Very Short Book Review: “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much”
This is part 1 of a 10 part series, exploring five books designed to change liberal minds and five to change conservative minds. I’ve decided to read all ten, in alternating fashion.
The first book in this series is called “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much”.
This book, being on the liberal side of the spectrum, was not much of a stretch for me. It uses the common format of loosely intertwined case studies and social experiments to paint a larger picture of the lesson it is trying to teach. That lesson is simply that scarcity itself changes the way the brain works and has profound implications on the credit and blame we assign to different people in society for their triumphs or problems.
The simplest example is if you take the exact same person and have them perform an IQ test (or any other mental exercise) once while they are flush with money and once while money is scarce, they will perform measurably worse under the scarcity condition.
The macro point of the book is something I’ve only become aware of in the last several years but seems lost on many people from the right side of the political spectrum: poverty itself causes people to be less productive and not the other way around.
Poverty puts people in situations where so much of their energy must be spent just keeping the lights on that whatever is left over can scarcely compete with the almost entirely discretionary energy of the more comfortable classes. A child from a rich family gets home from school and can decide exactly when to do their homework and what other activities they might want to undertake in order to get further ahead of their peers. A child from a poor family might need to cook for their siblings because their parents are at their second jobs, do hours of chores to keep the house in order, or even take on a paying job themselves. If they have any energy left over after that, maybe then they can think about homework.
We love to make examples out of the tiny percentage of people who pull themselves out of poverty because of their hard work, incredible intellect, or athletic prowess, but in doing so, we fail to properly appreciate the injustice of how tilted the playing field is from birth. If we are ever going to live up to the promise of every person being created equal, we need to appreciate — and hopefully correct for — all of the hidden ways that society is not actually equal at all.
I enjoyed this book and recommend it for people who are interested in appreciating the pervasive societal forces that push people upwards and downwards in the world.