I posted this elsewhere, but I thought it fit well with this site’s general thematic approach, so I’m reposting it here:
The engine of economics is driven by scarcity.
A basic definition of “economics” is given by Thomas Sowell (PBUH, may he live a thousand years), which I paraphrase here: “Economics is a system of allocating scarce resources which have alternate uses.” The key word I want to focus on here is scarce. It is not abundance but scarcity that lies at the heart of economics. Scarcity of resources is what makes economics a fundamental property of nature. Scarcity is an inherent, inseparable, eternal property of reality. It is not a problem that can be solved — it is bound up in the laws of physics that govern the cosmos.
The necessities of life — water, food, clothing, shelter — are drawn from scarce resources which have alternate uses and thus require a method of allocation.
This is a fundamental misunderstanding of reality.
What Monty is talking about here is the allocation of “stuff,” that is, material goods. All material goods have one characteristic in common: at the fundamental level, they are constructed of quarks, atoms, and molecules, the building blocks of all matter (including ourselves, by the way).
There is no shortage of quarks, atoms, or molecules here on earth, in our solar system, our galaxy, or our universe. Our wants and needs for stuff are the most minuscule fraction of a fraction of what is ultimately available, and always will be.
Our problem is that, currently, these nanoscale particles are not arranged in structures that provide us an inexhaustible cornucopia of stuff. That is already beginning to change, and will, over the next few decades, change vastly more, and render all the tropes of classic economics irrelevant.
We are even now transitioning from thousands of years of economies of scarcity into existence, for the first time in our history, in an economy of abundance.
This is a nearly impossible mental adjustment for most people to make. We are genetically hardwired to compete, and what we compete for is stuff, because we have always needed stuff to survive and thrive – food, water, shelter, Star Wars movies, bacon.
Faced with a reality that renders all this hard-wiring obsolete, irrelevant, or both, we flail in protest:
1. We will all die without the need to compete.
2. Who or what will make all of this stuff for us? Why?
3. It will be a thousand years before we can do things like this.
In fact, such objections will vanish along with economies of scarcity themselves, and, within not too long a time, will come to be seen as vestiges of our barbarian, uncivilized past, un-regretted way stations on the long path to our new everyday lives of abundance.
We won’t die because scarcity no longer requires us to get out of bed in the morning, put on a coat and tie, and go slay a mammoth at GigantiCorp.
Our machines and the technologies created by the Artificial Intelligences we will first create, and then see them recreate and improve, will move the nano-particles into more pleasing and useful shapes – anything we want or imagine that we want.
This will happen, not in a thousand years, but in a few decades. In fact, it is already happening now.
We are standing hesitantly, fearfully, on the brink of a truly new existence. But once we have fully entered into it, it will, just as everything has before, come to be seen as normal, everyday life.
And it will go on.