The Subjective Nature of Scarcity

‘Mum, I want an iPad too!’, ‘Really?! You’ve got tickets for Glastonbury? Aah…I envy you so much right now!’, ‘You’ve gotten a bonus of 150.000 dollars?! Jesus…well, believe me: in a couple of years from now, I’ve got that too.’

More opportunities and more possibilities create more wants and more needs. Hence it is very plausible that we – the ‘rich people in the West’ – have more unsatisfied desires than the ‘poor in Africa’, numerous of which are starving each day due to a lack of food. After all, we want an iPad, MacBook and iPhone; they only want some bread and water. Hence we are the ones having more unsatisfied needs, thus we are less satisfied than the poor in Africa. Poor old us: it isn’t easy being rich…

Scarcity is defined as the ‘insufficiency of amount or supply’ of a good/service. Note the word insufficiency in this definition, since it is this word that points to the root of the problem. Unlike things as ‘supply’ or ‘amount’ – that are quantifiable and hence (at least partially) measurable or objective – ‘sufficiency‘ is an intrinsically subjective judgement. And the problem with something being subjective, is that it is relative; its ‘value’ is determined by means of comparison to what is going on in one’s surroundings. And if you’re living in a rich environment, an environment in which iPads and MacBooks are within reach for everyone, then this environment is likely to make you want different (read: less basic) goods than you would have wanted if you’d been living in, let’s say, the poorest regions of Africa.

Capitalism is a train, and profit is perishable. Yesterday’s profit is not today’s profit. And it is today’s profit that counts. Standing still is falling behind; you have to keep moving in order to keep your balance. That is the system we’re living in and that is the system we’re constantly trying to prevent from collapsing. Not because we want to keep it on its feet, but because we have to: after all, we are part of the system too, and we have got to make sure that we keep on our feet.

Sure: you could be stubborn and decide not to take part in the ever-continuing rat-race called ‘the economy’. But what then? Where do you – and where can you – turn to? Nowhere, right? You need your money in order to stay alive: in order to satisfy your iPad-needs, your longings, desires and deepest fetish-like obsessions, you have to keep on producing and buying. We’re locked up in a prison: a prison we’re painfully dependent upon.

We could of course turn to communism, an economic system without money. By doing away with money, we might do away with the vicious circle of making each other more horny and horny for bigger and bigger goods. A horniness without an organism to mark the end point of our satisfaction-seeking journey. No money means no satiable goals – or at least no goals that are within financial reach. And no satiable goals would prevent us from having feelings of insufficiency. But communism…hmm…that doesn’t sound very attractive, does it? No: we’d rather keep on hoping for that Lamborghini.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

3 thoughts on “The Subjective Nature of Scarcity

  1. You don’t understand economics do you? Communism doesn’t work because there’s no incentive to work hard, and companies are guaranteed to stay in business no matter how much they suck. Also in a communist society you have no freedom govt owns everything. There’s no freedom of speech, and you live in oppression. You want to live in Soviet Russia, really they, they collapsed

    • Hi Jon Snow,

      Thanks for your reply. To answer your question: I don’t know whether I understand economics. I hope so. One thing is for sure: it’s a very intricate topic.

      This post is not a plea for communism; it is a search for what creates our desires. In the midst of our wealth, we seem to want more and more. That is, we seem incapable to be satisfied with our current possessions, for there is always more within reach. I find that a striking observation, and I wonder how it comes.

      Hence the question: could it be due to the economic system we are part of? And would it be any different in a communist society?

      What do you think :)?

  2. To Jon Snow.

    While I appreciate the fact that you stand by your ideas. I will meet your somewhat subtle insult with another one. You don’t understand much about incentives do you? Case in point, let us examine why we use incentives. Incentives exist to motivate people to do something. In the case of economics, it is to be more productive (as the more you can produce, the more you should profit) thus you would expect inequality to breed productivity (that is the basis of your argument). So let us take a look at you argument and see if it works in real life. Which country has the most productive workers? Per Hour, the Danes completely swamp the U.S (I am assuming as an economist, the United States represents the paretto utopia neoclassical economists – and you- would herald as the ideal). It is worth noting the Denmark is a much more equal country than the United States. And, they work less. So where does their incentive come from? I am going to take a stab in the dark and say either autonomy, or the fact they don’t have to work as many hours as the U.S or the U.K. I ask you to take a look at ‘The Spirit Level’ and come back to me.

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