A Moral Obligation of Assistance from Hardin and Deaton

A Moral Obligation of Assistance from Hardin and Deaton

Paul Fischer


Professor Mark Budolfson

A Moral Obligation of Assistance from Harden and Deaton

This paper will analyze the moral obligations which exist to provide for social communication and governance factors in primitive models of economic and environmental exchange. There are multiple ways of accomplishing this goal, ad to do so logical premises will be expounded while confounding arguments are presented and summarized. Finally, the use of the Franciscan paradox and the recently revealed resolution to that paradox which had been lost for over 700 years will be used to resolve any remaining reservations in relation to the expansion of correct and dismissed outcome scenarios.

Monetary Grounds for Providing Assistance: Economy and Indifference

Deaton identifies a monetary grounds for assistance to developing nations on the basis that the cost of saving a life there runs an average of a thousand times less than a similar operation in the developed world (Deaton, 268). He then proceeds to identify four possible reason for the discrepancy in efficacy of aid provided which include moral indifference, misunderstanding, misdirection, or inefficiency or harm of the aid which is being provided (270).

This last reason is featured in Harden as primary grounds for attacking the argument. Allowing Indian populations to swell by allocating sufficient aid resources would ultimately result in the destruction of the entire population, accordingly, as the environment is degraded it is argued. The critical piece of data which is missed in this critique is the expansion of the economy with the allocation of aid, which empirically is greater than the value of the aid itself (Deaton, 273).

In order to properly analyze this topic, it is necessary to deconstruct the argument, which will draw from lecture (Budolfson, lecture). For a first example, it can be viewed as an example in which a man is walking by a drowning child. Then no effort produces a very great impact and there are virtually no qualifications, assuming bene faccii, that the aid would not be provided. This is not always the case however, so some complexity must be introduced.

Goats and the Exclusion of Monopoly

The question of competition is addressed in Harden implicitly with the discussion of illegal immigrants. To address this question, one can imagine 5 families which are competing for equal share of a pasture while maintaining maximum efficiency. The pasture, however, can only support 17 goats before the entirety of the system collapses, making the 18th goat a negative decision no matter what. It should be seen as obvious that each family would take 3 goats and raise them on the pasture.

Due to the primitive nature of this construct there can be no sharing the property; that is more realistic for real-world economic scenarios in which two industries are not compatible on the same river: the factors of production must belong to one family or the other. There are two or three fair weather solutions which maximize the solution which compromise giving the bonus goats to one or two of the families or of creating a 6th smaller family which has only two goats.

At this point, the importance of a monopoly as a factor arises. Either way, a war between the families creates a family with the extra goats as the smallest family is consumed or the largest family begins to pick off the others. Maximum efficiency is offered at the cost of enslavement of 80% of the population, assuming actions in the greatest self-interest.

The only effective way to resolve this proposal is to publicly raise the two extra goats and sacrifice them, and this effectively prevents any of the families from cheating while offering the least cost to efficiency as security against enslavement. In terms of aid this constitutes an extension of Deaton’s argument in which the economic proceeds from the previous generation using aid is used to guarantee the larger amounts of aid required by a following generation. That is an effective and airtight solution to the premises which have been offered using the logical sequences which are assumed in analysis.

Fishermen and Temporal Constraints to the Catch

Sara Ostrum offers a slight shift in the analysis by pointing to fishermen who are able to share the proceeds, which applies to microeconomic competition. In this case, monopoly is assumed as no one can effectively monitor or determine the efficacy of any group of fishermen, and the solution is found in temporal boundaries whereby the fishermen divide the amount of time spent in the the fishing zone rather than the catch or product. This introduces two new concepts in form, that of positive incentivization and of natural regulation.

Rather than affording fines or punishments to the fishermen, a coffeehouse which is the favorite place for all of the fishermen to visit serves as an incentive for them to stay out of the water when they are not permitted to fish (Ostrum, 20). This effectively prevents monopoly while standardizing the catch of individual fishermen. It would not work for the families of shepherds because a family could not raise all those goats without enslaving other families. That is an example of a slight shift in premises resulting in quite radically different optimal solutions.

The Franciscan Paradox Revisited

The lost manuscript of St. Francis of Assisi was recently discovered and presented at the University of Vermont. He was a Saint famous for becoming naked as he gave his belongings away to people in the middle of the street. While coming from a wealthy family, he had an intense conversion in 1205 and, by the time he was Stigmatized, gathered a following which included Bishops and Popes. It was well known at the time that Francisco alto Christo and that his life would touch millions for generations. Franciscan friars remain a dominant force in the Catholic Church and his teachings are holy for Christians of all denominations.

His paradox occurs after the decision to provide aid has been made. As he became more famous, he realized that the value of his power was greater than it had been even as the son of a wealthy merchant. Justifying the incentive to give as a selfless act with the reality that power can be obtained by giving gifts has become known as the Franciscan Paradox and remains the final consideration in determination of whether to donate or provide aid. The official answer was largely lost for 700 years, but the new documents provide context to the quote “we cannot fit a square into a circle every day” as part of a Franciscan prayer. Of course the temporal nature of the argument plays a critical role in interpretation of this as well: the natural solution which presents is that there will not always be times of need. Goodness of intent can be assumed, as long as the provider does not then try to expand their power by creating problems once their aid has been received.


Mark Budolfson, “Environmental Ethics: Philosophy and Logic”, Spring 2017

Angus Deaton, “How to help those left behind”, in The Great Escape

Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”, Science

Elinor Ostrom et al., “Revisiting the Commons”, Science

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