Several subject possibilities were "calling" to me this morning as I set about some notes organization. But the one which stood out, was that of the title. While I have touched on this area a number of times in past months, relative degrees of scarcity really deserve closer treatment. For while random scarcities involve resources which can also translate into positive and negative supply shocks in macro terms, fixed scarcities (such as economic time) lie at the heart of both nominal measures and basic life considerations. What's more, the fixed component of time interaction is required, for random scarcities to become economic realities in a dynamic sense.
As such, fixed scarcities are also the most vital concern for potential solution sets, in which random scarcities can be factored in after the initial conditions are recognized. Even though random scarcities can "come to the rescue" in certain circumstances, they don't really work out in the long run as "permanent" substitutes for limitations on fixed scarcities. Perhaps the best example in this regard: lack of flexibility in the fixed scarcity of skills use time, where too many artificial limitations create an unsustainable equilibrium.
Random scarcities can especially be thought of in global and national equilibrium terms, while fixed scarcities tend more toward local conditions. As such, fixed scarcities utilize different economic frameworks as well. If time scarcity is not recognized, the framework eventually goes out of balance. Even though scarcity lies at the heart of economic thought, I have struggled to understand scarcity on personal terms. So this post is the observations of a layperson about scarcity: observations which nonetheless are central to how I relate to economics in general.
When I began my project back in 2003, what particularly stood out for me were areas of potential abundance which remained largely untapped. Knowledge use in particular, appeared as the aggregate abundance which was possible, albeit in fixed scarcity terms. Over time, the random and fixed natures of scarcity started to make more sense, which in turn suggested substantial differences in growth trajectories. Something about being in an limited environment (where no clear course of survival strategy suggested itself) made me learn to look more closely, at the limitations and possibilities of environments.
Among some of the earlier resource possibilities I observed were the (random) scarcities which nature at times provided "too" freely, such as hickory nuts and wild persimmons around the property. After considerable effort to harvest these - with limited results - it wasn't hard to see why such options might be nixed (usually, anyway) for more desirable foodstuffs. While a person of higher income might pass these over for something more "delectable" at the grocery store, a lower income person might pass them over for the offerings at the food bank. Even if those offerings were less interesting, they nonetheless required less work to process!
In a larger sense, food certainly wouldn't be considered a random scarcity in many places - I am making an observation of what some might consider available choices in the U.S. Whereas in some places, foodstuff becomes a fixed scarcity in that life depends on whether one has access to it or not. In the U.S. food becomes a "random" choice to the degree one is always going to have some kind of option, whether or not it is desirable. Some food choice for random scarcity is also experiential - whether fishing, hunting, or my favorite - pecans.
Think of the contrast between diamonds and water, and how the paradox of value doesn't quite get at the primary nature of fixed scarcity. That's a problem, because sometimes it helps to know which fixed scarcities actually mean the difference between survival or "calling it a day". The concept of labor, unfortunately, seems to have reinforced the idea of time as a random scarcity in the value of exchange. However, the representation of labor is but a partial lifestyle option, which is also reflected by the partial lifestyle option which education ultimately became.
Random scarcities, while important in the sense that we choose among them (abundant or not) to augment basic survival , are not specific for life or death options. If nothing else exists in an environment for protection, one can alter the ground itself to create cover, if in fact they are allowed to do so. Again, whether one is "allowed" is more often than not the issue, because the saving grace of random scarcity (resourcefulness) can be lost with arbitrary definitions of product formation.
One of the most important points I can make, is that our time is always a fixed scarcity: which is just one reason why inattention to unemployment is not a realistic option. In other words, what we do with our time is primary for survival in a limited sense and macroeconomic definition in a larger sense. Whereas random scarcities are not necessarily so. So when we seek methods of coordination in any environment, one of the first things we need to ask ourselves is: are we working with fixed or random scarcity elements? Because the answer to that question makes all the difference for the solutions that are arrived at. Stability really depends on being able to match one's fixed amount of time use with other relatively fixed resource capacities, land, or both. That is something which local communities are really in a better position to create for their citizens, than governments.