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  • Writer's pictureWill Campbell

The Problem with Scarcity (or Does Scarcity Rule All?)

I’ve recently heard several people talk about scarcity. In particular reference to scarcity of money. And how, if we can get beyond scarcity, there are greater possibilities on the other side. It occurred to me that scarcity can be applied to any resource or even basic human desire or need. So, I wanted to take a look at the most basic of human needs a la Maslow.

What does scarcity have to do with Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy? Just looking at the image one could argue that everything that we, as humans, do can be related to one of the needs – or scarcity within that need.

If there is scarcity, that is what we pursue – that is what is most important to us - hence, the widely accepted hierarchy. At level one – “Psychological”, if you don’t have food, water or enough sleep – aka there is scarcity – that is what you need. Once that scarcity is reduced or eliminated you look to the next level – “Safety”. You then look at the scarcity there and so forth and so on. Personally, my only issue with this hierarchy is the placement of “Love/Belonging” before “Esteem”. I believe that the scarcity in “Esteem” needs to be eliminated before you can truly and permanently eliminate the scarcity in “Love/Belonging”. I digress – that’s a topic for a later post.

What was really impactful in my analysis of scarcity was how prevalent scarcity IS in my own life. Not in the traditional sense of something being missing or a need not being met, however. By all accounts, I’m kicking Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy’s ass! But behind the curtain – scarcity rules all.

It’s no secret that I grew up without a lot of things – you could say that money was scarce. So, much of how I operate now is based on that prior scarcity. I learned many things from the scarcity of money and things: pride, creativity, connection, self-confidence, respect and trust (among others). All of these things are positive – at least to me they are – and I want my kids to learn these things too, however, the only way that I know how to deliver them is through scarcity! I, at one point, created scarcity for my kids on general principle. It wasn’t an issue of being able to do something or having the resources to do it – it was a matter of the lesson and not the scarcity itself.

For example, on a typical family winter outing – I was not the dad that would herd everyone to the hot chocolate line for an over-priced cup of chocolaty goodness. My kids didn’t need that anyway – we had it at home. What I was missing was being in the moment – that single point in time that may have been enhanced by a cup of hot chocolate. My fear was that my kids would not appreciate it – it would be expected. My fear was that they would become: spoiled, entitled, unappreciative, and soft. All the things that I managed to avoid because of scarcity.

Scarcity has also led to the way I relate to and judge others. “Rich people can never be poor”, is a classic quip that I like to use when judging others. When the stock market plummets or some other tragedy hits involving the loss of assets - somewhere in the world there is someone of privilege taking their own life – they couldn’t handle the instant scarcity. They never had to develop the skills and coping mechanisms to navigate scarcity. It wasn’t until a friend and fellow coach asked me, “Where do you deny your privilege?” The question intrigued me – because I did deny my privilege or current lack of scarcity! Answering that question led to this post and a whole host of other questions.

What I came to realize is that scarcity is everywhere – in multiple forms. It affects people differently. Scarcity creates division, yet at the same time it can forge bonds. Think of the numerous internet videos of a homeless person sharing a fast food sandwich. You know, the ones where someone asks multiple people for food – people of privilege – people that apparently aren’t affected by this particular scarcity – and they all say “no” or ignore the request. Then the subject asks a homeless person for food and they share whatever they have. I contend that because the homeless person understands the scarcity involved in the request, they are more prone to help eliminate the scarcity, if only on a temporary basis. Division and bonding all wrapped up nicely in a 1 or 2 minute video.

While scarcity may be deeper and broader than a simple blog post – it does raise some interesting questions and perhaps some more interesting insights. My question for you is, “what role does scarcity play in your life?” In what forms does scarcity take for you? And perhaps a better question – “what are you going to do about it?”

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