Articles on Scarcity and Development

Inequality, not scarcity, is cause of global water crisis: No act of terrorism or war generates economic devastation on the scale of the crisis in water and sanitation according to a new United Nations Human Development Report launched in November. Dr Lyla Mehta, IDS Research Fellow and contributor to theReport argues that more must be done about inequality in access, power politics and to increase and protect rights to water and sanitation.
Inequalities in water distribution are not an inevitable result of physical shortages of water but due to inequality of access, power, poverty and institutional and policy failures according to a new United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report (HDR) released launched on November 9 2006. The report, ‘Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis’ urges governments and donors to wake up to the annual 1.8 million child deaths related to unclean water and poor sanitation, a figure that dwarves the casualties associated with violent conflict.
The HDR makes an urgent plea to take seriously the human right to water and sanitation. It argues that every person should have access to at least 20 litres of clean water each day to meet their basic needs. It also recommends that national poverty reduction strategies set clear targets for reducing inequality and include these in the Millennium Development Goals reporting system. This is a radical and important suggestion since it advocates halving the disparities in water provision between rich and poor people, rather than just increasing access for poor people.
(Read all on IDS).

The Human Development Report 2006: Beyond scarcity, power, poverty and the global water crisis:
To view all chapters.
Download the complete report (440 pages), (avalable in all UNO languages).
The Human Development Report continues to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity:
• Investigates the underlying causes and consequences of a crisis that leaves 1.2 billion people without access to safe water and 2.6 billion without access to sanitation
• Argues for a concerted drive to achieve water and sanitation for all through national strategies and a global plan of action
• Examines the social and economic forces that are driving water shortages and marginalizing the poor in agriculture
• Looks at the scope for international cooperation to resolve cross-border tensions in water management
• Includes special contributions from Gordon Brown and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, President Lula, President Carter, and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

AN ECONOMY OF ERRORS: HOW ABUNDANCE MAY BRING SCARCITY, DISTORTIONS BUILT INTO THE GLOBAL ECONOMY THREATEN LONG-TERM STABILITY, 22 November 2005 – The global economy in its present form is not only full of and forced to deal with problematic distortions; it has come to depend a great deal on the “bubble” effect of certain miscalculations and manipulations. Assumptions built into weak threads in the economic web mean that markets are not able to set prices or distribute wealth at sustainable levels. It must here be noted that the situation is such that —assuming this is what they key decision-makers seek— the “pure market” does not and cannot exist in the current economic and informative climate. In fact, taken together, the fundamental distortions embedded in the present global economic system are fueling the expansion of a complex bubble phenomenon, pressing against many natural limits, where in many key markets, the underlying resources are not sufficient to support the presumed direction or expansion of trade …
… Food, water, fossil fuels and arable land are all becoming more scarce on a per-capita basis already, and the coming peak in world oil production —whether or not the peak is imminent this year or next, it must come as a side-effect of petroleum reserves being finite— threatens to disrupt the ability of markets everywhere to forestall further declines in agricultural, extraction, industrial and transport productivity. The US food economy uses as much energy as France’s total annual consumption for all purposes, with 20% going to growing and harvesting. The other 80% goes to transport, processing, packaging and storing food items during their journey to sale and consumption. The US is heavily dependent on petroleum for its food production, and increases in efficiency and production per acre have been helped along historically by increased use of petroleum, be it in pumps for extracting ground water or in heavy machinery …
… Corruption permits governments, or individuals within them, that actively steal from local enterprise and from foreign investors and aid agencies to remain in power and to manipulate regional markets, creating stagnant or non-existent real-world growth and political pitfalls where neither education nor investment is adequate to overcome the obstacles erected against the general welfare.
Even today, with the abundance of analytic and financial information, major institutions continue to do “business as usual” with institutions whose remedies are either absent or utterly ineffective to curb and reverse the intense market distortions stemming from those erroneous calculations mentioned here, among others. (Read all on

From Wikipedia:
A post-scarcity economy is a hypothetical form of economy or society, often explored in science fiction, in which things such as goods, services and information are free, or practically free. This would be due to an abundance of fundamental resources (matter, energy and intelligence), in conjunction with sophisticated automated systems capable of converting raw materials into finished goods, allowing manufacturing to be as easy as duplicating software.
Definition of post-scarcity: Even without postulating new technologies, it might be true that today there is already enough energy, raw material and biological resources on Earth to provide a comfortable lifestyle for every person on earth, but even a hypothetical political or economic system that was able to achieve an egalitarian distribution of goods would generally not be termed a “post-scarcity society” unless the production of goods was sufficiently automated that virtually no labor was required by anyone (although it is usually assumed there would still be plenty of voluntary creative labor, like a writer creating a novel or a software engineer working on open-source software). This is a key difference between the most common post-scarcity vision and other utopian visions such as communism. There are some exceptions to this usage of the term however, such as Anthony Giddens who uses “post-scarcity” to refer to a set of trends he sees in modern industrialized nations, such as an increased focus on “life politics” and a decreased focus on productivity and economic growth. Giddens acknowledges that the term has also been used historically to mean a literal end of scarcity, however.
Unavoidable scarcity: Some things will remain rare even in a post-scarcity society. Only one person at a time can be a leader of a group, community or country, there is a practical limit to the number of people who can live in any specific, ‘in-demand’ locale and there are only fifty-seven ‘real’ Faberge eggs in the whole world. However, hypothetical machines such as a Star Trek Replicator or nano-construction are envisioned as being able to produce any real-world artifact, and some fictions even envision the physical creation of new living space (orbitals[5] or ringworlds[6]) to reduce this scarcity.
An intermediate step to a post-scarcity society has been shown in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, where fabricator technology allows the growth of any item that one has design plans for – however, the poor receive a lesser amount of energy and resources per day to use, and thus have to wait longer for their items to be fabricated. Also, their items tend to be smaller, as they have no access to large-scale fabricators.
Other items discussed in this wikipedia article: Speculative technology; Digital abundance; Economic paradigm; Fiction.

