Scarcity Made to Order
One of the main arguments of those who hold back progress towards a better life for all is the claim of scarcity, such as “We can’t afford it!”, “Who is gonna pay for it?”, “If we help the poor who will then do the needful work?”, and so on. Claims, excuses, and doubts based on the concept of scarcity are easily believed because, like all creatures on Earth, we humans have been living with scarcity as a natural occurrence throughout most of our kind’s existence. But are we plagued by natural scarcity in these modern times? I say: No! Scarcity today is artificial — and you can easily determine this for yourself in just a few minutes of reading this piece.
To start, what is scarcity? Wild creatures always have to fight with scarcity of food and other necessities. The same applied to pre-technological humanity. Cold winters or similar harsh climatic events could cut down on wild game. Rainy summers or severe droughts could destroy the harvests of farming cultures. And so, famines plagued humanity just like any other fleshy creatures on Earth... until we developed technologies for irrigation, drainage, reliable high agricultural yields, food storage, long distance transportation, and so forth. Our tools and other manufactured goods that make possible a human life of great power and many comforts, also used to be scarce when they still had to be made by hand. Since industrialization, that is no longer so. A new dress, suit, or pair of shoes that a tailor or shoemaker used to need days to make in the past, only takes minutes to make in a factory today. So, do we still have natural scarcity? The answer is no. The proof? Simply take a look at your own life:
All day long we get bombarded with advertisement urging us to buy, buy, buy... things we aren’t looking for, things we don’t need or don’t even want until we are beguiled with psychological advertisement tricks like beautiful women draped over the latest car model, manhood being tied to owning an assault rifle, a sumptuous actress alleging that her female beauty derives from a paint job with costly makeup, your status and self-worth as a teenager being pinned on wearing fashionable sneakers and waving around the latest iPhone (scheduled to become outdated by the end of the month), and so on. If I had a dime for every ad and telemarketing phone call I have been subjected to, I’d be a homeowner now despite my endless chain of lay-offs, ruined careers, underpaid jobs, denied opportunities, and so on. Over my lifetime, advertisement has become ever more frantic. Sometimes I feel as if everybody and their mother is desperate to sell me something.
When you think about it, this is undeniable proof that we are now living in a world of abundance, not scarcity. We have plenty of productivity, much more so than we have genuine demand. Manufacturers of today must invest heavily in advertisement in order to make us buy things when in most respects we already have more than enough. So, when some of us don’t have enough (and poverty is actually on the rise!), this is not so because our modern economies don’t produce enough. No, the only reason is a flawed distribution system, a system where a few are made rich at the expense of many who are made poor by taking from them and heaping it all onto the rich. To preserve the sales profits of the rich, we even destroy more food than would be needed to feed all the world’s hungry. How can we morally justify such a system? Why put up with it?
This setup that rules our lives is an outdated economic system which arose in the past when scarcity was natural and the only way to acquire enough for a luxurious life was to rob a lot of other people. Therefore, warlords (later known as aristocrats or “nobility”) arose from among bullies who were willing and able to do so. They staked out the surface of our planet as privately “owned” territories, and everybody else living in those territories became their serfs or slaves.
Hand in hand with monetary and technological modernization, rich merchants, moneylenders (now known as bankers), and industrial entrepreneurs joined the table of the outdated, land-based aristocracy and formed a new kind of aristocracy, one based on not just land titles but also titles to factories, banks, and all sorts of businesses — titles of hoarded wealth known as assets and measured with money. They became a modern version of aristocracy known as plutocracy, a term formed from the Greek words πλοῦτος [ploutos] which means ‘wealth’ and κράτος [kratos] which means ‘rule’.
Sadly, these new rulers continue the old practice of ensuring their great wealth by taking away from others. Or quite often, our inherited, outdated economic system does this for them (not actually needing much direction from above since its practices have been graved into law and long-standing practices and attitudes).
The way this works is that workers are underpaid or replaced and laid off while products and services are overpriced and made to self-destroy or quickly become “outdated”. On the other end of things, government services are cut and public expenditures (such as for the building and repair of our roads) are being placed heavily on the shoulders of everyday people (formerly known as slaves or serfs) through tax breaks for the rich that everybody else has to make up for. And through it all snake the long fingers of the finance industry collecting interests on everything and everybody.
As a result of these ancient wealth-hoarding techniques, the ones who were not born rich or who didn’t unscrupulously claw themselves up on our dungheap of a society which this system generates and maintains, are sh*t upon all their lives and held under, while the few at the top are pushed upwards to stay there or rise even higher — all this when we (or, the truth be told, our machines!) produce more than enough for everybody, so nobody would ever need to be deprived or crapped upon.
Conclusion: If we don’t want our world to be a dungheap society, we need to realize that natural scarcity is gone. It has been overcome by those who came before us. Natural scarcity is now an obsolete notion that no longer justifies creating and maintaining a dungheap society to grant good lives to a few. Rather, our inherited dungheap society artificially creates modern scarcity. We need to rethink and redesign our economic and political systems to make them work for all. Thus we can finally elevate our nation (and all of humanity) out of the bog hole of scarcity and into a good life for all — a life where no-one needs to unnecessarily suffer materially and no-one needs to feel shame for leaving anyone behind. We have the means. We just need to agree to do it.
Dirk Droll is the publisher, main writer, and senior editor of Beanstock’s World.