Many people are in concurrence that the society gains a lot from economic growth than it does from scarcity. Economic growth enhances integration, social parity, freedom, the rule of law and democracy. On the other hand, scarcity is mainly responsible for escalating conflicts, inequality, repression and totalitarianism (Gurr 51). Nonetheless, the most important thing is the manner in which the negative impacts of scarcity are addressed by nation-states.
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It is highly probable that the society will adopt progressive reforms in order to deal with the negative impacts of scarcity. This paper will hence discuss the negative impacts of scarcity on the socio-economic wellbeing of the society. The paper will also address strategies that can be used to address scarcity.
The Impact of Scarcity on Inequality
Economic growth is traditionally known to reduce scarcity until recently when globalization undermined the influence of labor with respect to capital. On the other hand, the escalating inequality is general believed to be caused by scarcity (Finsterbusch 93). According to the social stratification theory, economic growth has a long impact on equality.
The main argument of this theory is based on the premise that economic growth attracts investments opportunities in the society. As a result of this, skilled employees as well as other professionals have an opportunity to earn high incomes attributed to increased productivity. According to this theory, skilled employees are able to bargain for better incomes that translate into improved living standards.
The theory also postulates that economic growth contributes to the emergence of democratic institutions in the society. As a result, the lower groups in the society have more political clouts which they use to negotiate for economic gains as well as constructive policies. Moreover, economic growth bolsters equality with respect to changes in the consumption behaviors.
The consumption gap between the rich and the poor is alleviated as the members of the lower class can afford medical services as well as other luxurious goods including cars, television sets, electricity and telephones. Although the elite class enjoy superior good and services, their standards of living do not differ so much from that of the lower class (Finsterbusch 94).
On the other hand, the impacts of scarcity are undesirable. Many scholars are in agreement that inequality is mainly caused by scarcity. This proposition is supported by several arguments. The first argument is that economic growth is the opposite of scarcity. Consequently, scarcity is expected to have negative impacts.
For example, economic growth creates employment opportunities and other business prospects. This phenomenon reduces exploitation of labor because people in the lower stratum have a variety of employment opportunities to select from.
On the other hand, scarcity promotes exploitation of labor because it contracts the job market (particularly for unskilled jobs). It also creates stiff competition amongst the unskilled workers because they tend to compete for the limited available employment opportunities that are offered at depressed wages. Economic growth provides more resources that are used to create social programs such as training programs for the jobless masses (Finsterbusch 94)
However, scarcity hampers the ability of the society to provide social welfare programs for the needy. In terms of politics, the demand for improved living conditions by the lower class (caused by scarcity) cannot be realized without compromising the wellbeing of the elite class.
One of the characteristics of scarcity is the enormous power possessed by the elite class. Consequently, the demands of the lower class are highly unlikely to be addressed. The rationale for not addressing the demands for the poor is that the introduction of redistribution program would reroute resources from potential investors who may want to invest in the economy. As a result, the redistribution program would have negative long-term effects on the lower groups (Finsterbusch 95).
The second argument put forward to explain the negative effects of scarcity on inequality is that it causes inflationary pressure. Scarcity is the main cause of inflation which has adverse effects on the wellbeing of the lower groups. It is worthy to note that the lower groups spend the better part of their earnings on consumption than the elite (rich) class.
The upper groups usually procure quality goods using fewer resources. Prices of quality goods are not highly inflated by resource scarcity compared to goods with poor quality. Moreover, the elite class procures larger estates and homes that usually inflate with scarcity. However, poor people pay rent and experience a significant drop in their living standards regardless of their employment status (Finsterbusch 95).
The third argument that explains why inequality is caused by scarcity is that the elite groups are in a better position to safeguard their properties from the adverse impacts of scarcity while the incomes of the poor dwindle. The fourth argument is that the elite class (who control resources) usually benefits in periods of scarcity whereas the lower groups suffers.