Readings on Poverty, Hunger, and Economic Development. Artificial Scarcity, Garbage Collection and the Long Tail: The question in everybody has been asking for a long time has been “how do you make money in a market of over abundance?” If you think you haven’t asked yourself this question, then allow me to rephrase it. Here are two popular variants of that question “How do you make money on the internet where everything is free?” and “How do you make money in open source where everything is free?” The latest guidance to an answer has been the identification of the Long Tail. In a market of overabundance and almost infinite variety there are niches of markets where demand exceeds supply. The whole of economics is based on demand exceeding supply, that is of scarcity. (Read all on

THE NEW INSTITUTIONAL ECONOMICS AND DEVELOPMENT, by Douglass C. North, Washington Univesity, St. Louis, published In this essay I intend to briefly summarize the essential characteristics of the new institutional economics, to describe how it differs from neo-classical theory, and then toapply its analytical framework (as I see it) to problems of development. (Read all on IOWA State University, Dept. of Economics, not dated).

Water desalination as a long-term sustainable solution to alleviate global freshwater scarcity? A North–South approach, by Gregor Meerganz von Medeazza*, Institut de Cičncia i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona, 26 April 2004. Abstract: The direct per capita availability of freshwater resources decreases as the world population continues its growth. This fact threatens the well-being and subsequently the survival of humanity as a whole. In this article, the North–South approach is used to raise certain questions on the significance of scarcity. Indeed, the issue of water for tourists might seem far removed from water scarcities for poor people in the South. If we assume a technological trajectory of decreased monetary costs, decreased energy costs per cubic metre, and moreover increased share of renewable energies in desalination (a kind of win-win-win scenario), does this mean that water for urban use of poor people in the world will cease to be a problem? Will not the energy costs remain too high? An approach based on the “basic needs” scenario is relevant to address these questions. The Canary Island of Lanzarote (Spain) and the city of Laâyoune, (Moroccan Sahara) are taken as explanatory case studies.

STEPS Centre, Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability, A new global research and policy engagement centre at IDS and SPRU. “The research the STEPS Centre will engage in has the potential to have a vital impact on global society.” (Professor Ian Diamond, ESRC chief executive).

The (Needed) New Economics of Abundance, by Steve Burgess – Molecular manufacturing coupled with AI could bring about a “personal manufacturing” revolution and a new era of abundance. But abundance could be highly disruptive, so we need to design a new economics of abundance so society is prepared for it. Originally published in Nanotechnology Perceptions: A Review of Ultraprecision Engineering and Nanotechnology, Volume 2, No. 2, May 8, 2006. Reprinted May 9, 2006 by
“For centuries, we have built cultures and economies around scarcity. Economics is the ’study of how human beings allocate scarce resources’ in the most efficient way and conventional wisdom agrees that regulated capitalism results in the most efficient allocation of those scarce resources”. (Read this article on

A book: The Perverse Economy: Scarcity, Extraction and Value in Economic Theory, by Michael Perelman, on amazon.


Pages in wiki on the category “Scarcity“: There are 5 pages in this section of this category.

For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, by Genevieve Vaughan.
(Homepage: the Gift-Economy).

Engines of Creation, The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, by K. Eric Drexler, Anchor Books, 1986.

The Hacker Culture as Gift Economy.

The Economics of abundance.

The Tragically Neglected Economics of Abundance.

Nanofactory Regulation.

Science, Technology and Water Scarcity: Investigating the ‘Solutions’.

New IDS Publications for December 2006.

Subsidy of Self-Respect? Community Led Total Sanitation. An Update on Recent Developments, by Kamal Kar and Katherine Pasteur – 2005.

The Economics of Science Fiction.

The Post-Scarcity Economics /Culture of Abundance Reading, a huge list of articles, writings, books, lectures (Updated Saturday, March 11, 2000), on

Imagining Futures, Dramatizing Fears – classic science fiction stories about highly automated societies, most of them pessimistic.

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