56 Pages

Part I Why Does Scarcity Matter? Commentary

ByLyla Mehta

This section focuses on how scarcity has been naturalized in academic, policy and popular debates. It also draws attention to the problematic implications and consequences of this naturalization, for example when scarcity emerges as a trope to legitimize particular energy and population politics or a certain way of life. In Chapter 1 Lyla Mehta discusses how notions of scarcity have shifted from being time-bound to being all-pervasive – from scarcities to scarcity. Scarcity, as the raison d’être of society, and formalist notions of the ‘economic’ have been challenged by Karl Polanyi, Marshall Sahlins and others who have shown how markets are embedded in social relations, highlighting the substantive meanings of the ‘economic’. She argues that generalized notions of scarcity tell us nothing about what scarcity means exactly, who it affects most, who creates it and who benefits from a more or less permanent state of scarcity. Her chapter also focuses on insights from non-mainstream economics, sociology and anthropology, which offer several and more nuanced ways to see scarcity, highlighting the need to look at multiple meanings of resources, socio-political perspectives and contestations around scarcity as struggles over both meaning and access.