Scarcity and Artificial Scarcity


University of Gothenburg, Sweden

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs202

Scarcity is a relational concept with both quantitative and qualitative properties. In its simplest form, scarcity refers to the quantitative relationship between means (resources, satisfiers, goods) and ends (wants, needs, desires). When the means (M) available to satisfy some ends (E) are not sufficient (M < E), then a situation of scarcity arises. If the reverse is true (M > E), then a situation of abundance is present. Sufficiency arises when means and ends are just about equal (M = E). Of these three intimately related concepts, scarcity seems to have played the most central role in the social sciences.

Scarcity of resources is different from resources being limited. Limited resources refers to the fact that there is a given amount of a resource (e.g., apples, cars, or arable land), but this in itself does not say anything about scarcity, abundance, or sufficiency. A limited resource can become scarce only if it is related to some human ends (wants, needs, desires), and if the available resources are less than the requirements for it.

Accordingly, the term means (M), or a resource, simply refers to how much an individual requires in order to satisfy some ends (E) or needs. It is thus the quantitative relationship between these terms that defines scarcity (and abundance and sufficiency). In a more complex analysis of scarcity, the qualitative aspects of scarcity ...

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