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Resource Scarcity Is Not A Necessity

April 5, 2011

Economic theory assumes resource scarcity as an important premise, and there is a general consensus that scarce resources are best allocated by means of a market. However, a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that there may be alternative solutions to the allocation problem.

Economic theory generally assumes that there will never be enough food, water, cars, money etc. to satisfy people’s wants. This means that inequalities, conflict and poverty are inevitable parts of society. Many economists feel that scarcity is best dealt with through the presence of a market ““ the highest bidders gain access to a society’s scarce resources.

Yet, economic sociologists do not necessarily see resource scarcity as inevitable, and neither do they always agree with the mainstream solution to the economic problem. There are indeed enough resources, they might argue, but people are for various reasons denied access. For example, there is enough food in the world, but people are still starving. Why is that?

‘The market as an allocation mechanism has not been able to distribute food to everyone ““ every sixth person in the world does not have access to enough food,’ says Adel Daoud, author of the thesis.

So, do we need the market?

‘Maybe we do, given the present economic system, but we should at the same time ask ourselves whether any alternative allocation models could help us manage the world’s resources better, not least considering the climate threat. A so-called economic democracy could be one such solution. In an economic democracy, citizens get to have a say about what and how much of various products and services should be produced,’ says Daoud.

One of the main contributions of the thesis is to show the importance of using alternative perspectives, such as economic sociology, to deal with the notion of resource scarcity rather than simply seeing scarcity as inevitable.

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