Scarcity: A Driver of Technology, Specialization, and War
Almost all problems in this world can be traced back to the basic problem of scarcity. Scarcity is the basic economic problem. Essentially, scarcity means that there is a limited number of resources available to supply our virtually unlimited demand for goods and services in our society. A finite number of resources is a limiting factor in any economy. Scarcity is also a key driver of technological advancement, specialization, and wars over resources.
Scarcity can cause technological advancement. When certain raw materials become necessary for a high-demand product, technologies will emerge to attempt to meet those demands. The new technologies will either help increase the supply or decrease the demand for a resource. Petroleum is one example where the scarcity helped to create technological advancement. The demand for crude oil paved the way for newer oil exploration techniques and better and more efficient drilling equipment. As demand grew stronger still, and oil prices began to rise, fuel efficiency became a key component of vehicle design. The cars of today, among other things, are significantly more fuel efficient than those of just 30 or 40 years ago. As more countries become industrialized, the increased demand for crude oil will fuel further technological advancements.
Scarcity is a key component for specialization. Because the allocation of resources on this planet is not homogeneous, some countries will have more resources than others. Saudi Arabia for example, has a very large stock of crude oil compared to most other countries. Their large supply, coupled with an extremely large demand, has allowed them to specialize in the area of oil production and export.
Many wars have been fought over the scarcity of resources. When a county becomes dependent on a particular resource that it does not have much of, international tensions can rise. The exporting country may see opportunities to use the resource as a tool to get the importing country to do as they desire. Dependent countries may have little choice when deciding whether to cooperate or not, even if it would go against the values of the country. This could be a major source of unrest for the importing county. Other issues can arise when an exporting country decides to cut production of a resource or is the victim of a major natural disaster. In the case of crude oil, a major cut to production could cripple the united states. Many experts cite gasoline prices as a key index of the health or potential health of our economy.
We live a finite world. Our ever growing population and globalization is only limited by the scarcity of our resources. When lithium to fuel batteries becomes impossible to find, a new technology (and thus resource) will arise to replace it. When a country realizes it is sitting on a vast stockpile of that new and useful resource, it will specialize in its production. And finally, when that resource becomes so precious and vital for our survival, wars will be fought over it. Resource limitations have and will continue to be a force of technological advancement, specialization, and war for the rest of humanity.