Scarcity Is A Bad Thing, So Why Would You Want To Artificially Add Scarcity?

from the think-this-through dept

If there were no such thing as scarcity in the world, there wouldn't be a need for property rights, because there would be no borders to worry about. The entire reason why we worry about property and ownership and borders and allocation is because these things are scarce and we're concerned about the most efficient way to split up those scarce resources, without having too many arguments over who controls what scarce bit. If there were no scarcity, everyone could have whatever they wanted, and there would be no reason to worry about the rest. That's why I've never quite understood the rush to create artificial scarcity, as in the scarcity created by intellectual property laws.

It's a situation where you have the opposite of scarcity. You have abundance, such that there need not be any argument over ownership, because everyone can have what they want... and suddenly people want to take away the good thing (abundance!) and replace it with limits and a situation that is worse for everyone. Why would you ever do that, unless you either don't understand economics or you dislike mankind and would prefer that the world have fewer resources and more arguments over ownership.

Apparently, some others feel the same way. Derek Reed points to an amusing quote in a post by Tycho over at Penny Arcade concerning Sony's Playstation Home:
"Chief among these bizarre maneuvers is the idea that, when manufacturing their flimsy dystopia, they actually ported the pernicious notion of scarcity from our world into their digital one. This is like having the ability to shape being from non-being at the subatomic level, and the first thing you decide to make is AIDS."
While an extreme quote, he's making an important point. If you are creating a new world, where unfortunate and damaging resource limitations of other worlds wouldn't be necessary, why would you arbitrarily add those limitations back in? Why would you arbitrarily shrink the resource pool?

Filed Under: abundance, scarcity


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  1. icon
    TechWeasel (profile), 18 Dec 2008 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Re: Yeah dude

    All of this makes sense, and I do not advocate artificial scarcity as a business model. Rather, I'm answering the question that you posed in your article about why people create artificial scarcity for good which are not naturally scarce. Because the people who make that decision, and continually try to enforce the status quo, benefit from the status quo. They earn, or believe they earn, more money from keeping things as-is than they would earn by letting "their" content be reproduced endlessly and freely.

    With the proper business model, this is not true (a previous poster pointed out the De Beers example). You mention community as a point of difference for your content as opposed to copied content, which is viable. I probably should have referred to a hypothetical writer rather than a TechDirt writer, who doesn't have an established audience, and who really would be hurt by somebody jacking his content, to have a more easily generalizable example.

    And I never said that people who create IP won't get paid without artificial scarcity - they're in a unique position to get paid more, and more easily, than anyone else if their goods are endlessly replicated (by offering add-ons like access, truly scarce physical products and momentos, concerts, etc). The people who won't get paid as much without being a lot more agile are the people who package, promote and distribute media in physical form; the people who pay the salaries of the RIAA and MPAA.

    The point of my post is that those people are not mindlessly evil or totally ignorant; they have a reason for doing what they do, even if it is not viable in the long term and there are better ways to make money.

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