The Return of Post-Scarcity: From Starvation Experiments to Utopian Visions

Exploring the concept of post-scarcity and its implications for society

During the final year of World War II, as the Allies liberated German territories, they discovered millions of famine victims on the brink of starvation. The challenge of reintroducing food to these individuals led to the creation of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which revealed not only the physical effects of extreme hunger but also the profound impact it had on the subjects’ minds. This study, along with the insights of behavioral scientists, has shed light on the concept of scarcity and its influence on human behavior. Today, the idea of post-scarcity is making a comeback, with different interpretations and visions for a future free from the constraints of scarcity.

Scarcity and the Mind

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment involved 36 conscientious objectors who lived under observation for a year, with 24 weeks spent on a starvation diet. The researchers discovered that extreme hunger not only affected the subjects’ physical health but also led to obsessions with food and a shift in their ambitions and attention. This phenomenon of scarcity affecting the mind is not limited to hunger but can also be observed in different forms of lack, such as money, time, and relationships. Behavioral scientists have found that scarcity reduces mental bandwidth, leading to decreased fluid intelligence and executive control.

The Historical Construction of Scarcity

Scarcity, as understood in modern economics, is a relatively recent construct. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scarcity was seen as a temporary condition that could be overcome through technological advancements and organized labor. However, towards the end of the 20th century, a new economic framework emerged, presenting scarcity as a permanent feature of the human condition. This shift in perspective has shaped the course of history and influenced societal and political structures.

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The Post-Scarcity Tradition

Throughout history, thinkers from Thomas More to John Maynard Keynes have explored the concept of post-scarcity and its potential implications for human development. These visionaries imagined a world where basic needs were unconditionally met, allowing individuals to pursue their passions and interests. The post-scarcity tradition offers a glimpse into what society could be like when liberated from the constraints of scarcity.

Technological Post-Scarcity vs. Post-Scarcity of Needs

Today, there are two main interpretations of post-scarcity. Technological post-scarcity envisions a future where advanced technologies and automation can produce goods and services at such low costs that they become essentially free. This view is often associated with the idea of full automation. In contrast, the post-scarcity of needs focuses on unconditionally meeting everyone’s basic needs, such as food, shelter, and healthcare, through political and social changes. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of overcoming the scarcity mentality rather than relying solely on technological advancements.

The Role of Work in a Post-Scarcity Society

In a fully automated post-scarcity society, the need for traditional employment would diminish significantly. However, experts argue that we are not yet at a stage where employment can be abolished altogether. Instead, they suggest a reduction in working hours and a shift towards democratizing work. By unconditionally meeting everyone’s basic needs, individuals would have more freedom to choose how they spend their time and pursue meaningful work.

Conclusion:

The concept of post-scarcity offers a vision of a future where basic needs are unconditionally met, freeing individuals to pursue their passions and interests. While technological advancements play a role in achieving post-scarcity, the focus on unconditionally meeting basic needs and reducing the scarcity mentality is equally important. By reimagining society and organizing resources to prioritize human well-being, we can move towards a future that transcends the limitations of scarcity and allows for new expressions of human potential.

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