Beyond Scarcity

(The following notes were used while giving the Beyond Scarcity Talk & Discussion – link to recording. Enjoy!)

This is a very basic introduction on how anarchist communism relates to the concepts of scarcity & post-scarcity. I’ll be touching on so many points without going into great depth that we should find the talk will be short and the discussion will be the meat and bones of this event.

So, I’ve already used some buzz-words there; We need to know what I mean by Scarcity, Post-Scarcity and Anarchist Communism. Well, wikipedia has some really good definitions on these terms:

Scarcity is the fundamental economic problem of having humans who have unlimited wants and needs in a world of limited resources. It states that society has insufficient productive resources to fulfill all human wants and needs. Alternatively, scarcity implies that not all of society’s goals can be pursued at the same time; trade-offs are made of one good 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.”

Post-scarcity (also styled postscarcity) is a hypothetical form of economy or society in which goods, services and information are free, or practically free. This would require an abundance of fundamental resources (matter, energy and intelligence), in conjunction with sophisticated automated systems capable of converting raw materials into finished goods.

Anarchist communism (also known as anarcho-communism and occasionally as free communism or libertarian communism) is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, markets, money, capitalism and private property (while retaining respect for personal property), and in favor of common ownership of the means of production, direct democracy and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers’ councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.

Even just with that you are probably starting to form some parallels between post-scarcity and anarchist communism. I’ll try not get too preachy, however I am going to be arguing that the fight against scarcity is a fight against hierarchy – where one person/group controls another either through social or economic means.

As an aside I was tempted at one point just to spend the time I had readding The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin, but that would have been cheating.

What can be Scarce?

Food & Water: Over 13,600 people starve to death every day and 14% of the world is malnourished (“The State of Food Security in the World” report, UN Food & Agriculture Organization, 2011). Britain is an island in the developed world with some of the wettest weather you can get, and yet we have hosepipe bans in the summer.

Shelter: An estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless. (UN Commission on Human Rights 2005). 11,820 applied for council housing in England during 2010-2011, a figure that is commonly believed by charities in the field to be the tip of the iceburg.

Medical Resources: Preventable diseases run rampant while charities and institutions fight one another for the funds to find cures.

Communications: 65% of the world population, and 13% of people in the developed world, have no access to the internet (“ITC Data and Statistics” Report, International Telecommunications Union, 2011)

Environmental Technology: Workers take industrial action to prevent the deployment of technology that would save back-breaking labour (best pop culture example is from Season 2 of “The Wire”), while welcoming welcome businesses and projects into the community that will poison the environment for generations to come (fracking, nuclear plants, open-cast mining).

Education: One in Six people in the UK have problems with literacy (“State of the Nation” report, National Literacy Trust, 2010).

Arts and Entertainment: These are rationed based upon what you can afford. People create art and enrich our society but live in destitution. Artists are often expected to provide their skills for free to meet the want of others.

But what about…

In our wikipedia definition of scarcity it was said that Scarcity was an economic problem, and I am often presented with the objection that without a means of profit that this is something we are stuck with.

I say that this is not “just an economic problem” but that our economy is tied in intrinsically with of how we order society (which in and of itself isn’t a radical idea). I’d also say that there is a conflict of interests between how we order society today (either through having a state or through capitalism) and the end-goals most people would want to see in the world (where people are fed, clothed and can live to their full potential). The overarching reason for scarcity in our current society is hierarchy. The endeavours of our labour are all focussed on the economic goal of creating profit. When we create a new technology it is not used to make workers lives easier, but to make them work longer hours and to gain more profit for a small capital class.

Anarchist communism looks to end the structures that make this possible.

What will stop someone just taking what they want. Laws are either absurd, immoral or irrelevant. In a post-scarce anarchist communist society the social rational for many “crimes” will no longer be in place.

Another objection to moves towards a post-scarce society is often that the population is growing and we will hit a hard limit on what the world can handle.

The idea that we just don’t have the food or the space or the resources to make sure everyone is ok is crap. These are things we have hand in abundance for at least the last 150 years. There may be no profit in getting them to people, or conflicts between different hierarchies may prevent their transport, however these are things we do have.

High birth rates are caused by high infant mortality (as more children are needed to ensure survival), high poverty levels (as children are needed to work to support the family), a lack of family planning.

Low birth rates are encouraged in places where women have access to education and have a higher level of integration into the workforce.

Birth and death rate have already hit an equilibrium; the current increase in world population is “the big fill-up”:

The world today (where O = 1 billion people)

61+                O
45-60            O
31-45             O
15-30             OO
<15                 OO

The top end of the scale dies, the bottom end is reproduced, and everyone else gets older, thus:

61+                O
45-60            O
31-45             OO
15-30             OO
<15                 OO

This happens twice more, and so we end up in a stable population of 10 billion:

61+                OO
45-60            OO
31-45             OO
15-30             OO
<15                 OO

Further Resources:

The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin

TED Talk: Religions & Babies by Hans Rosling

Post-Scarcity Anarchism by Murray Bookchin

Content by Cory Doctrow

Capital by Karl Marx (if you want to get hardcore into the economy)


2 responses to “Beyond Scarcity

  1. good article.The “scarcity”of industrial society is,as you say,a feature of the social relations in this world.there is more than enough to go around but current social organisation encourages concentration of means of production and output in few hands.All in the name of profit…………..

  2. Pingback: Looks like we’ve got ourselves a live one! | Floaker

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