★ Rockstar Book Review: “Scarcity”
This is part of our Rockstar Book Review series.
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“Scarcity” Clarifies What We Know But Can’t Quite Verbalize: Too Little of Anything in Life Can Affect Everything Else
We all need certain things to feel at ease: we need safety, food, shelter, money, love, time, etc. Of course, how much we need has a lot to do with what we believe we need, but no one would argue with the following: when we feel we don’t have enough of something, anything, it can be such a distraction that it makes it difficult to focus on other aspects of our lives. Certainly, anyone who has experienced a broken heart or serious money troubles can agree with that premise.
That’s why it was so refreshing to read “Scarcity” because the authors explain the “whys” behind what is usually perceived by others as bizarre or impulsive behaviors associated with not having enough of something. In this book, authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir elucidate what makes scarcity so damaging to the individual and to society in general. And with that, how we can change the way we respond to scarcity to avoid getting “stuck” in that state (which unfortunately can become a holding pattern if it’s left unaddressed).
The book is organized in three parts:
- Defining scarcity and how it affects us
- Explaining the self-perpetuating nature of scarcity
- Offering recommendations to reduce the scarcity that social systems and organizations experience
#1. What is Scarcity?
The authors define scarcity as “having less than you feel you need.” That feeling or belief can apply to just about anything, and, if left unchecked, it can drive us crazy by robbing our ability to focus on other aspects of life that are just as—if not more—important for us over the long term.
Scarcity captures the mind…when we experience scarcity of any kind, we become absorbed by it. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs…Scarcity is more than just the displeasure of having very little. It changes how we think. (pg. 7)
#2. Scarcity Begets Scarcity
If we take money as an example, the concept of scarcity easily explains why there are more payday lenders in American than there are McDonalds restaurants.
Payday lenders offer a service that few other lending institutions offer: immediacy. When we’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, our decision horizon is bi-weekly at best. We’re focused on how much we’ll have left over, after rent and bills are paid, to put food on the table. This focus on the immediate leads us to look toward short-term solutions to stay afloat, thereby dismissing more long-term solutions we just don’t have the bandwidth for due to our revolving money crisis.
Logic hardly applies in such a situation. We can’t see the forest for the trees and that makes it likely that we will make mistakes that will only serve to perpetuate or to further deteriorate our difficult situation, keeping payday lenders fat and happy in the process.
Scarcity doesn’t just lead us to overborrow or fail to invest. It leaves us handicapped in other aspects of our lives. It makes us dumber. It makes us more impulsive. (pg. 66)
#3. Reducing Scarcity
A big part of reducing scarcity is slack, a cushion of whatever resource we might have some concern about not having enough of. Slack gives us room to maneuver, room to recover, room to think, room to breathe. Slack enables us to consider options and make better decisions as a result.
When it comes to:
- Money, slack usually comes in the form of savings
- Time, slack is having unscheduled time in your calendar
- Food, slack can mean allowing some room for treats now and then
- Health, slack means your body is strong, making it easier to recover from illness or injury
- Relationships, slack means you have a number of meaningful relationships—you feel loved and accepted by friends and/or loved ones
Understanding how scarcity negatively affects various aspects of our lives can help us identify where we need more breathing room, room that will enable us to make better decisions, both today and over the long term.
Other suggested books of this type: “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown, “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, and “Enough” by Patrick Rhone
Book suggestions on specific scarcity topics: Scarcity of attention -“Overwhelmed” by Brigid Schultz, “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr. Money scarcity – “Nickel & Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich and “The Overspent American” by Juliet B. Schor.
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