This article originally came to me as an idea about how to simply distinguish the differences between property/trade/currency vs. non-property/trade/currency based economic systems – being that the former manufactures scarcity, while the latter removes it ( where possible ). Which in turn was inspired by a debate on social media about whether or not the world is over populated, what we mean by that, and how/why we justify such a statement.
It then occurred to me that for people to understand these issues, they must first understand what scarcity is, and how it occurs – ironically, the people who understand this the least are often the ones who should understand it the best ( economists ), and yet it’s quite apparent that many of them haven’t a clue. The reason for that being, scarcity is an ecological issue, but not an economic one within the confines of the capitalist economic paradigm ( though it should be ).
So let’s start at the beginning and look at what scarcity actually is.
If you were to ask an economist what scarcity is, they’d likely give you a very simplistic answer along the lines of “when demand outstrips supply”, but inherent in such a definition is the implied singular importance of human economics, and the complete disregard of ecological systems. All ecological systems – including both living and non-living elements, including also the many varied sentient species that live in them – are treated as nothing more than inanimate “resources” waiting to be exploited.
A more comprehensive definition of scarcity is to break it down into its component elements:
I’ll explain each of these in turn …
A resource can be scarce as a consequence of objectives – ie: with different objectives, it would no longer be scarce.
For example: in capitalism, the lower availability of any resource with respect to demand, the higher the price, therefore capitalism motivates the market to artificially reduce or stifle supply and artificially increase demand, as this equates to their oxymoron “profit”.
Thus the profit motive objective is a source of artificial scarcity.
The specific process(es) by which a resource is generated may also introduce a form of scarcity – ie: where the process is only capable of producing a certain amount of a resource per unit of time ( see also temporal ), or where the process can only produce a certain amount before the process fails, or where it can only produce at a certain rate before it fails, or where the process is limited by feedback from itself, or inputs from some other process … and also of course where the process is inefficient and produces “waste”.
Greater process efficiency is where we produce more units of output per unit of input, and this is where capitalism becomes very dishonest, by regarding certain inputs or “costs” ( or other consequences of production ) as “externalities” – ie: “not to be counted” … which is essentially a cheat, used to present something as a “profit” ( aka “nett gain” ), when it is actually a loss.
So a certain amount of process scarcity is inevitable, and directly linked to temporal scarcity, but capitalism ignore a great deal of its inefficiencies, including destruction, pollution, and waste.
Resource scarcity is where we are talking about the scarcity caused by other scarcity, as mentioned briefly above, where a process output is dependent on a process input, OR where we are using it to simply describe the direct and simple situational scarcity of a particular resource.
Temporal scarcity is the scarcity which is time dependent, and thus it includes scenarios where a resource is not per se in short supply, but that the process of delivery is limited by time – ie: we have plenty of it, but we can only deliver the resource at a certain rate.
Spatial scarcity is then similar and related to temporal scarcity, and it is where a resource is limited by spatial constraints – ie: we can only fit a certain amount of the given resource into a supply channel, through a gateway, or we can only store a certain amount. However spatial scarcity could also be referred to as the scarcity in a particular location, and thus there may be no overall scarcity, but it is experienced as scarce from a subset of perspectives based on geography or more specific location within a geographical area – but you could equally view this on the microscopic scale, where a nutritional resource is deficient ( scarce ) in one area of the body but not another.
property vs. non-property economics:
As I’ve said many times elsewhere:
- property begets trade
- trade begets currency
- currency begets commodification
- commodification begets exploitation
Thus capitalism is exploitative economics. However the problems go deeper than this, and as stated above, capitalism provides a motivation for people to increase scarcity, in the following ways:
- hoarding: since socioeconomic and political power is derived from resource access, people are encouraged by capitalism to hoard resources, and also to deprive others of resources where they are seen as a threat ( even subconsciously ) to personal interests – which denial takes the form of anything from economic persecution, and denial of services, to warfare and economic espionage;
- manufacturing scarcity: as mentioned before, greater demand than supply increases prices, so where possible to gain exclusivity ( monopoly ) of supply, it can make economic “sense” ( under capitalism ) to artificially restrict supply and thus drive up the price and profits – this is used in combination with hoarding, but can also be done by destruction of other sources of supply;
- manufacturing demand: the flip side to point 2 is to manufacture additional demand, and thus sell more units if the price cannot be raised further, but this of course causes immense waste ( thus more scarcity ), as millions of people are convinced to buy thousands of items they don’t need, and to do so in complete disregard to the ecological consequences, which includes the fact this is a drain on planetary resources ( not to mention all the pollution );
- manufacturing poverty: since this system is so incredibly wasteful, it cannot provide a good life to all people on the planet, so it manufactures poverty in order to deny some people ( to the benefit of others ), instead of just solving the underlying problems of waste – and while there are efforts being made in this area ( to correct the waste ), they are typically done via philanthropy, and they don’t typically attack the problem, but instead provide an ineffectual and incomplete bandaid while the problem continues ( thus undermining those efforts, and ultimately causing more waste versus a genuine long term solution ).
