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Scarcity is about a perceived mismatch between what is available (supply) and what is desired (demand). You pay more attention to things associated with scarcity, whether it’s scarcity of guesses, friends, time, or income. Scarcity creates a mindset affecting what we notice, how we decide and how we act. A bit of scarcity can be productive: it concentrates the mind. Too little scarcity (i.e., abundance) can lead to procrastination and general slackerdom: why do today when there’s no hurry? Why be upset about a loss when there’s a lot more where that came from? Too much scarcity (e.g., poverty) can lead to short-term thinking, impulsiveness, and tunnel vision. Extreme scarcity taxes our cognitive bandwidth, i.e., executive functions and self-regulatory resources take a real hit. So far, so good. I see the authors’ thesis as applicable to many fields of inquiry, such as how the sense of scarcity foster emotional vulnerability and bad decision-making (whether we’re talking about the mate market or the job market).
On the other hand, the authors overstate their case. They minimize the effect of other factors (especially anxiety and environmental unpredictability) on human behavior, saying things like the scarcity-induced bandwidth tax “explains everything”, referring to the short-term thinking of poor farmers. They indulge in a lot of “rathering” (to use Daniel Dennett’s term), e.g., saying lack of skills is not a problem for poor people; rather, it’s just that scarcity has overtaxed their cognitive bandwidth. Why not both? After all, if scarcity involves a perceived lack of resources and skills are a personal resource, then possession of skills reduces scarcity. The authors’ tunnel vision regarding scarcity makes some of their policy suggestions woefully misguided, e.g., they suggest not focusing on farmer training or new crops to increase farm productivity. Excuse me? In the 1930s, in our own country, poor farmers made tremendous strides in productivity exactly through technical education provided by the Department of Agriculture. And then the authors pooh-pooh interventions to increase self-regulatory strength, saying there’s little evidence supporting the efficacy of such training. Say what? There’s a ton of positive research findings out there, often done by the same researchers the authors use as authoritative sources in other contexts (e.g., Roy Baumeister). Bottom line: I still recommend this book. While the authors exaggerate its importance, the scarcity mindset hypothesis still has lots of explanatory value and is an important consideration when formulating possible solutions to difficult societal problems.
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is a good book and it proceeds from a sound and interesting premise which I enjoyed the first hundred or so times it unfolded before me in this book. Unfortunately if you fold and refold the same piece of paper in the same way countless times eventually the paper memorizes the creases and it begins to wear thin along the crease lines. Likewise Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much works the basic Scarcity equation premise of the book so much that the idea wears thin. There were so many times upon reading a new variation on scarcity where I just wanted to scream at the top of my lungs OK OK OK ENOUGH ALREADY WE GET IT!
The problem with Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is it focuses so completely on its main premise of Scarity that it never connects it to the bigger picture in unique and interesting ways. Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is in many ways too myopic. Great ideas and concepts were summarily abandoned in this book just when a particular course of inquiry fleshing out scarcity beyond the basic. This book had the distrurbing habit of taking my imagination and understanding almost to the point of intellectual rapture only to stall and sputter just moments before reaching the rapture of greater enlightenment. It's almost as if the author's tiny internal editor cut off a subject because; it went ebyond this books tiny little narrow focus.
Don't get me wrong here Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is a book well worth the read because; even with its flaws it makes many valid and interesting points. The problem with Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is all too many of its most interesting ideas were murdered in their cribs before they could be fully developed and thoughtfully explored. So while Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much was a good book it was robbed of being the great book it could have should have and might have been were it not for what I can only suspect was over zealous editting. This book earned 3 stars out of five because; good as the concept is this book could have been so much more.
