Artificial Scarcity

Without any real sacrifice, we could live in a world of abundance.


| Summer 2015



Heart coin

Ironically, money is the one thing we can produce in unlimited quantities: It is mere bits in computers. Yet we create it in a way that renders it inherently scarce, and that drives a tendency toward the concentration of wealth, which means overabundance for some and scarcity for the rest.

Photo by Flickr/Giuliano Maolini

If we can free ourselves from the artificial perception of scarcity, we could meet our real emotional and spiritual needs.

Scarcity is one of the defining features of modern life. Around the world, one in five children suffers from hunger. We fight wars over scarce resources such as oil. We have depleted the oceans of fish, and the ground of clean water. Worldwide, people and governments are cutting back, making do with less, because of a scarcity of money. Few would deny that we live in an era of scarce resources; many would say it is dangerous to imagine otherwise.

Yet it is not hard to see that most of this scarcity is artificial. Consider food scarcity: huge amounts, as much as 50 percent of production by some estimates, are wasted in the Western world. Vast areas of land are devoted to producing ethanol; vaster areas still are devoted to America’s number one irrigated crop: lawn grass. Meanwhile, land that is devoted to food production is typically farmed by chemical-intensive, machine-dependent methods that may actually be less productive (per hectare, not per unit of labor) than labor-intensive organic agriculture and permaculture.

Similarly, scarcity of natural resources is also an artifact of our system. Not only are our production methods wasteful, but also much of what is produced does little to further human well-being. Technologies of conservation, recycling and renewables languish undeveloped. Without any real sacrifice, we could live in a world of abundance.

Perhaps nowhere is the artificiality of scarcity so obvious as it is with money. As the example of food illustrates, most of the material want in this world is due to lack not of anything tangible, but of money. Ironically, money is the one thing we can produce in unlimited quantities: It is mere bits in computers. Yet we create it in a way that renders it inherently scarce, and that drives a tendency toward the concentration of wealth, which means overabundance for some and scarcity for the rest.

Even wealth offers no escape from the perception of scarcity. A 2011 study of the super-wealthy at Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy surveyed attitudes toward wealth among households with a net worth of $25 million or more (some much more—the average was $78 million). Amazingly, when asked whether they experienced financial security, most of the respondents said no. How much would it take to achieve financial security? They named figures, on average, 25 percent higher than their current assets.

pmccoy
8/5/2015 11:39:00 PM

The author has a complete misunderstanding of the difference between "money" and "currency". Money must be a tore of value, currency is simply a deposit receipt (or electronic entry) representing money on deposit somewhere.