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HomeEconomyContra Abundance

Contra Abundance

If there is anything at the core that separates the economically illiterate from the literate, it is the basic perception of the world as it is. The former tends to think of it in terms of abundance, that we already have what we need (and want) but that it is only unevenly distributed.

Certainly, resources and wealth are not evenly or even fairly distributed. But the fact that wealth is unevenly or unfairly distributed is not in itself an indication that we are already sufficiently wealthy. Rather, it means that there may be problems we need to deal with. And that there are such problems suggests that there may not be enough to go around.

If it were the case that this world already provided everything needed to satisfy everyone, there would be no need to produce anything. There would also be no opportunity for innovation or new value creation. Entrepreneurship would be impotent, if not a complete waste of time and effort, because it would not be able to make things better.

This view of the world, which is sometimes likened with the biblical Garden of Eden (but an earthly version), is in fact a perspective that rests on hopelessness and that feeds apathy. If our world is abundant, then there is nothing missing, and therefore no reason to act. There is also no reason to set goals or dream about a better future. Certainly, an abundant world would already satisfy us to the degree possible. Whatever uneasiness we might feel is despite the abundance. How, then, could we possibly expect to remove that uneasiness?

The leftist view of abundance often holds that the world is abundant but that some have taken and control more than their share, and therefore exclude others from this abundance. In other words, the uneasiness we feel, whether it is a lack of basic means such as food and shelter or of opportunity and means for self-realization, is someone else’s fault. Therefore, we can (and probably should) point blame. Given the assumption of abundance, the intuitive way forward is to take back what’s ours – class war. Not to work harder, smarter, and focus our efforts on valuable production.

But abundance is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for unfairness and injustice. That there is not presently enough, that more can be created, and that there is therefore possibility for improvement of the human condition – if we choose to work for it – does not automatically make status quo moral and just. But it suggests that not all differences are due to injustice. It also suggests that we can improve our own situation, both individually and collectively, by acting prudently, wisely, and productively.

In fact, a world of scarcity is a world of promise and opportunity. It is a world in which we make choices, set goals, and aim to attain them. Some of us are more successful than others, and some attain their goals sooner than others, not to mention that we may have different goals and priorities. And the power to change the world, both our own micro cosmos and society at large, remains with us.

A world of scarcity is a world of economizing, production, and possibilities – but not a world without crime. It is, however, a world in which we must refrain from asserting that someone else is always to blame for any uneasiness we might feel or experience. Because in a world that is not abundant, but where abundance is a goal that we act to attain, we direct our capability to those wants we are most eager to satisfy. And we act to expand those capabilities to provide greater satisfactions later.

Some inequality should here be expected as the natural outcome of individuals’ choices. Others cannot be blamed for your choices or what they engender. There is therefore no basis for class war beyond criminal actions. It is not enough to point to an unequal distribution of wealth as an indication of injustice, because it may be the result of both rightful choices and crime. The latter would include actions taken to restrict, tamper with, or undo someone else’s capability – or extract, extort, or unduly and without permission take control of the fruit of their efforts.

If we assume abundance, we make the world into a hopeless place where there is no room for dreams and possibilities. We also subject society to destructive tendencies. As every unequal distribution would suggest to us that there is injustice, the individual is effectively stripped of their right to make choices freely and independently – and to reap the fruits of his labor; and it weaponizes envy as a sufficient indication of crime, for which others can be found guilty.

Scarcity, on the other hand, while the word itself is hardly inspiring, is the necessary condition for a world of hope – where wealth can be created, opportunity is limited by our imagination, and goals and dreams can be attained.