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Scarcity: A Natural Imperative to Human Reality

The economic phenomenon of scarcity is inevitable so long as humans continue to exist. Therefore, scarcity will never be eliminated.

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TJ Roberts | United States

My good friend Kevin Shaw released the article “Post-Scarcity and Freedom” to this website just yesterday. Mr. Shaw is a brilliant individual with a deep dedication of liberty for all human beings. His recent article brings up the progress humanity has made in spite of government regulations, almost reaching an apparent lack of scarcity in several industries.

The problem, however, is that scarcity will always exist so long as nature exists. Even if humanity achieves a superabundance of resources, which is hypothetically possible, it will still be impossible to shake off human nature.

Scarcity in the Garden of Eden

Suppose humanity managed to return to the Garden of Eden. Work is meaningless, for all that one desires is provided by nature. There is a superabundance of every resource. Even then, there is a form of scarcity, which demands the establishment of natural private property norms.

Even when all resources are readily available to the inhabitants of this hypothetical Eden, our bodies are still scarce. There is only one me. There is only one you. Our bodies, no matter what, are scarce resources. It is with this in mind that it is natural that I am the owner of my body in the same way that you are the owner of your body. Truly, we are the original appropriator of our own physical beings. To argue against this is to prove it, whereas to make the claim “I do not own myself” is to employ self-ownership.

Scarcity and Action

Whereas a human being owns themselves, it is axiomatically true that human beings act, i.e. they deliberately attempt to modify their condition to a condition that is more satisfactory based on their subjective valuation. Since human beings act, they choose. They must prioritize what they will do now and what they will do later. Even in a post-scarce world, time is scarce. Eventually, we will all die. With this in mind, there are things we will not be able to do or have.

But even if humans were immortal, time is still scarce. You cannot do several things at the same time. I must choose if I will eat an apple now, or if I will drink water now. I must choose if I will read or if I will watch a movie. The list goes on. As actors prioritize, certain goals are set aside for more pressing needs. By having a choice, you are incurring a cost upon yourself every time you act. This is the basic principle of opportunity cost. If my first choice in action is to drink water and my second choice in action is to eat an apple, the cost of me drinking water is the satisfaction abandoned in not eating an apple at that moment.

Scarcity and Reality

Throughout human society, technological advancement has made life easier. Whether it be the creation of agriculture in the Neolithic Revolution or the Industrial Revolution, entrepreneurship has allowed for a more efficient use of resources. This can make prices drop significantly, allowing for a cheaper and more comfortable life.

I agree with Mr. Shaw that the best way to increase abundance is to allow for the free market to flourish and to get the government out of people’s lives. What is problematic, however, is the belief that scarcity can be eliminated. No matter how efficient production becomes, scarcity will always be a natural part of life because we are all inherently scarce.


This post was originally published in LIFE.


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