Scarcity Made to Order

Today's scarcity is no longer natural but manufactured by an outdated inequality machine.

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as a teenager being pinned on wearing fashionable sneakers and waving around the latest iPhone (scheduled to become outdated by the end of the month), and so on.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.

Comments
No. 1-6
FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

"One of the indications of scarcity being artificial nowadays (and which you criticize) is the fact that nowadays so much effort goes into selling and convincing people to buy things they don't need instead of producing and distributing more of the needed things where scarcity still exists". This is NOT proof of abundance, it's proof of salesmanship. In the words of Twain, who you seem to hold in high regard...

"Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?"

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth -- stepped back to note the effect -- added a touch here and there -- criticised the effect again -- Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

"Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little."

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

"No -- no -- I reckon it wouldn't hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly's awful particular about this fence -- right here on the street, you know -- but if it was the back fence I wouldn't mind and she wouldn't. Yes, she's awful particular about this fence; it's got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain't one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it's got to be done."

"No -- is that so? Oh come, now -- lemme just try. Only just a little -- I'd let you , if you was me, Tom."

"Ben, I'd like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly -- well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn't let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn't let Sid. Now don't you see how I'm fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it -- "

"Oh, shucks, I'll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say -- I'll give you the core of my apple."

"Well, here -- No, Ben, now don't. I'm afeard -- "

"I'll give you all of it!"

Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By the time Ben was fagged out, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with -- and so on, and so on, hour after hour. And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had besides the things before mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn't unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar -- but no dog -- the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.

None of the above is proof of scarcity or abundance, merely of how to manipulate the public to create a perception.

Dirk Droll
Dirk Droll

Editor

Felix Culpa, I seem to have worded a sentence in my first paragraph badly so it could be misunderstood. (I have fixed it now, I hope.) My article doesn't claim that there is no scarcity anywhere. It argues that modern scarcity is artificial rather than natural in origin like it was in past ages. One of the indications of scarcity being artificial nowadays (and which you criticize) is the fact that nowadays so much effort goes into selling and convincing people to buy things they don't need instead of producing and distributing more of the needed things where scarcity still exists. If that isn't a man-made cause of scarcity I don't know what is. It's like to the left of me a man is starving and I am begging another man with a full stomach to the right of me to buy more food from me lest I have no more room on my shelves. It's a sad fact that the richest man on Earth has more wealth than it would take to end world hunger. But does he bother to do so, or do we ask him to, or do we redirect the enormous prosperity flow that keeps going to him to those who need it much more badly (some of whom are creating it by working in his employment and being underpaid and treated like crap)? Human dungheap societies are artificial, especially when our productivity, thanks to modern technology, has soared to a point where we can easily produce enough for everybody. Take food for example: In the early days, a whopping 90% of Americans were working in agriculture. In the middle of the agricultural and industrial revolution here, the number had dropped to 50% by 1870. Today it's less than 2%. Poorer places on Earth are no less capable of benefiting from modern production methods. No law of nature makes them unable to. So, when people starve today, it's not because of nature but because of how we organize production and distribution using an outdated system that pooled the formerly scarce goods of the world in the hands of a few bullies because in ancient times that was the only way to create prosperity. Nowadays we can produce enough for everybody and therefore don't need to cling to the old dungheap-society system. That's the message of the article.

Dirk Droll
Dirk Droll

Editor

Ehem? I am to open my eyes to the very thing I clearly stated? Would it not make more sense to give this advice to Felix Culpa who seems to love and defend the dungheap?

AveryCO
AveryCO

Our world is already a dungheap of a society Dirk, open your eyes. And none of these politicians who should be representing the common interests are doing anything about it sadly

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

You are absolutely wrong on almost every point in this except for the fact that letting yourself get roped in by advertising is dumb. What you're describing is a first world problem; numbers 1-3 and number 6 on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. You also falsely equate the fact that everyone is competing to sell you stuff to the FEELING that they are "desperate" to sell it to you, and from that mistaken assumption proceed to the fallacy that since they're desperate there must be plenty of it. This is at best, a faulty syllogism. Scarcity exists, and it exists worldwide. I'm lucky enough to live the US and to have been low enough to really appreciate the value of "The Four Freedoms" we enjoy as US citizens. We enjoy these freedoms now because of a confluence of historical, governmental, and economic factors too dense to summarize. Throughout the world there are populations which don't enjoy ANY of those freedoms. When you complain that "products and services are overpriced and made to self-destroy or quickly become “outdated” your complaint is that you don't like what's on offer. I'm sorry capitalism isn't working the way you'd like it to, but your ill-reasoned and ill-written diatribe against it is unlikely to change things. To be honest it seems to me that what you're describing doesn't have anything to do with scarcity, or the lack of it, but instead with your own personal dissatisfaction that you're not further up the economic ladder.

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