Problems of Abundance

Nearly all the problems we face as a society today are problems of abundance.

Over the millennia, as a species we have become very skilled at dealing with scarcity.  Our ancestors often lived on the edge of survival.  They were one long winter, or one disease outbreak, or one failed harvest away from devastation.

And we have responded to these challenges by producing more.  We grow more crops, we mine more coal, we extract more oil, we build more cars.  But very soon our society will have to answer the question: how much is enough?

Unemployment is seen as an under-supply of jobs.  But an equally valid way of looking at it is as an over-supply of labour.  A society with unemployed members is a society that, as a whole, feels that it is using sufficient labour, and has no need for the efforts of some of its members.

Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers are also problems of abundance. A hunter gatherer society expends nearly every calorie it ingests in search of the next one.  But now we’ve figured out how to mass-produce calories.   Many of the health threats facing the developed and developing world are not due to lack of food, but to an over-abundance sugars, alcohol and tobacco.

Pollution, likewise is a by product of the increased ability of our society to make stuff.  Everything that we dig out of the ground, or make in our factories, has to one day find its way to the landfill or other resting place.

So how much is enough?  Is it possible for a society to say “we have enough, we do not need to increase production?”  Is it possible for an individual to say “I have enough, I do not need to acquire more?”  Can a society see its over-supply of labour as an opportunity, not a problem?

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet.