Does economic growth eliminate scarcity?
Economic growth does not eliminate scarcity because “scarcity” is an abstract concept that denies the potential for its elimination. “Scarcity” is a part of the human condition insofar as peoples’ wants are essentially infinite but resources will always be limited. No amount of economic growth will alter the fact that petroleum resources, even in this era of shale-generated plenty, are exhaustible. Water is essential to human, animal and plant survival, but supplies of fresh water are finite. There will never be enough time to do everything we want to do, as mortality will invariably intercede and thwart our aspirations. The concept of “bucket lists” came about precisely out of recognition that death comes to all and there is only so much we can do in whatever time we have, so we attempt to prioritize. And, no amount of economic growth changes the fact that most citizens in any given society are constrained in their ambitions by the scarcity of money, the preponderance of which tends to consolidate in the upper echelons of all economic systems (at least in practice if not in theory).
If economic growth in-and-of-itself could eliminate scarcity, it surely would have done so by now. The correlation between the two, however, is tenuous. During the early 1980s, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had one of the largest gross domestic products in the world, yet scarcity existed in abundance (no pun intended). Soviet consumers suffered the daily indignities of having to stand in long lines to purchase scarce goods, such as fresh produce and meat, gloves, well-made clothing, etc. In the highly-affluent United States of America, scarcity continues to exist on many levels including among the lower echelons of society and even among the wealthy who might have to wait a year for the exact model luxury vehicle they want to purchase. The economic privations of the Appalachians and among lower income communities in large cities exist irrespective of the scale of economic growth in the United States. In short, scarcity is such a broad concept that it is safe to say it will never disappear irrespective of levels of economic growth.
No. Economic growth does not and cannot eliminate scarcity. Nothing that we know of in this world can possibly eliminate scarcity. Scarcity is a condition of all human life, no matter how rich. Scarcity is the basic fact that underlies economics. Scarcity is eternal.
Scarcity comes about because of two factors. First, human wants are unlimited. We people always want more. Second, resources are limited. There are not enough resources in the world for everyone to have everything they want. This is true for everyone. Not even the richest man in the world can have everything he wants.
In the past 50 years or so, America has experienced a great deal of economic growth. We have become immensely richer than we once were. But scarcity still exists. If scarcity did not exist, we could have all the gasoline we wanted, all the iPads we wanted, and all of the tickets to professional sports events or big concerts that we wanted. This has not happened. Clearly, economic growth has not ended scarcity.
But could it end scarcity? No, it could not. Simply think about tickets to the Super Bowl. There is no way that we could ever create a situation in which all the people who want to go to the Super Bowl could do so. Alternatively, there is no way that everyone who wanted to go to Hawaii for vacation in the winter could do so. These resources and many others are scarce and will always be scarce. There will never be anything (so far as we can possibly imagine) that will end scarcity.