Thursday, February 10, 2011

I can't have it? Now I want it even more! Getting schooled on the Scarcity Principle

So a week or two ago, I wandered into my son Connor's room, and I noticed he'd scrawled The Scarcity Principle on his chalkboard.

I made a mental note.

Last night, we had the opportunity to chat about random stuff, and I asked him to explain this principle to me.

He had such an interesting, cogent explanation of this principle. And while he was talking, I was wondering why I hadn't heard about this concept before now.

So I did a bit of an unscientific poll.

And no one I asked knew anything about the Scarcity Principle.

For a moment, I was relieved.

And then I did some research.

Apparently this Scarcity Principle is everywhere. And that's what's so amazing - the fact that so few people know what it is, including me, until today.

But we all know what it is, even if we don't know it.

When it comes to economics, the Scarcity Principle boils down to supply and demand.

Sounds simple enough.

According to Investopedia, the Scarcity Principle in terms of supply and demand creates a perceived need that's driven by the limited amount of whatever it is that everyone seems to want.

Perceived is italicized for a reason.

Because, according to the Advertising and Marketing Psychology course on, the psychology behind the Scarcity Principle dovetails with the Pleasure Principle to create a muddy mix of fear, greed and envy. This soup of emotion that surrounds our need for things creates an unsavory menu of supply and demand that's very rigid. Very predictable.

So predictable that this Scarcity Principle is passed along as a sales tool for folks who are actively attempting to affect their bottom line.

According to, "In a perfect world, there would exist equilibrium. Meaning there is exactly the right amount of customer demand for a product or service and exactly the right amount of supply for that same product or service. It is too bad we do not live in a perfect world. But a non-perfect world means opportunity!"


This Scarcity Principle obviously has a broad reach when it comes to driving the economic market when it comes down to generating need by manufacturing it. Which speaks to our collective and apparently highly profitable feeling of lack. Which creates an environment of want. Which drives the need to fill the hole. Which creates the market for stuff.

Replace the Scarcity Principle into a panoply of other contexts, and the result is the same. The more I can't have something, according to the principle, the more I want it.

The Scarcity Principle is the backbone of advertising and marketing (Limited Time Only! Only 100 available!).

It's in how we choose to see ourselves in relation to each other (social envy - "If the Jones family got that new car, then we should have one, too, dang it!). As an article titled Principle of Influence: Scarcity put it, "The pleasure isn't gained from using the resource. It is gained by merely having the resource."

And that resource isn't always necessarily a thing. The Scarcity Principle is applied with frequency in the workplace. It's there in how some people parent their kids. It's how some people navigate their  relationships.

The more I read about this principle, the more I see how it seems to be everywhere.

But the key word there, to me, is seems.

Because, despite the fact that a principle is, by its very definition, a fundamental truth, does that mean we all have to simply accept our fear-, envy-, lack-driven sensibilities?

I don't think so.

Just because this principle seems to be everywhere, manipulating us at every turn, it doesn't mean we have to defer to that manipulation. Despite what seems to be fairly solid evidence that this is an insidious, pervasive principle, I do think we still have the ability to choose, discern, accept, reject.

We're not as powerless as this principle might suggest.

I'm so grateful that Connor is aware of this principle. Because knowledge is power, and even though he might have to bump up against some lemmings as he's swimming upstream, it's good to know he has this knowledge early.

And I'm glad I noticed The Scarcity Principle scrawled on his chalkboard a week or two ago.

My son unknowingly taught me a very valuable lesson.

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