EOT: Hi there, Jason. Could you please define a scarcity economy and how it might differ from a post-scarcity economy?
Stoddard: Well, I can be flip and say, “A scarcity economy is when you have to work to buy some things you want, and a post-scarcity economy is where you don’t have to work to have everything you want.”
But it hides the nuances. Right now we all think we’re living in a scarcity economy: you have to work to get money, which there never seems to be enough of, and then you have to use your money to buy stuff, which always has a price tag, and even after you buy stuff, you might wonder how your consumption is going to affect the environment. Everything is presupposed to be scarce: money, things, resources.
If you step back and look around, you might be surprised. Even today, there are point examples of a de facto post-scarcity economy; we produce so many technological gewgaws that if you’re OK with being a couple of generations back in computers or phones, your effective cost could easily be zero. Manufacturing efficiency has soared to points undreamed-of only a generation ago. Prices have cratered, even in non-constant (inflationary) dollars–and even in light of significantly higher energy costs.
Of course, these are only point examples. Nobody is going to leave their job because they can get an old computer for free. And that’s probably the primary difference between a scarcity and post-scarcity economy: the need to keep working to live. When the time comes that we’re unshackled from traditional work and income, and can have all the things we reasonably want, and not have to worry about whether or not our consumption is sustainable, we’re in a post-scarcity economy.