You did never know by observing our fellow man, that many of our ambitions and hidden motives are often driven by scarcity. It can summed up in a single sentence: we want more of what’s less, and less of what’s plenty. It’s not merely a game of economics or numbers. Scarcity, of which most is the result of deliberate man-made manipulation, allows for a subtle adjustment to social behaviour, much in the same way a ventriloquist controls the movement of a dummy’s mouth. The playbook of scarcity extends even to our perception of careers, romantic evaluations and price gouging.
Perhaps the simplest and most well-known attempt at deliberate scarcity is the diamond monopoly by De Beers. Diamonds are uncommon, but unlike precious metals, rarely face high demands and can be found in sufficient quantities. De Beers through an exceedingly successful advertising campaign and their artificial control over how many diamonds were sold yearly, created and imprinted upon most people two false associations with diamonds: In addition to be being very rare and worth every dollar you spend, they are also symbolic of love and a compulsory accessory in a proposal. In one particular advertisement, it was even suggested that spending a month’s salary on a diamond ring was a an optimal strategy to placate a woman.
Yet, if you tried to sell your diamond ring back, as most would already know, stores have no interest in buying them. From an economic point of view, diamonds are worthless, much in the same sense that chocolates and roses are absurdly expensive (because people are buying them in mass) only on Valentine’s Day. Still, these associations have clearly stuck. Whether it’s the modern movie or TV drama, some kind of love is all too often linked to the necessary purchase of diamonds of some kind. By generating a sense of limited diamond supply, De Beers’ monopoly allowed them to build a credible sense of scarcity so that it felt legitimately OK to splurge on a thing of little value.
But there are more serious issues at work with scarcity. As a fallout from China’s one child policy which saw many daughters aborted, drowned or abandoned, there are now disproportionally more men than women. This demographic advantage has empowered women: they can afford to be picky, to choose money over love and don’t have to worry about being unmarried. In an interview with a 34-year-old Chinese marketing executive, she said that when she caught her husband having an affair, she immediately divorced him without hesitation. Her explanation was simple: even though she was getting older and had an 8-year-old child, there were so many men that she knew it would be easy to get married again.
What if men became few and far between? The reverse would be true: women will compete with each other, hold each other to some levels of distrust, are more likely to marry earlier and only consider divorce as a very last option. In short, what seems like rational and normal thought processes, are all an indirect and very subtle influence of scarcity. A simple gender disparity is enough to alter the methods, motivation and thoughts behind a population. It’s surprising (or maybe not) that scarcity can turn otherwise great friendships into strict competitions and transform honest manoeuvers into sly deception.
And of course, deliberate scarcity is needed even in education and college entries. The number of applicants who can be allowed into prestigious programmes must be artificially controlled to give a sense of value. The intake of doctors and lawyers is purposefully, for better or for worse, carefully moderated by their corresponding agencies so as to preserve a careful limit on quality as well as quantity. It wouldn’t do to have too many people successfully become doctors even though it’s possible to accommodate them. And so, many gated man-made obstacles are present: the bell curve allows fine tuning of only the best, and various interviews and placement tests help thin out the lean from the slim even further. And so we will complain about the limited candidacy options, but still remain unhappy if there too many practitioners. There’s rarely any middle ground to be had.
However, though scarcity can be applied (and manipulated) on a very broad level, there’s a huge functional difference for the individual. For those who have found their significant half, scarcity may simply be the unique composition of the person who means so much to them. Are there other people out there who are more beautiful, intelligent or successful? Of course. The basis for comparisons are endless, but because of either memories, history or emotional attachments, this in itself creates scarcity for that individual – no one else comes close. This person’s signature presence provides a deep emotional comfort and warm human tenderness that hits all the right notes. Individual scarcity then can simply be seeing someone for who they are and placing value on characteristics others may not find as desirable.
Finally, scarcity can only mean so much to certain people. For those who never intend to be lawyers, the limited entries to be a barrister is no impediment. And for those who build a different relationship, item scarcity is not about a diamond ring but whatever in itself that has the deepest significance to them. It may be a rock, a book or even a pen. Scarcity is a powerful overriding psychological effect that finds its mark in everything we do.
So have you thought about (HYTA) how scarcity affects you?