Scarcity and limitedness - again (was: Re: [ox-en] Commons in a taxonomy of goods)
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Thu, 01 Jul 2010 09:37:23 +0200
This is one of the debates which seems to pop up again and again.
However, this debate is important.
Last week (10 days ago) Diego Saravia wrote:
I do not think that changing names and definitions is a usefull way to
criticize, its only a way to confuse argumentations.
In this project we are trying to include scientific methods. What I
learned from (any) science is that you need to have clear concepts and
clear definitions / words for these concepts. That those words neither
always reflect the use of the word of the average human nor that they
reflect the meaning in different scientific branches is normal and
common. The reasons for this is that we have many too few words for
all the concepts we are talking off. However, human language has the
nice opportunity to overload old words with new meanings. This is
especially true if you are introducing a new paradigm - which we
certainly do here.
For example the word "free" you are using all the time is probably one
of the most overloaded words in the world. For instance wars are waged
for freedom - which is probably a different type of freedom you are
Changing the meaning of scarce, commons, etc, will not, by itself,
help the people to understand what is the problem
with liberal economy.
If it were just for the sake of changing meanings I'd be against it.
However, it is for the sake of improving of understanding the world we
are living in and we are trying to help to change. And for this we
need to be specific and need to understand why the "common" meaning is
not enough for the things we are trying to grasp.
scarcity, as normally defined, is the consecuence of natural limits
and social economy production/distribution system
This is a nice example for thinking in the old paradigm. StefanMz' and
my claim is that with the new paradigm we need to challenge this
"wisdom" and to replace it by something which is more suitable.
The fact is that peer production or other production system will not
put a end to scarcity, at least until will find other energy and
Peer production could reduce scarcity, we use could generate a better
distribution system using peer production, but we could not continue a
infinite growth path.
You can call that "limits", ok, but that will not change the fundamental fact.
You can try to change the use of the word scarcity, if you don't like
it, but the facts will continue to be there.
From this I understand that you at least accept that there are two
concepts StefanMz (and I) using different words for. AFAICS you are
not proposing an own word for limitedness so I'll stick with the
different words developed here.
Your claim now is that these concepts are equal and because of this it
doesn't make sense to talk about them separately. That could be a
valid claim but I'll try to explain why IMHO it is misleading at best.
Most of limitedness is due to a certain societal configuration which
*can* be changed by human action. As in StefanMz' example more apples
*can* be produced if they are needed. Or you *can* invest in new
technologies to solve the need for more energy. If you like this is
the field of politics in a post-scarcity world.
Now the concept of scarcity enters the scene. Scarcity describes a
situation where despite better knowledge there *won't* be more apples
- for instance to keep the prices high. There *won't* be new
technlogies for new energy sources such as natural energy sources. And
they won't because the fundamental societal configuration prevents
AFAICS in your understanding you are neglecting this and say this is
all "nature" and thus can not be changed. IMHO this is how the old
paradigm tries to sell things to people. It is always easy to say that
*my* decision is really the will of God.
However, if this would be correct you should really stop fighting for
anything because laws of nature or the will of God can not be changed.
In this case you simply have to accept that millions of humans are
Our claim is that they *can* be changed because they are effects of
human action. Our further claim is that they *won't* be changed as
long as there is scarcity - i.e. the societal configuration prevents
Peer production is clearly part of the new paradigm we are discussing
here. You can see that it *does* change the societal configuration
because today we have high quality products which in several ways
would not have been possible by the old paradigm. And this is not by
chance but because the old paradigm *prevents* such products.
Under scarcity it makes sense to deliver a low-quality product because
next time you can sell another one which may be a little bit better.
Under limitedness such an approach doesn't make sense and that is why
under peer production there is a steady progress to the highest
possible quality. That you have this quality not from the start is an
effect of limitedness but not of scarcity.
So still to me it makes much sense to distinguish scarcity and
limitedness - especially in this discussion. If you have a better word
for scarcity then you are free to propose it. Until then I'll stick
with the current meaning developed here and hopefully I was able to
explain why distinguishing these concepts is fundamental for
understanding peer production.