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Scarcity (or How the World Can Viewed as a Battle for Resources)

Scarcity (or How the World Can Viewed as a Battle for Resources)

The theme lately – at work and in my head – is scarcity, competition for resources. UA economist Cary Deck talks about it in the context of intercollegiate football, that rivalries, in one sense, can be defined as a battle for the same resources – in this case, recruits, attendance and money.

I find this fascinating. I guess it would an overstatement to say that almost everything can be defined this way, but I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like all behavior and certainly all economic pursuits are driven by a desire for a bigger share of the market, more of what every person, group or state needs (or, sadly, wants).

I learned at a young age – perhaps third-grade science or social studies; I remember the textbook showed a huge shovel scooping coal – that we have only a limited supply of natural resources. I think this was one type of 1970s environmentalism, the idea that scarcity would come later if we did not conserve now. Yet so much of our behavior since then demonstrates otherwise. And my father, who in the ’70s was anything but a liberal man, freaked out when we left the lights on (or wasted water). Didn’t we know electricity was a luxury of the developed world?

Maybe I’m just scared. I’m sure these ideas are rattling around in my head because I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road, which, in my mind, cannot be ignored as one possible version of what lies on the other side of wasting (or fighting to the death for more than our share of) resources.

Years ago, I interviewed a researcher who was studying the economics of arid lands. During our conversation, he said something that chilled me. People in water-rich states like Arkansas don’t know how good they’ve got it, he said. If you don’t know what this means, that’s my point. Or, ask a Californian. But this wasn’t the disturbing part. What bothered me most was his follow-up comment, and I’m paraphrasing here: If you think the fight for oil is bad, wait until we’re fighting for water.

About The Author

Matt McGowan writes about research in the College of Engineering, Sam M. Walton College of Business, School of Law and other areas. He is the editor of Short Talks From the Hill, a podcast of the University of Arkansas. Reach him at 479-575-4246 or

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