The Evil of the Scarcity Meme
In order to avoid misunderstanding, let us make clear from the outset that scarcity is an unavoidable fact of life – it is the very thing that impels economic activity. If all material human wants were satisfied and we were living as immortals in the Land of Cockaigne, there would no longer be a reason to plan for the future, to save and invest, and to weigh the opportunity costs of different choices.
In this hypothetical scenario, people may for a while engage in the pursuit of various pleasures, many would probably indulge in producing art or would pursue philosophy and science, but it is a good bet that most people would soon become severely depressed from sheer ennui. However, we live in the real world, and scarcity is a feature of this real world. The purposeful human action is directed toward relieving this scarcity, a process that has greatly accelerated with the adoption of capitalistic production processes and the associated growth in the division of labor.
Voluntary cooperation between human beings in the framework of the market economy has made it possible for more than seven billion human beings to live on planet Earth, has cut down child mortality to a tiny fraction of what it once was, has more than doubled the lifespan of human beings, has vastly reduced famine, has improved the quality of the environment (contrary to the popular meme, air, and water quality have been improving for decades), while global per capita incomes have soared. A few months ago we discussed the misguided analysis of the market of the new left-leaning pope, on which occasion we showed the following chart by Max Roser:
How free market capitalism has improved human life expectancy – click to enlarge.
It is no coincidence that both life expectancy and the human population began to soar right after the Industrial Revolution (an event the Left describes routinely as an unmitigated evil!). In other words, free market capitalism has been very successful in relieving scarcity. Who knows what our average lifespan could be today if a completely unhampered free market economy had been in place over the past century? 130? 150? We’ll never know, but we can certainly conclude that the struggle against central economic planning and the ideologies that support it is a worthy and important one.
The chart above was originally shown in an article by Rachelle Peterson at the National Association of Scholars – as a reminder, we reproduce her remarks again below:
“A popular trope has it that we use one and a half earth’s worth of resources every year, destining our descendants to scarce resources. But our “mess of a planet” is actually in the best post-lapsarian shape it’s ever been. Life expectancy is up in every region of the world at all income levels , the global expectancy jumping from 66 in 1990 to 71 in 2013. That’s about 35 billion cumulative years added to the human family. By comparison, global life expectancy in 1900 was about 30 years.
Child mortality is down by half since 1990 alone , quality of life is rising, and happiness is generally ticking skyward . The percentage of the world’s population living on a dollar a dayhas plummeted 80% since 1970 , down from more than a quarter of the globe’s inhabitants to 5.4% as of 2006.
Far from “doing nothing,” we’ve cut pollution and cleaned up the environment. Air pollution has been declining for the past 110 years , and the risk of death from poor air quality has fallen eight-fold. Since 1990, more than 2 billion people have gained access to clean drinking water.”
Ever since Malthus wrote his screed about the imaginary threat of overpopulation in 1798, the idea that population control is needed and that we are “running out of resources” has been very popular, in spite of what are by now almost 220 years (!) of rather glaring evidence to the contrary. It is actually astonishing that a revered economist like Malthus could make the error of believing economics to be a kind of zero-sum game.
Malthus’ 1798 essay on population will forever stand as a monument to economic error.
Considering the time when overpopulation “guru” Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome first appeared on the scene, it seems that the popularity of scarcity memes tends to increase whenever credit expansion and money printing egged on by central bank policies cause commodity prices to soar. Note here that one cannot know at advance which prices will be driven higher by money printing, but one can be certain that some prices will be.
Sometimes the commodities sector becomes a beneficiary of monetary pumping, especially after a lengthy bust comes to an end and production capacities have been reduced. Whenever that happens, we see a veritable flood of very earnest papers and press reports about “peak oil”, about the world “losing all its topsoil” and “running out of the-the water any minute”, and, of course, running out of every other commodity one can think of. Soon billions will starve to death unless they get cooked or drowned by global warming first.
Even respected investors like GMO’s Jeremy Grantham can suddenly discover their inner Karl Marx when faced with a few years of rising commodity prices (see “Grantham and Marx – the Odd Couple of the Month” for details on this).
These periods of rising scarcity paranoia are regularly followed by a collapse in prices when the boom invariably turns to bust. Then the tone of press reports will suddenly change rather noticeably and one gets to read about things like a sudden “oil glut”. In fact, the number of Google search results on “glut of oil” is close to overtaking the number of “peak oil” references (8,530,000 vs. 9,320,000 results). Who would have thought?
The ideas propagated by Ehrlich, the Club of Rome and similar doomsters are what we refer to as the “scarcity meme” above. Their flavor of scarcity propaganda represents a sub-movement of environmentalism. Since the latter inter alia regards mining and oil exploration as the devil’s work, the scarcity meme obviously fits well with its agenda.
