Who would have thought to ask that question just two or three years ago? We sing it in school auditoriums, citywide celebrations, and at political events. Who would think someone would object? Act offended? Go to court? What is true about our songs also applies to our stuff. He who decides the how and when of the disposition of our stuff, our songs, us, owns our stuff, songs, or us. If you and I dispose of our stuff as we see fit, we own it. If we permit others the choices, regardless how insignificant they might on the surface appear to be, they own the stuff. It’s easier to keep our stuff and avoid poverty when we own the stuff. When someone else owns our stuff we are at their mercy, their whims, their antagonisms, and their ideologies; regardless of what our own unique needs and wants might be due to our local circumstances. When someone else owns our stuff, poverty cannot be far away.
A Unified Theory of Poverty might read something like this: Waste compounded with haste increases poverty. In the past poverty’s lessons were: Waste not, want not and Haste makes waste. Either maxim separately, uncombined, was known as a recipe for poverty. Combined, the lethargy poverty is known for is transformed into a steep, downhill, pell-mell race to famine and ruin. Living examples are all around us: establishing sure evidence every time waste compounded with haste is tried, it works, without fail. Every time. Always. No exceptions.
By itself, waste is an assumption problem, sometimes with the force of, “We know what we don’t know.” It’s heard in the expressions. “I have plenty to spare.” “It’s all around us for the taking.” “Someone will bail me out.” “The gods are on our side.” Waste is likely to occur when we, whether intentionally or unintentionally, believe such sayings. It’s a result of failure to remember, in time, before it’s too late, all resources are scarce. Consider all the stuff our poor assumptions regarding scarcity place at risk: We know gold and diamonds are scarce. So for each of us are the hours in a day we can work, play, or rest. Employers are scarce. Employees are scarce. Skills and experience are scarce. Good ideas efficiently monetizable to provide more benefit than deficit are scarce. Pennies are scarce. So are passenger planes, oil deposits, dollars and pesos, banks, gas stations, millionaires, more so billionaires…. Whoa. Back up. Pennies are scarce? Yes. There are only so many of them. (Partly because it’s much less strain to carry paper money than pennies.) People are scarce. Trees are scarce. Oxygen and carbon dioxide are scarce. Everything in the universe is scarce. There is just so much and no more. But take encouragement (as scarce as it might be) from this thought. The more people there are, making their own decisions, based on their own local conditions, circumstances, and preferences; the scarcer scarce is scarce.
Haste is a momentum problem. We know we’ve been bit by a momentum problem when later we realize that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, all along, was because we know we should have known that thousand dollars could have been spent on something bigger or better than the cheap thing now sitting in the driveway. In other words, All resources have alternative uses, if we only take a little time to consider we have options. Individually we can control scarcity a little. We can make ourselves more scarce by learning a craft only a few people are good at. But the discovery and implementation of alternative uses for whatever resource we are considering at the moment is almost totally under our own control. Even the most dire of circumstances hold options for those with a presence of mind to stall, take time, and think. The same holds true for those with Matrix quick reflexes, who make time appear to slow to a crawl.
Lately, during the past seven years or so, we’ve been hit by many catastrophes. Most of them we recognized as catastrophes only because someone told us they were catastrophes. When the life threatening circumstances of global warming marked with rising oceans, polar bear extinction and the melting of the polar icecap were brought to our attention we heard, “It’s a catastrophe! We have no alternative! We must kill the coal industry, end the use of all fossil fuels, and go with renewables, only.” The scare tactics raced the momentum of the decision makers to a fevered pitch. The scare tactics were implemented as if anything the government desired was available in unlimited supply, immediately, at little or no inconvenience of cost or practicality. If only we as individuals these past few years could have been the decision makers, taking advantage of our knowledge of local conditions, according to our own personal circumstances and preferences; perhaps enough of us would not have been in such a hurried rush through the portal of poverty’s bottomless pit, enough of us to make a difference for the good of the nation.
Let’s take note. Whenever someone has to tell you, “It’s a catastrophe.” It’s not. All resources are both scarce and possess a host of individual utilities for the user, some of greater and some of lesser value. Some of more benefit now only to be of little benefit later. Some others of little benefit now but of much greater significance, decades later, perhaps. So the sayings are true and useful. Waste not, want not. And, Haste makes waste. Or stated differently, slow down and conserve, if you can, if you still own your own stuff. Good traditional conservative values. Our elected and appointed government officials should try them.
Footnote: Lionel Robbins defined economics as: “The science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” See: Robbin’s Human Behavioural Definition of Economics