Throughout my traveling and various speaking engagements, I often hear similar questions and challenges.
I often get questions – and objections – around the idea that all of us face scarcity and have limited resources and unlimited wants.
The objection? That we do not have unlimited wants.
As beneficiaries of the first world living in blessed circumstances, it is difficult to recognize that even though our basic needs are met, we still experience want.
It is important we understand what it means to want and how we fulfill our responsibilities to ourselves, each other, and our Creator through these wants.
We All Face Scarcity
We all face scarcity.
In underdeveloped and developing countries, scarcity is the trek to the next village to get water.
It is the hunger that pinches children’s stomachs when corrupt institutions demand a family’s grocery pennies as bribes.
It is a cycle that traps so many.
Scarcity takes a different form in developed countries. When food and water and shelter are present, the urgency of meeting physical needs gives way to the constraint of time.
This remarkable statement was made by one of my students in a past class:
I don’t have any wants. All of my needs are taken care of. Look at those who are living in reduced circumstances in places like Bangladesh; even they are content.
Setting aside our inability to know the hearts of those in other circumstances, I think many of us can resonate with the heart behind this statement.
In modern America and other first world countries, we shrug off the idea that we experience scarcity. We feel guilty if we say that we still want things when all of our material needs have been met.
We have a biblical command to be content, to not make material goods our idols, and to be sober-minded about our pursuits. 1 Peter 1:13 warns us:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action,and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This is a heart matter and something we must prayerfully work through on a daily basis.
It’s not that material goods are bad. They are, in fact, good. As discussed in a previous post about capital and flourishing in the Garden of Eden, goods like the cell phone help us stay connected, make our lives better, and more importantly, they economize on our time.
It’s making the cell phone or the new car or the next house our idol which causes recklessness.
The Scarcity of Time
The cultural mandate God gave us in the Garden of Eden still applies even in a now broken world. The pain experienced when a need is not met is a more obvious manifestation of scarcity, but it is not the only legitimate form of scarcity.
Time is the greatest equalizer. Everyone is equally responsible for this resource. Once physical needs are met, we still feel the pinch of the wants and needs that cannot be met because we do not have enough time.
C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists…. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
We were created to desire God and fulfill his call for us. In the Garden of Eden, we had infinite time. We were commanded to subdue and multiply the earth, and we had all the time in the world to do those things.
Now, we don’t have that time. We are brought up short before we can finish the work God created us to do; death interrupts us before we can complete our tasks. We are called to faithful stewardship of that time, as we are given only so much.
Faithful Stewardship of Our Time
Fortunately, there is grace even in scarcity. We are not defined by our wealth or by being the most productive human to walk the earth.
We are defined by the nature of our Creator and Savior, and only through his work on the cross can we be freed from the effects of scarcity.
Our net worth is found in doing what we’re called to do and being content, not simply with the meeting of physical needs, but with the outcomes we’ve been given.
We should not feel guilt if we do not experience the same pinch of hunger or the same lack of shelter felt by other people, but we should know that our blessings give us great responsibility to others.
We should rejoice that we experience desires that draw us closer to God and seek to bring those around us to the same level of flourishing with which we are blessed.
We should seek to be the best stewards of the time we have been given, and entrust the results of our efforts to God.
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Wants - Simply the desires of citizens. Wants are different from needs as we will see below. Wants are a means of expressing a perceived need. Wants are broader than needs.
Needs: These are basic requirements for survival like food and water and shelter. In recent years we have seen a percieved shift of certain items from wants to needs. Telephone service, to many, is a need. I would argue, however, that they are wrong.
Scarcity - the fundemental economic problem facing ALL societies. Essentially it is how to satisfy unlimited wants with limited resources. This is the issue that plagues all governmet and peoples. How do we conquor the issue of scarcity? Many people have thoaught they had the answer (see Marx, Smith, Keynes, etc.) but the issue of scarcity still exists.
Factors of Production/Resources - these are those elements that a nations has at its disposal to deal with the issue of scarcity. How efficiently these are used determines the measure of success a nation has. They are
- Land - natural resources, etc.
- Capital - investment monies.
- Labor - the work force; size, education, quality, work ethic.
- Entrepreneurs - inventive and risk taking spirit. This is a rather new addition to a tradirtional list.
The "Three Basic Economic Questions" - these are the questions all nations must ask when dealing with scarcity and effcientlly allocating their resources.
- What to produce?
- How to produce?
- For whom to produce?
Economics - Economics is the study the production and distribution of goods and services, it is the study of human efforts to satisfy unlimited wants with limited resources.
Opportunity Cost - the cost of an economic decision. The classic example is "guns or butter." What should a nation produce; butter, a need, or guns, a want? What is the cost of either decsion? If we choose the guns the cost is the butter. If we choose butter, the cost is the guns. nations bust always deal with the questions faced by opportunity cost. It is a matter of choices. Resources are limted thus we cannot meet every need or want.
Free Products: Air, sunshine are and other items so plentiful no one could own them.
Economists are interested in "economic products" - goods and services that are useful, relatively scarce and transferable.
Good: tangible commodity. These are bought, sold, traded and produced.
Consumer Goods: Goods that are intended for final use by the consumer.
Capital Goods: Items used in the creation of other goods. factory machinary, trucks, etc.
Durable Goods: Any good that lasts more than three years when used on a regular basis.
Non Durable Goods: Any item that lasts less than 3 years when used on a regular basis.
Services: Work that is performed for someone. Service cannot be touched or felt.
Consumers: people who use these goods and services.
Conspicuous Consumption: Use of a good or service to impress others.
Value: An assignment of worth. The assignment is usually based upon the utility (usefulness) or scarcity of the item (supply and demand).
Utility: capacity to be useful.
Paradox of value: assignment of the highest value to those things we need the least, like water and the highest things we often don't need at all like diamonds. Why do we do this? Good question. I do not have an answer.
Wealth: the sum collection of those economic products that are tangible, scarce and useful.
Productivity - the ability to produce vast amounts of goods (economic products) in an efficient manner. The American capilist economy is productive because:
- We use our resource efficiently.
- We specialize to increase efficiency and productivity.
- We invest in Human Capital (our labor pool)
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