After all, so the theory of the scarcity propagandists goes, we would be better off by not extracting valuable commodities! Hopefully it is not necessary to explain why this idea is complete rubbish. We do believe our readers have at the very least an inkling about economic principles, something Ehrlich and his associates can certainly not be accused of.
So why are we calling this propaganda evil? Its main objective is to scare people, in order to get them to accept certain policies. One may well wonder how “we” are supposed go about moving “rapidly and humanely to population shrinkage” as Mr. Ehrlich proposes. Should we build a few gas chambers? Just asking. Allow us to point out in this context that population growth is actually positive for human progress, not negative as Ehrlich contends (we plan to discuss this point in more detail in a future post on demographics).
No matter which scarcity meme one looks at, whether it is the overpopulation scare or the peak oil scare, at its root there is always the demand for the “government to do something”, i.e., the demand for more central planning and coercion. In short, it is all about exercising power over the lives of people.
The Left and Environmentalism – Enemies of Civilization
Until about the 1960s the political left never cared about environmentalism. Previously it was, if anything, more likely to be opposed to it. In fact, the command economies of the former communist bloc, i.e. the countries in which socialism had been realized to its full extent, were the worst polluters in all of human history. As an example, after German reunification air pollution in the former socialist GDR was found to be between 8 to 12 times higher than in West Germany.
Electro-chemical combine Bitterfeld in East Germany: poisoning people for decades
Photo via DDR Museum
This makes it quire ironic that environmentalism and the Left have found each other in the West, but the lefties evidently realized that concerns about the environment could be used to promote their anti-capitalist agenda. The merger deepened after the former sugar daddy of Western Marxists in Moscow suddenly expired. To their horror, even China decided that crony capitalism was to be preferred over Marxism, although it did of course retain many of the central planning features beloved by the authoritarian left.
Authoritarian is the key term here. We are certainly not saying one should not care about the environment, but as the experience of real socialism so vividly demonstrates, nothing is more likely to preserve a livable environment than strong property rights – which are the very thing constantly under attack by the left. Idealistic leftists – those Lenin referred to as “useful idiots” – are merely economically ignorant. As Friedrich Hayek once said: “If socialists understood economics they wouldn’t be socialists”.
Friedrich A. Hayek. He may not have considered that some socialists are only in it for the power.
Photo credit: Rue de Archives / PVDE
The basic error of socialists is to regard the economy as static, as providing an unchanging “fixed pie”. They wrongly think that people can only become rich by exploitation, that their existence automatically implies that there must be a vast class of losers who continue to become ever more poor. Thus, the main task of politics is to “fairly distribute” this fixed pie. There are of course notable exceptions to this fairness doctrine, namely the ruling comrades at the top and their cronies. One must, of course, understand that enormous responsibilities are weighing on them once they have attained power; it follows that they will deserve a larger share of the pie (sorry, we forgot that they are all angels and will, of course, resist abusing their power to their own advantage).
We regard the unholy alliance of Marxism and Greens (a.k.a. watermelons) as enemies of civilization and humanity itself. You certainly don’t have to accept our word for it, you can instead consider the words uttered by assorted red-green climate activists, scarcity propagandists and globalists themselves. Here are a few examples:
- “The common enemy of humanity is man. In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. All these dangers are caused by human intervention, and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy then, is humanity itself.” – Club of Rome (premier environmental think-tank, consultants to the United Nations.
- “Complex technology of any sort is an assault on human dignity. It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy, because of what we might do with it.” – Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute
- “The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.”– Jeremy Rifkin, Greenhouse Crisis Foundation
- “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” – Prof Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University
- “The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States. We can’t let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization, we have in the US. We have to stop these Third World countries right where they are.”-Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund
- “Global Sustainability requires the deliberate quest of poverty, reduced resource consumption and set levels of mortality control.” -Professor Maurice King
- “We must make this an insecure and inhospitable place for capitalists and their projects. We must reclaim the roads and plowed land, halt dam construction, tear down existing dams, free shackled rivers and return to wilderness millions of acres of presently settled land.” – David Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!
