The End Of Scarcity

Or, A New Model For Living In The 21st Century

We already live in a post-scarcity society.

Does that thought strike you as odd? Consider this:

At the time of writing, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is worth over $100 billion dollars1. Billion.

“Billion” is a quantity so beyond our every day conception that it’s practically meaningless. But let’s try and put this into perspective.

Amazon employs roughly 550,000 people worldwide2.

This means that Jeff Bezos could personally give every single person that works for him $150,000 and still be a billionaire. And yet the median Amazon employee makes a scant $28,000 a year3.

This isn’t meant as a critique of Bezos (though, reading it, it’s not not a critique). This is merely to point out that our perception of Scarcity simply isn’t real.

What about food? Clearly that is a real Scarcity—millions of people around the globe go hungry, unable to afford even a cup of rice.

Except that, globally, we throw out roughly a third4 of all the food we grow.

So is that really Scarcity? Or a problem of distribution?

What about housing? In Philadelphia, where we live, there are roughly a half million people experiencing homelessness on any given night. And yet the city has thousands of vacant, unrented apartments. As far back as 2001, UPenn noted that just giving homes to the homeless costs society less5 than letting them remain on the street, and pilot programs in Utah and North Carolina have backed that up with hard data.

So is that really Scarcity? Or a question of social willpower?

Every method of running a modern society has dealt with the question of how to manage scarce resources. And our cultural values reflect that.

The idea that our time must be spent productively is rooted in scarcity.

The idea that we can’t afford to take vacation or sick days is rooted in scarcity.

The idea that we have to sacrifice our youth, health, and mental well-being so we can provide for ourselves as we age is rooted in scarcity.

We have lived with this operating system for so long that we can hardly stand to look at our world—really look at it—and understand that we don’t need to be trying nearly this hard to just live.

But how do we change? It would be so wonderful if we could snap our fingers and will our society into one that recognizes the limitless bounty we actually live in.

But we can only change ourselves.

How can we recognize the personal, intimate ways in which we model Scarcity?

The times we tell people we don’t have time to help them. The times we hesitate to lend a friend cash. The times we are unable to take responsibility for mistakes for fear it will take something away from us.

And how can we use that as an opportunity to instead model Abundance?

To give people in our community a hand without expecting something in return.

To take the time to send a loved one a note of appreciation.

To leave work on time, knowing we’ll have plenty of time to finish our tasks tomorrow.

We don’t have the answers to what Abundance looks like for you. But we do know that simply asking the question—”What’s the most abundant way I can react in this moment?”—is a damn good start.

  1. Cuccinello, Hayley C. “Jeff Bezos Through the Ages: The World’s Richest Person in Photos.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 7 Nov. 2019, 

  2. Fiegerman, Seth. “Amazon Now Has More than 500,000 Employees.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 26 Oct. 2017, 

  3. Ovide, Shira. “Amazon Is Defined by Billions and Millions; Median Salary Is $28,446.”, Bloomberg, 19 Apr. 2018, 

  4. Sengupta, Somini. “How Much Food Do We Waste? Probably More Than You Think.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Dec. 2017, 

  5. Culhane, Dennis & Metraux, Stephen & Byrne, Thomas. (2011). A prevention-centered approach to homelessness assistance: A paradigm shift?. Housing Policy Debate. 21. 295-315. 10.1080/10511482.2010.536246. 

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