Is Scarcity a Dangerous Idea?

Dr Robert Zubrin concluded the above presentation at the 22nd Annual International Mars Society Convention with a passionate address on what he perceives to be the greatest threat to humanity:

How you conceive of the far future will control what happens in the near future. Now people talk about threats to humanity today: global warming, resource exhaustion, asteroid impact, overpopulation, whatever. I don’t think any of those things are the real threat to humanity today. Some of them are issues that need to be dealt with, some are overdrawn, but the real threat to humanity comes from bad ideas.

Humanity did not have catastrophes in the 20th century because of resource depletion, global warming, overpopulation, or asteroids. It had it because of bad ideas and in particular, one bad idea—with a number of variants to it. And that bad idea is that there isn’t enough to go around.

Dr Robert Zubrin, Mars Society, The Case for Space

He explains how World War I and World War II are examples of nations acting on this bad idea—the former being “the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century that sets in motion most of the rest.” We pretty much created hell on earth.

It is simply not true that humanity is composed of nations or races in a struggle for existence over scarce resources—that is a false point of view but nevertheless, if it is embraced it has the capability of causing absolute catastrophe.

Zubrin

In recent years, he has heard scarcity again being given as a reason for an “inevitable” war—this time between China and America. To my relief and delight, he powerfully and succinctly refutes that logic:

Now, this is a false point of view. I mean the fundamental point of view is Malthusian, “There’s only so much resources… population increases, standards of living go down…” In fact, history shows the exact opposite—as the world’s population has gone up, the standard of living has gone up! Why? Because consumption depends upon production. Production is people times technology.

Zubrin

The more people there are, the more inventors there are, and inventions are accumulative—that is why people create resources. There’s no such thing as a “natural resource”, there’s only natural raw materials. They are turned into resources by resourceful people.

Zubrin

It’s not that we’re gonna get oil from Mars, it’s that we’re gonna disprove a fallacy. We’re gonna disprove this fallacy that there’s only so much to go around—that there’s a roof on the Earth. There’s not a roof on the Earth—Earth comes with an infinite sky and it’s wide open. And that’s The Case for Space.

Zubrin

Serendipitously, The Bible Project also discussed scarcity in their recent video on generosity.

Creation is an expression of God’s generous love. He is the host and humans are his guests in a world of opportunity and abundance.

Dr Tim Mackie, The Bible Project, Generosity

While this was God’s intention, they acknowledge it’s often not how people think and act.

The story of the Hebrew scriptures [claim] that our “scarcity” problem isn’t caused by a lack of resources. Rather, the problem is our mindset that God cannot be trusted.

Once we are deceived into that mindset of scarcity, we can justify the impulse to take care of me and mine before anyone else. That leads to envy, anger, violence and a world where it seems like there is not enough.

Mackie

Now, I’m excited that Zubrin encourages going to Space to “disprove this fallacy that there’s only so much to go around” but I’m even more excited that for thousands of years God has been working on proving that there is more than enough for everyone, as Mackie goes on to explain. Unfortunately, the the nation God initially engages doesn’t get it and become another example of war resulting from the idea of scarcity.

[The Israelites] act like [the land of abundance] is all theirs and like there is not enough. It leads to war and Israel’s self-destruction.

Mackie

Thankfully, God is more persistent than us and made his surprising next move—poetically, giving us the most generous gift of all, himself, in Jesus.

Jesus lives with the conviction that there is enough. And that our generous host can be trusted. His mindset of abundance allowed him to live sacrificially and generously even towards his enemies.

Mackie

Despite personally experiencing poverty, Jesus viewed the world differently:

[Jesus] would say things like this: Look at the birds. They do not store up food for themselves, yet they have enough. Or, consider the wildflowers. They are beautiful and abundant. And they do not stress about their existence. And you all should live that way, too.

Mackie

Jesus encouraged us to follow him in trusting in God’s abundance.

That is why he said things like, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Or, “Do not worry about your life.” He is inviting us to live by a different story. One that is built on trust in God’s goodness and love.

Mackie

However, change takes time.

Jesus knows we are all hopelessly deceived by this lie that there is not enough.

Mackie

We need to expose that lie, reforming our thinking to make this world less hellish and more harmonious for all.

So, that is what Jesus was doing when he gave us the gift of his life. Jesus’ death was the ultimate expression of God’s generous love.

Mackie

We are all called to live in the light of this, whether that be building rockets to Mars or simply through our hospitality to those around us.

Yeah, and when you believe there is enough, you start seeing opportunities for generosity everywhere. With our time, money, and our attention.

Jon Collins, The Bible Project, Generosity

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