- “In Nature organic growth proceeds according to a Master Plan, a Blueprint. Such a ‘master plan’ is missing from the process of growth and development of the world system. Now is the time to draw up a master plan for sustainable growth and world development based on global allocation of all resources and a new global economic system. Ten or twenty years form today it will probably be too late.” – Club of Rome,Mankind at the Turning Point
- “Democracy is not a panacea. It cannot organize everything and it is unaware of its own limits. These facts must be faced squarely. Sacrilegious though this may sound, democracy is no longer well suited for the tasks ahead. The complexity and the technical nature of many of today’s problems do not always allow elected representatives to make competent decisions at the right time.” – Club of Rome, The First Global Revolution
- “The emerging ‘environmentalization’ of our civilization and the need for vigorous action in the interest of the entire global community will inevitably have multiple political consequences. Perhaps the most important of them will be a gradual change in the status of the United Nations. Inevitably, it must assume some aspects of a world government.”– Mikhail Gorbachev, State of the World Forum
- “In my view, after fifty years of service in the United Nations system, I perceive the utmost urgency and absolute necessity for proper Earth government. There is no shadow of a doubt that the present political and economic systems are no longer appropriate and will lead to the end of life evolution on this planet. We must therefore absolutely and urgently look for new ways.” – Dr Robert Muller, UN Assistant Secretary General
- “A keen and anxious awareness is evolving to suggest that fundamental changes will have to take place in the world order and its power structures, in the distribution of wealth and income. Perhaps only a new and enlightened humanism can permit mankind to negotiate this transition.” – Club of Rome, Mankind at the Turning Point
- “The current course of development is thus clearly unsustainable. Current problems cannot be solved by piecemeal measures. More of the same is not enough. Radical change from the current trajectory is not an option, but an absolute necessity. Fundamental economic, social and cultural changes that address the root causes of poverty and environmental degradation are required and they are required now.”– from the Earth Charter website
- “The goal now is a socialist, redistributionist society, which is nature’s proper steward and society’s only hope.” – David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth
- “If we don’t overthrow capitalism, we don’t have a chance of saving the world ecologically. I think it is possible to have an ecologically sound society under socialism. I don’t think it is possible under capitalism” – Judi Bari, principal organiser of Earth First!
- “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsiblity to bring that about?” – Maurice Strong, founder of the UN Environment Programme
- “A massive campaign must be launched to de-develop the United States. De development means bringing our economic system into line with the realities of ecology and the world resource situation.” – Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies
And these are actually the relatively harmless ones. We haven’t cited anything that has emanated from self-declared eco-fascists like Pentti Linkola (you can scroll down here to see some of the stuff this vile, sorry excuse for a human being is spewing). Many more such quotes can be seen here, and here is a page with references and sources.
As you can see, these people are playing fast and loose with the facts. Contrary to what they keep asserting,capitalism has immeasurably improved every single thing they insist is getting worse (and will, of course, continue to get worse unless we give them unlimited power). This is copied directly from the playbook of Karl Marx. It is a variation of his “iron law of wages” that states that evil capitalists will forever keep the wages of workers at the level of mere physiological subsistence.
Lenin, Engels, and Marx – purveyors of an erroneous and ultimately evil creed.
This so-called “law” made up by Marx and Engels has been contradicted by the facts for centuries as well. Here is a table made in 2005 (we couldn’t find a more recent one) that shows the amenities available to people in the US with incomes considered to be below the official poverty line. 200 years ago, not even a king would have been able to enjoy any of these.
Amenities available to the poor in the US as of 2005.
Looking at the quotes above, it also becomes clear what the real agenda is. For most of these people, the environment and the incessant scare stories about its imminent destruction are merely devices to promote the demise of what is left of the free market. It is, in the end, nothing but a disguise for introducing socialism through the back door and establish a system of total control.
We should mention here that if these agenda were to succeed, it would actually be doomed to self-destruction. Without a free market, mankind will cease to be a teleological force in this world. Civilization would quickly collapse and after a, while, only small clusters of people living from hand to mouth would be left. It would soon become impossible to exert “control” over such a world. However, that would hardly be a consolation.
An Interview with Dr. Robert Zubrin
We were inspired to write this post after seeing a podcast by Stefan Molyneux in which he speaks with Dr. Robert Zubrin, who very eloquently demolishes the lies and economic errors of this sinister leftist-environmentalist combine. Facts and reason are clearly on his side. The video lasts nearly an hour, but we can assure readers that watching it is time well spent.
Stefan Molyneux speaks with Dr. Robert Zubrin about the anti-human mindset of environmentalists.
We don’t need to be “saved” by allegedly benevolent central planners and self-anointed world improvers. If humanity and civilization are to continue to advance, the idea that a select few wise men will be able to coerce us toward Utopia has to be vigorously opposed. Ideologies based on Marxist ideas have done more than enough damage already.
The popularity of these ideas continually waxes and wanes and they have recently gained currency again – not least because the current system of cronyism has been falsely advertised as representing free market capitalism. While a market economy continues to be in place, it is a severely hampered one and it is not surprising that many people feel it isn’t delivering what they think it should.
It is important though to make clear that there is no salvation in an even more statist and socialist system. Voluntary cooperation and freedom are the only way forward.
Charts and tables by National Association of Scholars, US dept. of energy
Reprinted with permission from Acting Man.