On Finite Resources – Religion and Politics

I have to acknowledge that my perspective on the concept of “finite resources” has changed somewhat over the course of time.

I have pretty much always accepted that “complex” resources are finite.

Take as an example the car. As technology has made it possible to make cars faster, while at the same time, making them more energy efficient, the unfailing reality is that cars have become ever more complex.

Yes, it is possible to make a comparatively simple car, but truthfully, even what one would consider a pretty simple vehicle would be a labor of at a bare minimum days for even pretty mechanically and technically astute folks.

For those of us not so well trained in things mechanical or technical (one, the other, or both), it would be substantially longer, and there would probably be as much chance of failure as of success.

In case you don’t have a vehicle of your own, think public transportation.

Frankly though, even if your most advanced mode of transportation is a bicycle, the level of technology required to create it is pretty astonishing.

I think that, if a person questions that such resources are finite, they’re just not paying good attention!

The kind of thing I used to have problems with though is, “Just how finite is a sandwich, a piece of land, or a pile of dirt?”

Let me take each of these in turn, and explain why they’re more limited than you might initially assume.

It’s easy to forget that most sandwiches are made of a variety of components and that those components must typically be grown to maturity and harvested in some way. Then after time has been taken to do the “growing,” they must be processed in some fashion,  and then distributed to places where people can acquire them for use in their meals.

Some things take less tending—tomatoes are technically weeds, but even they have been “refined” to make them bigger and “beefier.” Other things are far more complex to deal with; cows come to mind here.

Wheat or other grains must be grown and harvested to be available for use in breads.

It is true there are other materials used to make sandwiches. It is also true that they generally take every bit as much work to produce as the more “garden variety” components.

The people who take the time and effort to produce such items, do so at varying levels of personal sacrifice. The reason? Those people expect to profit from their labor. I’m pretty sure most folks would not argue that being a reasonable thing. Therein though, lies the “rub” that accounts for the “finite-ness” of pretty much all resources.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that if there are more people vying for land, it’s going to be  harder to get what one wants where parcels of earth are concerned.

It’s a little harder though, to come to the realization that even rocks and dirt are scarce resources.

Where it’s true that you can go out into your own yard—assuming you have one—and dig up dirt and rocks. In doing so though, you reduce the amount of dirt and rocks available to you in future endeavors.

You can, if you wish, find a place where dirt and rocks are plentiful, and seek to gather that which you desire in that locale. Even so, you must take the time and effort to acquire the resources in question.

You may like it or not, but each of us has a limited number of heartbeats. We will only live so many hours, days and years.

Because this is the case, what we are able to gather of our own labor is, again like it or not, limited.

In short, almost everybody counts on others to do the work of providing things they need or want. And where we don’t think a lot about it, we actually count on a good many people to reap or otherwise produce for us a great variety of things. The baker makes us bread and cakes. The butcher, meat and poultry.

The car manufacture, cars and busses. The builder, houses and workplace buildings.

Even for your flower garden, you don’t necessarily assume the dirt found in your yard, nor even your planter box or flower bed is going to be overly suitable for the growing of blooms.

Instead, you go to the store and get potting soil, fertilizer and other similar products in order to do your growing.

Yes, even dirt is a finite resource (one might even argue, a scarce resource).

And its scarcity is not just a matter of how much of it exists, but how much work we or others are willing to do to make it available for use or consumption.

That realization falling into place for me, made me understand what people (particularly economists) meant by the concept of “scarce resources.”

It isn’t just, “How much of this is there out there?” Somebody must dig the dirt! Somebody must make the bread—and he or she counts on myriad others for producing (one way or another) the “raw materials” for his or her “final product.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is meant by “scarce resources.” They’re not saying, “If you’re willing to do the work, you can’t come up with your very own pile of dirt or loaf of bread.” Rather, they’re saying, “You have a limited number of breaths, you can spend it gather dirt, making bread, or doing some other thing or things that you consider more significant in your little world.”

The final point? If you want to spend your time doing what is important to you, there must be others around you doing that which they consider important, but you consider sufficiently trivial to not do.

This simple fact, it can be argued, makes resources scarce.

So, if you ever hear an economist talk about scarce resources, and the fact that scarcity results in increased value, maybe now you’ll see why they say that.

Okay, out of time and words. As usual, thank for reading and may your time be good.

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