So for these and various other reasons, capitalism both directly and indirectly motivates people to increase scarcity, and they can do so by any combination of those 5 elements of scarcity.
Conversely, a non-property/trade/currency-based economic paradigm could be designed to reduce scarcity, since you no longer have the selfish “profit motive” of resource exploitation at its core.
Within the Open Empire vision, this is achieved in the following way:
- motivation for access to scarcity by merit: since all resources do come under a classification of abundant or scarce ( from the human centric perspective of supply vs. demand ), we cannot immediately supply everyone with everything they might want, thus we have to decide how to allocate scarce resources … such merit for access to scarce resources would – under normal circumstances – be guided by looking at the nett positive statistics of individuals whom contribute more ecological and social benefit, than the ecologically and socially deleterious consequences of their production, consumption, and other activities … thus everyone is motivated to reduce harm, and to reduce scarcity – thus we have less scarcity;
- no desperation for access to abundant resources: if a resource is abundant, then anyone can just have it, as there’s no longer any point in denying access ( except in extreme circumstance, such as where a person or group might be identified as serious trouble makers, and denied abundant resources in order to restrict their deleterious influence – but this would have to be an extreme case to warrant such action ). So ask yourself this: if you didn’t need to work in order to justify having a roof over your head, or clothes, or food, or any of the countless other things that can be abundantly and sustainably supplied, would you bother getting up to go manufacture some bullshit unnecessary thing and market the crap out of it? OR would you spend your time entertaining yourself, educating yourself, and just pursuing other entirely non-commercial interests? In other words: much of our resource consumption is entirely generated by capitalism’s profit motive, and its artificial creation of scarcity;
- refocus of human endeavour: since we no longer have to pursue the resource exploitation profit motive of capitalism, we free up resources for philanthropy to become the central focus, or at least one of the central foci ( rather than a mere side focus ) – ie: if you can show ecological and/or social benefit, and even if this isn’t the main objective of your project, but merely a beneficial side effect, then your project will find itself getting all the resources it needs without argument, compromise, or the need for negotiation – thus the problems we face get solved ( faster ), solved permanently at their root causes, and not ( by comparison to capitalism ) merely “treated” in their symptoms, in order to artificially prolong the problem for economic or political gain.
The property/trade/currency-based economic paradigm of capitalism, is as different to the non-property/trade/currency-based economic paradigm of the OE vision, as nuclear fusion is different from chemical combustion – ie: they couldn’t be more different, and they trend in completely opposite directions.
The difficulty is all in the transition, because the status quo holds power, refuses to acknowledge the real problems, has caused and continues to cause immense damage and waste, and thus people feel pressured to stay with it, even though it is absolutely not in their interests to do so – ie: yes the transition would be painful, but it is far less painful than the refusal to transition, and the future consequence of such refusal.
The OE vision attempts to avoid conflict and warfare during transition, by simply taking what we already have, and using it from inside the status quo, to give birth to something that exists outside but alongside the status quo, and which can interface and bi-directionally translate between the two paradigms, in order to allow the new system to grow while the old contracts.
This transition could occur entirely peacefully if people would just let it and support it, there would be no need for conflict – although it does have the potential to deal with conflict ( which is another topic for discussion ) … because people whom had gained their resources via the status quo, could access scarce resources produced exclusively by projects from within the framework of the OE vision, by sharing their resources to such project development via the ethical investment hedge fund of the framework, or by simply purchasing those resources if any are exported to the external capitalist economy.
Over the long term, a rebalancing occurs, as excess ( unnecessary ) hoarding of resources from the status quo is reduced, waste is reduced, redundancy, pollution and destruction are reduced, and abundance is increased.
The more resources placed at the disposal of this vision, the faster it can progress, and the sooner it is up and running, the sooner it can exponentially accelerate by making such systems available to other projects like The Venus Project, The Zeitgeist Movement, and various other social justice and sustainability communities and groups that already exist around the world.
Think of the Project Collaboration Development & Resource Allocation Framework of the OE vision as both an accelerant and a retardant … like throwing petrol on the fire of sustainable change, while simultaneously throwing water on the fires of destruction – the framework enables people to do more and to do it faster and more efficiently, but it does not dictate their goals, methods, nor agenda, it simply motivates them to reduce harm and increase benefits, in both ecological and social terms, and from a non-species-biased perspective.
Also published on Medium.