Abundance And Scarcity Essay

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Scarcity is often  defined  as the  subject  matter  of economics, giving rise to choice. Alternatively, abundance is seen  as  sitting  outside  economics, beyond the realm of choice and trade-offs. The question is sometimes asked: “Is there an economics of abundance?”

Discussions  of scarcity  and  abundance are not confined  to the field of economics;  they occur  in theology,  among   psychologists   and  social  theorists,  though   the  bête  noire  in  the  argument is frequently  economics.  The  claims  for  abundance in  theology  emerge  from  God’s  bounty:   Walter

Brueggemann  characterizes our  age as one where “money  is . . . a kind  of narcotic. . . . The  great contradiction is that we have . . . more money and . . . less generosity.” He writes,

The  conflict  between  . . . abundance and  . . . scarcity is the defining problem  confronting us at the  turn  of the  millennium.  The  gospel story  of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent,  inexplicable   love  of  a  God   who loved the world  into generous  being.

The scarcity creed, in contrast, tells us that

there’s no giver. We end up only with whatever  we . . . get for ourselves. This story . . . gives us a present tense of anxiety, fear, greed and brutality. . . . It tells us not to care about  anyone  but ourselves— and it is the prevailing creed of American society.

Jesus spoke  of abundance in his parables:  “Many people . . . haven’t a clue that Jesus is talking about the economy.”

These two “mentalities” also influence personal growth  and  business  management. Steven Covey wrote, “The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life” where people “see life as having only so much.”  So whatever  anyone  gets, there  is less for  everyone  else. Such people  “have  a  very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit  . . . and  . . . being genuinely  happy.  . . .” Conversely,  the Abundance Mentality asserts  that there  is enough  for  all: “It  results  in  sharing  of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and  creativity.” In  some  ways,  the  difference  is similar to “the  half-empty  or half-full glass,” with respect to whether  one focuses on what  is missing or   what   is  there.   The   psychological   distance between  these two  mind-sets  is significant.  Much advice is offered on how  to move from  a scarcity view into a healthy  abundance approach.

How  can one move to an abundance approach if one’s thinking insists on scarcity as an organizing principle?  As  the  psychotherapist  Meredith  Hines sees it, negative thinking brings about negative results.

What  is so pernicious  about  a scarcity mentality is it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When you see the world as scarce and perceive the success of others as threatening, you project  an air of desperation that is off-putting towards opportunity. . . . When you  can  rest  in  a  place  of  abundance . . . you radiate  an attractive, positive energy.

Shaun Rosenberg  explains, “If we believe that life is full  of  love  and  happiness,  then  it  will  be.  If we believe that  our life is full of lack then that  is what we will find instead.” Ben Barker, a psychiatrist, talks of how these ideas shape our social order: “Civilizations which endorse the idea of scarcity . . . tend to be rigid and structured. . . . The philosophy of scarcity is tinged with envy, greed and meanness” and   leads   to   materialism,  while  “adherents  to the  philosophy of abundance . . . are  life-oriented rather  than  thing-oriented . . . The ideology of abundance presumes that the wealth of the universe is boundless . . .” and this view will promote personal and  economic  development through “an  open, receptive  social order.” Karim Benammar  sees materialism  as  “a  response  to  a  lack,  a  scarcity within us, a deep-felt psychological need for reassurance through consumption”:

Scarcity thinking  is linked to fear and unfulfilled needs; abundance is . . . a sense of the bounty  of living. . . . This sense of gift, generosity and abundance without return  . . . does not fall under  the rhetoric   of  exchange.  Moreover .  .  .  for  some values, the more one gives, the more received. . . . This is the fundamental quality  of love.

The  clash  of  abundance and  scarcity  cultures  in business  suggests that  they are irreconcilable, like what  happens   to  cooperation when  exposed  to competitive  forces: Service to others  shall not mix well with self-orientation.

Scarcity issues appear right at the core of economics. Texts such as that  of Adel Daoud  start with scarcity and seldom mention abundance. Scarcity is seen as the subject of economics, which begins and ends with insatiable  wants  against  limited means, with trade-offs inherent to human existence. Here, abundance has no economics since there  is enough  for all: The economic  problem  is solved.   Universal   scarcity   excludes   abundance from economics.