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The fifth argument is based on some experimental studies that link inequality with scarcity. These studies have shown that resources are usually distributed unevenly when they become scarce. However, the experimental linkage between inequality and scarcity is not well developed and the general harmony on this argument is mainly attributed to lack of counter-argument (Finsterbusch 96).
The Impacts of Scarcity on Integration
Scarcity reduces integration whereas economic growth raises it. It is worthy to mention that economic growth alleviates intergroup conflict, minimizes its violent nature and transforms it into lawful political actions and demands that can be compromised. Economic growth fosters the perception that each group will be better off hence the system will be viewed as moderately efficient.
It also reduces dissatisfactions and alleviates challenges posed to the system of inequality that is synonymous with escalating poor standards of living.
In nutshell, economic growth alleviates conflicts between the elite class and the poor groups as well as giving some sort of authenticity to the system. On the other hand, the impacts of scarcity are adverse. Although many scholars agree that scarcity reduces system legitimacy and hampers integration, this proposition lacks empirical merit because there has been no sufficient proof of the long-term effects of scarcity in industrialized countries in the past two centuries.
Nonetheless, scarcity reduces integration via elevated conflicts, competition and disorder. It also reduces the legitimacy of the regime and the effectiveness of the system. The negative impacts of scarcity are also manifested via escalating despotism and declining democracy. There are several arguments to support this proposition (Finsterbusch 96).
The first argument is that scarcity cancels out the constructive roles of economic integration in fostering integration. Another issue related to the dwindling pie is that the conflict between the elite and poor classes turns into a zero-sum game. This means that one group (the rich) must benefit at the expense of another group (poor masses).
In addition, scarcity alleviates the rationalization for equality (which posits that inequality is a necessary ingredient required to generate economic growth). If economic growth is not feasible due to environmental constrains, then this argument is rendered irrelevant because conflict emerges and widespread inequality is less tolerated (Finsterbusch 97).
The second argument that explains why scarcity reduces integration is based on Ted Gurr’s deprivation theory. This theory postulates that “unless scarcity arrives very slowly to allow for gradual adjustment, scarcity will cause strong feelings of deprivation as reality falls far short of expectations” (Finsterbusch 97). In other words, the theory suggests that mass action and anger induced by deprivation may initially be rerouted away from the political establishments toward rivals or into unsociable or self-destructive actions. Nonetheless, in the long-run, the frustrations of the masses will be aimed at the inequality system and the political class. The demands for radical changes will be prevalent and mass actions will gain legitimacy (Finsterbusch 97).
The third argument is based on the mobilization theory of collective action (developed by Charles Tilly). According to this theory, during hard economic times (characterized by resource scarcity), competition rises and the elite groups benefit a lot by adopting protective measures to safeguard their interests.
The elite groups are thus able to protect themselves since scarcity swiftly wipes out the ability of the government to bestow benefits. During this period of scarcity, the government gradually reacts to mass actions with oppression because it is a cheaper strategy than concession. Consequently, mass action turns out to be a costly affair. Nonetheless, the lack of it (mass action) is likely to become costlier.
Scarcity thus stimulates collective actions as well as prompts the rich people to take preventive measures in order to protect their interests. In addition, the theory employs the cost-benefit logic to postulate that scarcity promotes circumstances that seriously induce revolutionary conflicts especially the waning support for the democratic establishments (Finsterbusch 97).
The fourth argument dwells upon the authenticity dilemma of the democratic establishments during periods of economic turmoil. In some cases, the out-of-favor regimes hold on to power as the masses remain submissive during periods of economic prosperity. Nevertheless, this status quo is likely to fall apart during periods of scarcity as challenging groups emerge.
Reputable democratic regimes normally enjoy some popular acceptance and may endure periods of economic turmoil for a short while. However, in the long run, scarcity wipes out authenticity and makes the once established democratic establishments susceptible to escalating authoritarian movements and unrest similar to those witnessed in the 1930s.
Another connection between scarcity and waning authenticity is the form of regime policies that scarcity demands. They will demand concession. The masses will be forced to incur high costs and devour less in order to adjust to scarcity and safeguard the environment. Such policies will consequently be detested as demonstrated during the 1970s energy crisis when President Carter’s attempt to increase a five percent tax on gas was rejected by the public.
