Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scarcity Is an Illusion, no really

Some would say that while non-rival goods like information are not inherently scarce, rival goods like oil are. I disagree. There is the amount of oil that there is. It is neither abundant nor scarce. It just is. What makes us perceive oil as scarce are the humsn systems we have built that create a context for it.

Consider a violin. A violin is a system defined by the interaction of various elements (wood, string, bow). The violin system enables a certain kind of music to be created. If you wanted to use a violin to make percussion, it probably wouldn't work too well. Does that mean the music that's possible to make with the violin is scarce? Clearly not. It just means that the system within which you make such music defines certain parameters. What's more, there isn't anything scarce about the music that's possible with a drum either; it simply enables artistry within a different set of parameters.

Some would say that parameters on systems are what enable creativity in the first place. A person has to be a real artist to get any instrument to perform at the height of its potential. Artistry is only possible because there is a system within which it has meaning.

To continue the analogy in the economic domain, in the broadest sense, our instrument is the Earth. And the Earth has certain parameters. This doesn't make anything herein scarce. Quite the opposite. It simply gives us a system within which we have a chance to be artists. If we are experiencing scarcity, it is only because we are trying to play the wrong kind of music. There is no question in my mind that the new music we will learn to play together will be much better suited to our instrument.


  1. I like Robert Anton Wilson's assertion that humans have contrived all of the boundaries and categories through which we attempt to understand our world in finite terms.

    So the question becomes,

    >>How do we unlearn these illusory, false definitions? It seems to start at the cultural and linguistic levels where social reality is created, and can then go outward to affect the economy. <<

    The challenge in my personal story seems to be to quit looking at my toes worrying about scarcity long enough to look up and see that I'm surrounded by the most intelligent, caring, and supportive people in the world!

  2. Time is scarce. We are all allotted a certain amount of time on Earth. We are bounded by this time. Interesting case is that music is also bounded by time, segments of time, and expressions of time. Beauty, benevolence and culture are defined in time. Money is also bounded by time.

    My guess is that we ought to look at time - how it is made, traded, stolen, corrupted, shared, and defined - as a means of seeing through the illusion.

  3. @Ingenisist I am not sure how time differs from oil. There is the amount of time that there is. What makes time abundant or scarce are the social systems we place around it (schedules, deadlines, etc). My point is simply that NOTHING is inherently scarce, in the sense that we have a legitimate complaint against the universe for not making enough of it. Scarcity only has any meaning in the context of the systems we build around what is. If we experience scarcity the problem is with our systems, not the universe.

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