The case for a “postscarcity economy” of abundance  stands  on advances  in nanotechnology and other  spheres.  Self-replicating  automated mining of   asteroids,  energy   from   nuclear   fusion   or solar-powered satellites, and products from personal  nanofactories or fabrication laboratories automated through artificial intelligence all are invoked  to imagine  economies  of abundance. Jim Pinto  remarked, “Any  technology   which  creates abundance poses problems  for any process which existed  to  benefit  from  scarcity,”   as  abundance strives  to  lower  prices,  while  scarcity  yearns  to raise them. Many economists have addressed the “artificial” scarcities in market  economies, according  to Roberto Verzola.

Frederic Bastiat said it best long ago: Every producer  seeks  to   limit   supply   and   encourage demand to raise prices and profits, while every consumer wants to encourage supply and limit demand. An economic  system that  favors producers will emphasize  scarcity,  while “the  interest  of the  consumer  runs  parallel  with  the  public  interest”  in  seeking  abundance. As  Norman  Brown explained,  because  capitalism  “cannot endure  its own  abundance  .  .  .  [it]  needs  to  generate   an imposed   scarcity.”   As  Wolfgang   Hoeschele   put it, “The fact that  it is profitable to create scarcities . . . leads to infringement of freedom, to social inequity, and to environmental unsustainability.” Nurit Bird-David argued that “the assumption of scarcity . . . acts to preserve  poverty.” Sauvik Chakraverty called the economics  of scarcity “a huge mistake.” These conflicting creeds of scarcity and abundance show, for entertainment and publishing,  the abundance  model  clash  of rarity  versus  ubiquity  as a means to raise value; the practical  implications  are that  “in  an  abundance model,  scarcity  looks  like a   mistake,”  according    to   Kristine   Rusch.   As Angus Matthew explained, “In the networked economy,  the  more  plentiful  things  become,  the more  valuable  they  become.  . . .Value  is derived from  plenitude,  the concept  of abundance” (p. 2). The economy  of the digital  world  is one of fuller connection, not of individualistic gain.

There  are  also  ecological  economic  arguments over scarcity and abundance. As such, economists often  note,  not  pricing   the  scarce  resources   of nature  is just as socially detrimental as putting  a price on knowledge!  The lack of an economics  of abundance keeps us ignorant of its strictures.  For example, a healthy ecological system has strict requirements that  must  be protected; economists are  complicit  in a waste  of natural capital,  when any  expert  could  tell  us  about  the  difference  of living on the income  from  capital  and  consuming our seed corn (as a matter  of flows and stocks). As Benammar  said,

There is in truth  nothing  abundant about  depleting the natural and human  resources of a bountiful planet  in the fastest way possible. Rather,  it is a  deep   sense  of  insecurity,   fear   and   scarcity thinking  . . . and this way of acting, like all pathologies, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A  critical  problem   in  this  regard,   according   to Frederic Jennings is the short-term myopic cultures spawned  by profit incentives in market  economies. Scarcity  and  abundance stand  at  two  ends  of  a single continuum of value  and  distribution; they are related to another spectrum of interdependence: substitution and  complementarity, and  they  each call for quite different forms of social organization.

The  scarcity  model  in  economics   supports a competitive view of society in which acquisitive values structure relations  of opposition that, according  to many experts,  spread  a sense of fear, envy,  and  inequity  onto   us  all.  The  abundance model,  in  contrast, promulgates social  harmony and  generosity  in its sharing  of value with  others and  supporting common  property measures  and distributional equity. The scarcity model, according to Frances M. Lappé, is based on selfishness, stasis, separation, and  competition and  drives  a  social system built on power abuse, secrecy, and a culture of  blame  and  dishonesty.   In  contrast, the  “ecomind”  model  (of abundance) is based  on connection, ongoing change, and a process of cocreation, described as “thinking like an ecosystem.” The positive  qualities  of this “ecological” view embody  a sense of fairness, cooperation, and  connection in  the  design  of its social system. “With  this reframe, both our compassion and  motivation can grow”  within  “a more functional social ecology” that  Lappé calls a “Living Democracy.” Such an approach will overcome “our economy of waste and destruction” because “much  of the terrible  dysfunction evident today  . . . is the result of social systems perversely aligned  with  our  nature.” For  Lappé  and  many others,  a  new  economics  of  abundance is under way and in reach, although it will call for a cultural transformation away  from  mentalities  of scarcity into  a  sense  of  fruition   and  generosity  hard  to imagine today.


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