Lessons from Scarcity

May 5, 2009

Many thought a Great Depression could never happen now, but here it comes; and with it will be great changes in the paradigms of progress we have swallowed whole for centuries. The god of great scarcity now visits Western cultures, and we, ourselves, invited it with our own foolishness. Scarcity is always a ratio between number of people and availability of necessary resources for a reasonable survival.

There will be many changes before Scarcity is finished teaching its lessons. Many of these lessons can be looked at as a greatly needed refresher course in the collective wisdom we have forgotten, before we became consumer zombies.

Some things that may change for the better:

  • Parents will learn to say NO to their children again, a discipline lost in many Western countries since WW2. Children will then learn to say NO to themselves as they grow. This will be enable them to differentiate between needs and wants, and budget for both. When I was a child, my Aunt Helen used to sit me down when I was feeling deprived of something my Dad would not buy me. She would say,’Now I want you to tell me the truth. Is that something you really need, or is it something you just want? A simple distinction? Not today. Wants have become needs and many cannot tell the difference. Marketing has blurred the difference between necessity and desire, which translates into massive profits for corporations. Ultimately, we may understand that debt is servitude.
  • People in communities will need to cooperate to survive. This means that knowing one’s neighbour and having a good relationship with them is the cross-strand of the web that supports the entire community’s survival. We will stop relying on distant foci for our day to day satisfaction in life and develop communities: de-centralisation. Being able to borrow a cup of sugar in the community may become much more important than corporate social networking.
  • Eating will be more healthy as people return to cooking meals instead of fast, prepackaged, pre-pared foods. The ill effects from decades of fast food and obesity will be replaced with better health, mentally and physically.
  • People will find the land again. As more people depend on gardens to feed their families, the process of growing food, from tilling the soil to harvesting the crops will bring us in touch with nature in a way we have forgotten as comsumer zombies who would not consider buying a bruised banana at the market. Those who are lucky, will have some small plot of ground they can cultivate; the unlucky will not. Farmer’s markets are coming back in – tut tut for agri-business.
  • Waste will again be seen as a ‘sin’, which indeed it is. For most, the respect for ‘waste’ will be a financial necessity. Those who gorge themselves on society’s resources will be seen as the greedy, rather than the successful. This may lead to more class conflict, and generate demands from the people vis-a-vis the priority of basic rights such as healthcare, housing, employment, education and community services. Those Mercedes driving fat cats will not be our idols, but seen as the immoral gluttons they are.
  • We will find out who our REAL friends are as conspicuous affluence disappears. The takers, users and posturers in our social circles will soon reveal themselves. The true character of personal friends will become abundantly clear to us.
  • Family ties will be stronger as the the young return home and the family becomes a base for its members hitting hard times. The nuclear family will have more cohesion and the extended family will become important as a resource. The family dinner may once again become a daily event not to be missed.

In other times of history, the people have survived scarcity from which came many historic milestones; consider the French Revolution as growing directly from the poverty of the people, from scarcity created by elite gluttony and mismanagement of a society’s resources. Many people will never recover from the damage of ‘economic collapse’.

The biggest lesson of all we could learn is that scarcity is not even necessary if we give up waste and over-indulgence. Because, there is really no scarcity; we can produce what we need from the earth to ensure a good life for everyone.

What we cannot sustain is the mighty stealing and hoarding resources to the detriment of the rest of the population. This is the lesson I really hope we learn.

Further reading: Why Russians did better than Americans will do in economic collapse.


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