this. We have a program that we can do some of this.
RUSSELL: Similar to the type that the forestry uses, as far as predicting growth...?
HARDIN: Yes. That's the idea. So all you do is, say, take the present trends, alter them in any way that seems plausible, and see if that improvement makes any substantial difference--and it usually doesn't. Postpones for a few years the disaster, but only postpones. So something beyond business as usual is called for, and that's the important thing that comes out of the computer. In other words, give me something else than what you've told me before the computer can solve the problem.
RUSSELL: So, as far as a teaching tool, it could be effective that way.
HARDIN: It's a very good teaching tool. As for predicting the future,
it's no better than the garbage you put in it.
HARDIN: Oh, I use it as a word processor. No. The only thing I've
done is to--for a table of present value, which is a straightforward
thing that the economists use--plug that into the computer and out
come the figures. Well, that's fine, because that's just a theoretical
HARDIN: No. The first problem is, will they even read it? I have
a few economists who give me a favorable reading. Kenneth Bolding
has just given a review of my last book, a very favorable one. But
Kenneth Bolding is an unusual economist. He's quite unusual. And
there are some economists in Washington who are trying to arrange
a meeting with this Austrian economist, Nobel Prize winner, which
I said I'd be glad to have a meeting with him. He knows me, knows
my work. I think this would be an interesting thing to exchange
HARDIN: Well, at a public meeting, let's do that first. We'll see, you know. Sometimes there are a few economists that I have good relations with. Most of them don't even know me.
RUSSELL: Do you think they're blind to our situation?
HARDIN: Well, the economists--their great advantage is also their great disadvantage--the fact that it is so useful for a business that this gives them ample funding, and because of that, they then become sort of the handmaiden of business. And many of them don't see that they're something other than being handmaiden to business. And that's a majority of them. So, the majority of them have no large views at all of economic problems--only small ones. And they figure if a man can make money, he's a good economist. And some of them do make money. I know quite a few economists who have made a great deal. There are not many like John Maynard Keynes, who made both fundamental theoretical contributions and also made money, and also wrote some beautiful essays, being an Englishman. But he's quite exceptional. There are not many like that.
RUSSELL: Do you feel like someone like not Reagan, Regan--the Secretary of the Treasury...?
HARDIN: Oh, he's nobody. He's nobody. I mean, even among economists,
he doesn't have any high standing. He's just another one of the
HARDIN: Yes. He has no deep...
HARDIN: Yes. Milton Friedman is one of the good.... He's both very practical in his views, and, for the most part, acceptable to business, but he also has a good theoretical understanding. Sometimes maybe from too limited a point of view, but still good. And he's done some very good work, some of it with a mathematician named Savage, who's now dead. Very good. Not widely known, but highly regarded. Milton Friedman's good. He also takes whacks at businessmen, and he says that the principal thing wrong with businessmen is they don't live by their own ideals. They violate them whenever they can make more money the other way.
RUSSELL: We see these two different... Sit both of those gentlemen that we just talked about down at a table, and they're, you know, three hundred and sixty degrees apart on most issues. You know, they would argue that way. Whereas a scientist, you should not have that.
HARDIN: No, that's right, because of course, it's the political side--political and ethical side--of the view of the relative weighing of individual rights and community necessities that will continue to exercise us for a long time to come.
RUSSELL: As far as the concluding comment is concerned, looking back on your career--and this is the last question I always ask--if you could write your own epitaph, what would it be?
HARDIN: Oh, dear. I guess, "He had fun."
HARDIN: Okay. Fine.
End of interview