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. identicon
    Yakko Warner, 18 Dec 2008 @ 8:15am

    What is being made scarce

    Just to shed some light on what is going on here, since a lot of people are off on tangents like "they're doing this to make more money" or "to make it more exclusive".

    Which, you know, you'd already get if you read the linked article, but c'est la vie...

    You have this virtual world, "Home", which (if you haven't seen it) is kind of like "Second Life" in that you create a person and move this person around in a virtual world, populated by other people. You can interact with other people by talking to them, using gestures (waving, dancing, etc.). You can even go to a bowling alley with a group of people, go to a lane, and start a game of bowling. Or, you can sit down at a chess board with someone and play chess. Or, you can walk up to an arcade game cabinet and play a video game.

    Where the "scarcity" complaint comes in, is that there are a fixed number of lanes in the bowling alley; there are a fixed number of chess tables set up in the courtyard; there are a fixed number of arcade cabinets in the game room.

    If, in real life, some friends and I go to the bowling alley, and all the lanes are in use, we have to wait our turn. That's the way the real, physical world works. But in the virtual world, one would kind of expect launching a "bowling alley application" and getting a new, virtual "instance" of a lane to play on. Being entirely digital, it doesn't cost anything extra to create this space on demand. However, Sony has instead implemented real-world scarcity by forcing you to wait for one of the limited number of lanes to open up.

    Same deal with the chess boards. Or the arcade games. These make even less sense. I can use MSN Messenger to invite anyone to a chess game, and a new instance of "chess" is created for the two of us. Microsoft doesn't have some limited number of chess boards, forcing us to wait until one of those is free before we can play.

    The arcade games, I've heard compared to browser games in their complexity and quality. So why make me wait in line to play a browser game? I can go to popcap.com and start playing a game immediately, no matter how many people are already playing ahead of me. There's no reason why someone in Home playing an arcade game should prevent me from playing the same game at the same time.

    Exclusivity? Money? PlayStation Network is free, and Home is currently an "open beta", meaning absolutely anyone with a PlayStation and an internet connection can get it for no charge.

    Realism? Or, as another poster put it, consistency [with the real world]? That's the whole point. There's such a thing as "too real". Shouldn't a virtual world, especially on a game console, be more about having "fun"? Why would you want to introduce problems and inconveniences of the real world?

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