I have read this book twice and I still don't know what "bandwidth" is. The authors indulge in handwaving and trendy "insightfulness" rather than hard analysis. I was especially repelled by the gratuitous use of "she" when the sex of an antecedent was unclear. The best refutation of this deplorably common pandering is to ask, "why in the world would the sex of your antecedent be unspecified?" That's a minor matter, but serves to indicate the genuflecting toward political correctness that substitutes for thinking in much of this book. Their repeated assertion that the poor are much busier and more "frazzled" than the prosperous is just ridiculous. Most of the poor just don't do enough, they aren't doing too much. In America, they watch too much TV, eat too much and get "loaded". And they're not doing enough of the right things to pull themselves out of poverty. And liberals make excuses for them, such as "Oh, if we could only get them to conserve bandwidth!" In other countries, such as the authors' native India, the poor merely live their culture. But that would not fit the authors' thesis. I gave the book three stars because it highlighted the intractableness of poverty and the bewilderment of the liberal power structure when, with the trillions of dollars thrown at poverty, it still thrives. Their concept of "tunnelling", repeated ad nauseam, is also vague and unhelpful. Isn't this what is called "concentration"? Why is that a bad thing? It's concentrating on the right thing that is profitable. Again, the poor are hypothesized, without proof, as being unable to resist tunnelling, with the result that utterly predictable things, like yearly harvests, come upon them by surprise. This looks like naivete on the part of the authors, but more realistically just illustrates the desperation with which they are searching for a thesis that won't offend. On the positive side, the book does stimulate thinking about the difference between success and failure, poverty and wealth. But not much is said about innate differences, such as IQ, and how these affect success. Charles Murray said it all before and with much more incisiveness.
The authors' basic point seems to be that scarcity of time or money leads to diminished "bandwidth" (ability of the mind to hold information in the forefront of consciousness) and therefore "tunneling," (the intense focus on what is most immediate or important and the neglect of other issues). The authors' tone is engaging with lots of anecdotes and jokes (presumably to appeal to their undergrad students) and their thesis is supported by the usual hit parade of social science research dealing with decision making. It is hard to know how valid a lot of this research really is and whether you are persuaded by the authors will probably depend on your views going in. One of the authors' main points is that some of poverty is a function of reduced ability to concentrate because of the stress of life. But whether this is a major factor is unaddressed. The authors' recommendations that they believe follow from their conclusions are haphazard and leave the reader shrugging his shoulders. The book only takes a couple of hours to read but whether that time was well spent was to me, now having finished the book, unclear.
GOOD: This book was certainly insightful. The similarities between people whose heads are full with not having enough time, and those whose heads are full with not having enough money are linked strongly and convincingly by this discussion. It gives a new angle on pay day loans, an important problem in the modern west. The general theme of the book is reasonably convincing. I really liked reading about some of the experiments that were discussed, which often gave surprising and counter intuitive results. If you want to learn how strongly the scarcity of something important can affect your mind and life this book is a good insight.
BAD: However, despite being a fresh view on an interesting subject I only finished reading it through stubbornness. By the end, every few paragraphs are introduced and concluded with summaries that feel extremely familiar. This book could easily have been 25% shorter and said all the same things. Alternative factors which could explain phenomenon discussed were rarely seen and fairly quickly dismissed, which left me feeling unconvinced when some of the weaker arguments came around. And although the book starts with a promising claim that the psychology of scarcity of all things works in a similar way, the focus was heavily on money and time.
"Sendhil Mullainathan, the 'most interesting young economist in the world', and Eldar Shafir, the 'most brilliant psychologist' of his generation, explain the hidden problem behind everything with Scarcity"
Two young rising / superstars in their field? Yet they bore you with the same 4 studies economists remasticate like cows: the marshmallow experiment (1972), opt in vs opt out of 401ks, everything else in nudge and everything else by Kahneman and Tversky?
Only thing new to me was an interesting finding about how being poor causes lower IQ scores (not vice versa!). That alone is worth the 3 stars to me.
Their central point is underwhelming: Scarcity is important, many things are scarce incl. mental bandwidth and if they are that has bad consequences. Duh. Policy implications or advice for the reader are often crude or anticlimactic.
Universally applicable concepts which everyone can easily relate with. Although, the focal group of people in abject poverty would never learn about this fascinating psychology (perhaps). Also, it is quite hard for me to empathize with the poor without experiencing or closely observing them. That being said, the book does a great job partially bridging the empathy gap. Great insights! The reason for 3 stars is due to the size of the book, which according to me could be reduced by half.
Basically scarcity is a double edged sword. There a few gold nuggets in there but ultimately the authors failed to take a conclusive position on either side. Seemed almost like a combination of previous papers they may have done and new material. Once you understand the premise you could probably get away with reading the last chapter and it would be sufficient.
The book addresses many important issues and offers an original and new angle: scarcity seen as a common denominator in both poverty, failed dieting and poor time management. In brief, the theory is that being short on something has the counterintuitive effect of reducing the ability to acquire it. Plenty of examples are given, and research quoted. The book is worth reading and gives plenty to think about, but it seems repetetive, sometimes points are overstated, sometimes deeper analyses would be of interest.