Social scarcity

In: Uncategorized

19 Aug 2006

James Harkin,
in his always interesting Saturday Guardian column, writes about Fred Hirsch’s theory of “positional goods” from the 1970s. In the Social Limits to Growth (1976) Hirsch argued the main problem of scarcity was social rather than physical. The world may not, for example, run out of coal. However, only a limited number of people at any one time can own a particular house with a beautiful lakeside view or run a corporation. Or as Harkin puts it: “Since the supply of unspoilt beauty is fixed, my lakeside holiday cottage with a pristine view of nothing but water, mountains and sky is diminished when everyone else arrives to build their own cottages.” Hirsch’s theory, while profoundly wrong, is far more sophisticated than those of contemporary environmentalists.