Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor Essay

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Since 1991, the southern half of Somalia, a poverty stricken African nation, has seen various tribal militias battle for dominance and power over individual regions of the country. Violence has plagued Mogadishu, the capital, since warlords ousted the former president. Mere months after the collapse of the government, men, women and children in torn clothes ran helplessly towards packages dropped from military planes towards the hot sand of their tiny village. This action was one of many attempts to help underdeveloped nations receive food by the United Nations’ World Food Programme. Within his article titled “Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor”, Garret Hardin, a well-known philosopher of ecology, analyzes the difficulty and ultimate ruin associated with providing aid to these nations.

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He creates a picture to the reader using an example of herdsman with a pasture of a certain capacity. Hardin writes, ” … the considerate herdsman who refrains from overloading the commons suffers more than a selfish one who says his needs are greater … It takes no less than everyone to ruin a system of voluntary restraint” (3). This statement is, like many of Hardin’s, entirely logical. Hardin explains that under a system of private property, the individual more easily recognizes responsibility (3). Under communal ownership however, Hardin argues the herdsman who may choose to fill the pasture with more sheep than it can hold for his own benefit would promote his interest at the expense of the community as a whole.

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These conditions include the improved education and equality of women, literacy, sexual education, and distribution of contraceptives, all of which are attainable through the foreign aid that may be provided by developed nations, and according to Murdoch and Oaten, “aid may encourage necessary institutional and social reforms, making it easier for poor nations to use their own resources and initiative to help themselves.” Hardin neglects to refer to the statistics that illustrate the positive effects on population growth within developing nations that have received aid. Costa Rica, for example, has a relatively large population and a low GDP, but the birth rate has declined by fifteen percent since the implication of foreign aid has increased industrialization.

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