Scarcity

Scarcity as an economic concept "refers to the basic fact of life that there exists only a finite amount of human and nonhuman resources which the best technical knowledge is capable of using to produce only limited maximum amounts of each economic good."[1] If the conditions of scarcity didn't exist and an "infinite amount of every good could be produced or human wants fully satisfied ... there would be no economic goods, i.e. goods that are relatively scarce..."[1] Scarcity is the limited availability of a commodity, which may be in demand in the market or by the commons. Scarcity also includes an individual's lack of resources to buy commodities.[2] The opposite of scarcity is abundance.

People queue up for soup and bread at relief tents in the aftermath of the Seattle fire of June 6, 1889.

Scarcity plays a key role in economic theory, and it is essential for a "proper definition of economics itself."[3]

"The best example is perhaps Walras’ definition of social wealth, i.e., economic goods.[3] ‘By social wealth’, says Walras, ‘I mean all things, material or immaterial (it does not matter which in this context), that are scarce, that is to say, on the one hand, useful to us and, on the other hand, only available to us in limited quantity’."[4] - Montani G. (1987)

British economist Lionel Robbins is famous for his definition of economics which uses scarcity:

"Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."[5]

Economic theory views absolute and relative scarcity as distinct concepts and is "quick in emphasizing that it is relative scarcity that defines economics."[6] Current economic theory is derived in large part from the concept of relative scarcity which "states that goods are scarce because there are not enough resources to produce all the goods that people want to consume".[7][6]


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