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On overcoming scarcity

by LA Liberty

Unfortunately, though human advancements and innovations can make things more abundant and allow for less human discomfort, there’s no such thing as post-scarcity.

Unless every demand can be immediately met at all quantities without a third party, a good is scarce. Because even if there were a superabundance of a good (enough to fulfill all demands), there’d need to be a way to transfer the good to where the demand is and in the demanded quantities. Here we get into the problem of economic calculation. This is not something any computer or committee of geniuses, no matter how powerful, could ever compute — not even if they literally had instantaneous psychic access to the thoughts of every individual since subjective preference cannot be perceived absent action.

As Rothbard explained:

“How will we know when the world has achieved “post-scarcity”? Simply, when all the goods and services that we may want have become so superabundant that their prices have fallen to zero; in short, when we can acquire all goods and services as in a Garden of Eden — without effort, without work, without using any scarce resources.”

But let’s say scarcity of resources can be eliminated in some hypothetical scenario. Some benevolent alien species beams down to every human a device that is able to sap energy from another dimension and convert it into matter of our choosing without incurring any unseen consequences. A Star Trek replicator for every man, woman, and child!

Even supposing such magic, we still exist in time and space, which are both scarce. 

Land is inherently scarce as the planet has finite surface area and, also, not all land is the same. Not all of us can swim in the Ganges every morning. We couldn’t all have a beach house on the shores of Cuba. We couldn’t all live at the Taj Mahal or in the Trump Towers penthouse or play at the same craps table in Vegas. Even if the same benevolent aliens gave us personal teleportation devices that allow us to travel around the world instantly, we could only be in one place at a time (and as any physicist would tell you, only one of us could occupy the same space at the same time). Such scarcity (and “inequality”) is often overlooked but still relevant.

Even more crucially, any action we choose to do is at the expense of another. We cannot go to the Bruce Springsteen concert in Jersey and eat a sushi dinner with friends in Manhattan and go surfing in Australia and eat a gelato in Italy and build a snowman in Canada and drink from a fresh coconut in Jamaica. The preference not chosen is known as the opportunity cost, and it reflects the scarcity of our finite lives.

Even if — due to an overabundance of resources and the invention of some magical transportation device — we could do anything and go anywhere, we still could only be in one place and do one thing at a time. We cannot do everything simultaneously: We’d have to choose to do a certain thing at the expense of all other options using our individual subjective determinations. Even granting completely unrealistic assumptions, we still must succumb to the irrevocable scarcity of every moment.

So dissuade yourself of the post-scarcity fairy tale as anything feasible.

The best way to meet our myriad subjective demands upon scarce resources is to allow free exchange to calculate and meet the desires of free individuals.

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