Scarcity as an economic concept "refers to the basic fact of life that there exists only a finite amount of human and nonhuman resources which the best technical knowledge is capable of using to produce only limited maximum amounts of each economic good." If the conditions of scarcity didn't exist and an "infinite amount of every good could be produced or human wants fully satisfied ... there would be no economic goods, i.e. goods that are relatively scarce..." Scarcity is the limited availability of a commodity, which may be in demand in the market or by the commons. Scarcity also includes an individual's lack of resources to buy commodities. The opposite of scarcity is abundance.
Economic theory views absolute and relative scarcity as distinct concepts and is "quick in emphasizing that it is relative scarcity that defines economics." Current economic theory is derived in large part from the concept of relative scarcity which "states that goods are scarce because there are not enough resources to produce all the goods that people want to consume".
Economic scarcity as defined by Samuelson in Economics, a "canonical textbook" of mainstream economic thought  "... refers to the basic fact of life that there exists only a finite amount of human and nonhuman resources which the best technical knowledge is capable of using to produce only limited maximum amounts of each economic good ... (outlined in the production possibility curve (PPC))." If the conditions of scarcity didn't exist and an "infinite amount of every good could be produced or human wants fully satisfied ... there would be no economic goods, i.e. goods that are relatively scarce..."
Thomas Robert Malthus laid the "...theoretical foundation of the conventional wisdom that has dominated the debate, both scientifically and ideologically, on global hunger and famines for almost two centuries."
In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that an increase in a nation's food production improved the well-being of the populace, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original per capita production level. In other words, humans had a propensity to utilize abundance for population growth rather than for maintaining a high standard of living, a view that has become known as the "Malthusian trap" or the "Malthusian spectre". Populations had a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship, want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease, a view that is sometimes referred to as a Malthusian catastrophe. Malthus wrote in opposition to the popular view in 18th-century Europe that saw society as improving and in principle as perfectible.
Malthusianism is the idea that population growth is potentially exponential while the growth of the food supply or other resources is linear, which eventually reduces living standards to the point of triggering a population die off. It derives from the political and economic thought of the Malthus, as laid out in his 1798 writings, An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus believed there were two types of ever-present "checks" that are continuously at work, limiting population growth based on food supply at any given time:
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There are two types of scarcity implicit in Malthusianism, namely scarcity of foods or "requirements" and objects that provide direct satisfaction of these food needs or "available quantities". These are absolute in nature and define economic concepts of scarcity, abundance, and sufficiency as follows:
Lionel Robbins was prominent member of the economics department at the London School of Economics. He is famous for the quote, "Humans want what they can't have." Robbins is noted as a free market economist, and for his definition of economics. The definition appears in the Essay by Robbins as:
Robbins found that four conditions were necessary to support this definition:
Therefore, the decision-maker must exercise choice, i.e., "economize." Robbins argues that the "disposition of the ... (stakeholder's)... time and resources has a relationship to (their) system of wants." The definition is not classificatory in "pick[ing] out certain kinds of behavior" but rather analytical in "focus[ing] attention on a particular aspect of behavior, the form imposed by the influence of scarcity."
These are relative in nature and define economic concepts of scarcity, abundance, and sufficiency as follows:
Economic theory views absolute and relative scarcity as distinct concepts and "...quick in emphasizing that it is relative scarcity that defines economics." Relative scarcity is the starting point for economics.
Samuelson tied the notion of relative scarcity to that of economic goods when he observed that if the conditions of scarcity didn't exist and an "infinite amount of every good could be produced or human wants fully satisfied ... there would be no economic goods, i.e. goods that are relatively scarce..." The basic economic fact is that this "limitation of the total resources capable of producing different (goods) makes necessary a choice between relatively scarce commodities."
Scarcity refers to a gap between limited resources and theoretically limitless wants. The notion of scarcity is that there is never enough (of something) to satisfy all conceivable human wants, even at advanced states of human technology. Scarcity involves making a sacrifice—giving something up, or making a trade-off—in order to obtain more of the scarce resource that is wanted.
The condition of scarcity in the real world necessitates competition for scarce resources, and competition occurs "when people strive to meet the criteria that are being used to determine who gets what".: p. 105 The price system, or market prices, are one way to allocate scarce resources. "If a society coordinates economic plans on the basis of willingness to pay money, members of that society will [strive to compete] to make money": p. 105 If other criteria are used, we would expect to see competition in terms of those other criteria.
For example, although air is more important to us than gold, it is less scarce simply because the production cost of air is zero. Gold, on the other hand, has a high production cost. It has to be found and processed, both of which require a lot of resources. Additionally, scarcity implies that not all of society's goals can be pursued at the same time; trade-offs are made of one goal against others. In an influential 1932 essay, Lionel Robbins defined economics as "the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses". In cases of monopoly or monopsony an artificial scarcity can be created. Scarcity can also occur through stockpiling, either as an attempt to corner the market or for other reasons. Temporary scarcity can be caused by (and cause) panic buying.
A scarce good is a good that has more quantity demanded than quantity supplied at a price of $0. The term scarcity refers to the possible existence of conflict over the possession of a finite good. One can say that, for any scarce good, someones’ ownership and control excludes someone else's control. Scarcity falls into three distinctive categories: demand-induced, supply-induced, and structural. Demand-induced scarcity happens when the demand of the resource increases and the supply stays the same. Supply-induced scarcity happens when a supply is very low in comparison to the demand. This happens mostly due to environmental degradation like deforestation and drought. Lastly, structural scarcity occurs when part of a population doesn't have equal access to resources due to political conflicts or location. This happens in Africa where desert countries don't have access to water. To get the water, they have to travel and make agreements with countries that have water resources. In some countries political groups hold necessary resources hostage for concessions or money. Supply-induced and structural scarcity demands for resources cause the most conflict for a country.
On the opposite side of the coin, there are nonscarce goods. These goods don't need to be valueless, and some can even be indispensable for one's existence. As Frank Fetter explains in his Economic Principles: "Some things, even such as are indispensable to existence, may yet, because of their abundance, fail to be objects of desire and of choice. Such things are called free goods. They have no value in the sense in which the economist uses that term. Free goods are things which exist in superfluity; that is, in quantities sufficient not only to gratify but also to satisfy all the desires which may depend on them." As compared with the scarce goods, nonscarce goods are the ones where there can be no contest over its ownership. The fact that someone is using something doesn't prevent anyone else from using it. For a good to be considered nonscarce, it can either have an infinite existence, no sense of possession, or it can be infinitely replicated.
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