A more probable scenario is that the regime will set up several moderately trouble-free policies that will not address the issue effectively and permit the crisis to worsen further. The inability of the government to deal with the crisis head-on will encourage competitors and compromise its authenticity (Finsterbusch 98).
The fifth argument proposed relates to the fact that scarcity exacerbates all fractures in the society. The dwindling resources aggravate struggles between different groups in the society. According to Kurt Finsterbusch, scarcity intensifies all cleavages and fractures leading to social conflicts within the society.
During this period, generational, regional, educational, gender as well as racial conflicts intensify. Another widespread argument relates to the assumption that scarcity aggravates international conflicts. According to Robert Heilbroner, powerful countries are likely to use their military clout (if needed) to acquire resources from poor and weak countries.
On the other hand, terrorist organizations or poor countries may resort to military actions or terrorize wealthy nations in order to get a share of the world resources (Gurr 52). This may be one of the reasons that explain the uncontrolled spread of nuclear arsenals which could be used to blackmail resource-rich nations (Finsterbusch 98).
The proliferation of nuclear materials (particularly from the former USSR bloc) is increasingly becoming a common phenomenon. Sooner or later, some terrorist organizations will acquire nuclear materials. As of now, some of the terrorist organizations have successfully secured chemical and biological weapons and the outcome has been disastrous. Some experts have predicted that the number of terrorist organizations and their abilities to launch terrorist attacks will increase irrespective of economic growth.
As the problem of resource scarcity escalates, the rich countries will continue to be susceptible to terrorist attacks. The regimes in rich countries will be forced to trample on citizens’ civil rights by raising the abilities of the law enforcement agencies to address the dangers posed by terrorist organizations.
As a result, this pattern is likely to compel the rich and powerful countries (such as the United States, Israel and United Kingdom) adopt an authoritarian regime in order to deal with terrorism. A good example is the enactment of the Patriotic Act which empowers antiterrorism agencies in the United States to deal with terrorism at all costs (Finsterbusch 99).
The Impact of Scarcity on Conflicts and Democracy
There is no doubt that democracy derives its strengths from economic growth. On the other hand, it is threatened by scarcity. It is worthy to note that democracy derives it support from enhanced integration and equality which are some of the desirable effects of economic growth. In addition, economic growth enhances the wellbeing of the educated masses, the middle class and a substantial segment of the population in the society.
Democratic systems normally draw their support from the middle class population which sustains modest politics, diminishes conflicts and counters extremism in general. Moreover, the development of education (a byproduct of economic growth) bolsters intermediary institutions and acceptance of divergent views which are critical aspects in any democratic system.
Economic growth also enables the government to address emerging problems in a democratic manner. However, there is a general perception that scarcity threatens democracy. Several reasons have been suggested to explain this viewpoint. First of all, scarcity wipes out the desirable outcomes of economic growth.
Nevertheless, it is not automatically responsible for generating the opposite effects. For example, scarcity does not contract the middle group. However, it arouses extremism, which is usually opposed by the middle groups (Finsterbusch 99).
Scarcity (especially in its political and psychological forms) has been identified as the main cause of mass killings. Nevertheless, incidences of genocide are not only attributed to resource scarcity. Other causes of mass killings have been identified. They include dominance, conquest, vengeance and ideological principles. In spite of the fact that the pressures and motives for conflicts have been in existence since time immemorial, they are likely to occur in the future.
It appears that the human race has entered into a period in which resource scarcity (given its different types) will gradually play a significant role in precipitating future incidences of genocides. In this framework, scarcity entails dilapidation and exhaustion of natural resources as a result of uneven distribution of resources as well as population growth. It also entails the political and psychological scarcities that contribute to the mass killings (Finsterbusch 143).
Each type of scarcity can play an integral role in precipitating circumstances that stimulate conflict to take place. Examples include allotment of resources along ethnic, religious and racial parameters; conflict over material resources; displacement of population and the resulting conflict between groups; and waning of the authenticity of the regime.
This is accompanied by either an attempt to secede or an escalating totalitarianism regime that attempts to use brutal force to deal with socio-political issues. Novel philosophies (crafted along religious or ethnic context) may also emerge. In worst case scenario, the country may split into different warring groups with none of them able to exert supremacy (a case in point is Somalia). Finally, the conflict (genocide) itself leads to new scarcities that form the basis for future conflicts (Finsterbusch 143).
One way in which scarcity contributes to conflicts such as genocide is when the legality of the government in a democratic society comes under severe criticism. Consequently, the government may opt for an authoritarian system to keep power. This move effectively alienates the minority classes that it has formerly excluded from power.
This exclusion further aggravates the challenge to the ruling elites which the authority responds with brutal force such as mass murders. This illustration perfectly explains factors that led to genocide in ethnically divided democratic countries such as Bosnia and Rwanda. In addition, the ruling elites are likely to face escalating demands from the masses if resource scarcity is prevalent in the society (Finsterbusch 143).
Since the government is unable to address these demands (due to fairness, competence or insufficient resources), the legitimacy of the ruling elite is further eroded. In this circumstance, the ruling elite will oppress individuals (and groups) making the demands as well as distribute the limited resources along ethnic compositions.
This phenomenon is referred to as politics of identity where the ruling elites allocate more resources to those groups that are deemed to be friendly and submissive to the government. The consequence of such a strategy (especially during periods of resource scarcity) is that the government will shift from its initial pattern of prejudice to a policy that promotes adversity and at the worst case, results to destitution.
If the impoverished poses the means to defy, then this hostility will precipitate a new wave of oppression (starting with mass executions) that culminates in genocide (an attempt to get rid of the same group). When these elements (authoritarian regime, uneven distribution of scarce resources and the exclusion of minority from power) come together, the outcome is undoubtedly a fatal one (Finsterbusch 143).
The Social Political and Cultural Changes Required for a Sustainable Society
As noted above, scarcity aggravates conditions that favor both domestic and international conflict. This condition is further worsened by a society that is already polarized along the social, ethnic and political lines.
There are a number of strategies that can be used to prevent conflict. For example, a carrot-and-stick strategy can be implemented by both the government and international institutions to promote political and social change in a society divided by oppressive regime. The need to monitor and introduce sanctions to societies that are vulnerable to conflicts cannot be overemphasized.
For instance, an early warning system can be developed to predict the possibility of conflict arising so that governments and other international organizations can respond on time with appropriate measures. The non-governmental bodies can also be used to exert pressure on regimes to alleviate possible conflicts (Finsterbusch 146).
In addition, conflicts can be alleviated through the establishment and strengthening of international laws. This could be done through the establishment of permanent regional and international tribunals to prosecute and punish those individuals who bear the greatest responsibilities for war crimes. Moreover, there is a need to acknowledge the role of international humanitarian organizations and strengthen their operations through financial and logistical support.
As of now, individual countries (such as the United States) have the ability to intercede in conflict regions. Besides, the United Nations (UN) has the capacity of assembling and dispatching a military force (such as those send to quell conflicts in Somalia and Bosnia) to conflict regions.
However, the most effective solution would be the creation of a permanent military unit that can be swiftly deployed in conflict-infested regions. Nonetheless, this proposal faces a number of setbacks because many countries have not defined conflicts such as genocide as part of the national interest.
Most of the strategies for alleviating conflicts (such as genocides) and scarcities (material, political and psychological) can be very effective if they are implemented. Nonetheless, the deterrence of conflicts is a matter of political will rather than a moral one. Many countries are not willing to make financial contributions or send their troops in conflict-infested regions (Finsterbusch 146).
Finsterbusch, Kurt. Scarcity and Its Social Impacts: Likely Political Responses. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2002. Print.
Gurr, T. Robert. On the Political Consequences of Scarcity and Economic Decline. International Studies Quarterly, 29 (1985): 51-75.