Ask anybody who has been unemployed for a year or is now homeless whether his universe seems to have been intelligently designed and whether scarcity is the root of all evil. Money? If it’s evil at all, it’s more the lack and scarcity of it, not the having.

In any case, money is not the root, because evil existed before money ever did. But scarcity? It’s the eternal troublemaker, whether it’s money or something else in short supply.

For Adam and Eve, the combination of forbidden apple and a scarcity of time free from divine surveillance, i.e., none, spelled their doom.

Despite the appearance of having been created through “intelligent design”,  Adam and Eve’s limited intelligence—in both the IQ and spy-intel sense—may have been a contributing factor to their Fall.

As for the intelligence of the primal pair’s descendants, critics of “Intelligent Design” gleefully maintain that belief in it is among the strongest evidence against it.

Now, eons later, scarce jobs mean scarce money, which means scarce means of subsistence and scarcely a moment’s rest from financial plagues of all sorts.

Given that we seem to be doomed and destined to live with scarcity, it seems fair enough to ask why.

In particular, does scarcity—of jobs, workers, habitable planets, available singles to date, or anything else—exist by design, by accident (as bad luck, or even, perversely, good luck) or by definition of something important?

(Un)Intelligent Design vs. Control

Recruiters and job markets seem—like all the gods that have historically and mythically been believed to operate—to work from design: in the case of recruiters, there are designed company-candidate interfaces, designed screening procedures, target goals and a host of other professional designs that make it all work and work reasonably well, as an everyday example of “intelligent design”.

The free market in which they operate is also presumably the result of ideological, political, entrepreneurial and other economic intelligent design, if not smart control.

(Notice how “Intelligent Design” and “Intelligent Control”, as aspects of the universe and the workplace alike, are not the same, with neither guaranteeing the other.

“Deism”, the Age of Enlightenment view that God designed, but does not control the universe, is a clear illustration of that difference and a precursor of modern “fire-and-forget” missile technology.)

As I pondered these economic designs and the much bigger question of Cosmic Design, a.k.a. “Intelligent Design”, I noticed how scarcity (as cause and/or consequence of design) has been an intriguing component incorporated into the design of the universe, the design of a typical recruiter’s job and of the economy.

The Mystery of Scarcity

That made me wonder, with respect to both the universe and (workplace) economics

  • Why scarcity exists
  • Whether it must exist
  • Whether it is a “good thing”, or worse
  • Whether and when it exists as a design feature
  • Whether “intelligent design” is always a consequence of scarcity or anticipation of it
  • Whether scarcity reflects smart, dumb, ignorant, informed, benevolent, nasty or neutral design
  • Whether scarcity exists because of, or in spite of design

The recruiting industry indeed exists because of scarcity, e.g., of easily accessible talent, information channels and other resources. Even when and where jobs and job applicants aren’t scarce, the channels of communication connecting them would be sparse, if not beefed up by the likes of recruiters and their advertising.

On top of that, the perpetual scarcity of dollars as a resource necessitates salary negotiations, again, facilitated by recruiters. When industry-specific talent is scarce, recruiters can be indispensable. Recruiting clearly thrives on and despite relative scarcity, as well as on correlated relative abundance, e.g., currently, of a surplus of job seekers.

To grasp the economic and workplace role of scarcity, let’s work from the very top of the Great Chain of Being toward the bottom, from god-to-job, so to speak, in analyzing scarcity that exists because of or in spite of design: Start with the universe itself.

Intelligent Scarcity: A Top-Down Analysis

Imagine that the universe is, as some claim, the product of “intelligent design”. Ideally, this would be “perfectly intelligent” rather than “somewhat intelligent design” or “marginally intelligent design”.

From the standpoint of human self-interest, it would hardly be comforting to think that the cosmic design might be seriously flawed, or worse, inimical to our interests.

Imagine being homeless and living in a badly designed old Ford Pinto you also drive, whose gas tank is prone to rupturing and exploding. Is scarcity, like that tank’s weakness, a design flaw?

What about the economy and job markets: How intelligently have these been designed?

Even less comforting is the possibility that while supremely intelligent, the design might also be supremely evil in form and motivation, as the design of chocolate cigarettes for children was (as bait to hook them on the real, much worse, much more evil thing later).

Some of capitalism’s most vocal critics argue along such lines: Capitalism may be brilliant in its ideas about how to deal with economic scarcity, but evil in their execution. (Ditto for some of communism’s critics.)

Is scarcity itself such a cigarette—designed against our interests? The point is that “Intelligent Design” is no guarantee of “Benevolent Design” (or vice versa) of economies, businesses or universes.  

What’s more, “Intelligent Design” in human terms almost always (intelligent art aside) seems to be created as a consequence of scarcity or in anticipation of it.

If the universe exemplifies intelligent design, is it therefore a whimsical, uplifting or instructive work of art, or a practical instrument to meet an unmet need for which there was, at the dawn of creation, a scarcity of satisfactions?

Certainly, in earthly business and economics, intelligent design is, it seems, generally, if not always, motivated by scarcity, even if only of time and energy.

“Brilliant Scarcity”: A Hard Sell

Somehow, the “brilliance of scarcity” idea is a hard sell: If the universe is the product of “intelligent design”, one has to wonder why a design brilliant enough to feature what may prove to be infinite space, time and resources (however far-flung) would nonetheless also be characterized by relative and localized scarcity.

Why, for example, is there a scarcity of nearby habitable planets, food, water, medical care, eligible singles in the neighborhood, perfect job applicants and jobs?

Or is relative scarcity, e.g., of jobs, nonetheless and somehow, in the overall scheme of things, “a good thing”?

Zero scarcity means infinite abundance. But creating infinite anything, including jobs within the “growth without limits” model, is the truly hard part, as is creating infinite space and time.

On the other hand, once they are created, filling both space and time should be a cinch for a brilliant designer, as should the creation of jobs or the prevention of relative, localized scarcity of food in famine-stricken countries.

Perhaps the real problem in many cases, e.g., famine relief, is not scarcity, but abundance—an oversupply of corrupt government officials who exacerbate natural shortages or create, by design, artificial scarcity, by siphoning off the funds and food for their own gain.

On the other hand, this can be interpreted as a scarcity of honest men and women.

As for the bigger picture—the universe, maybe filling in the universe is as bad a design idea as filling in all the space in a Japanese bonsai garden with individual plants crammed too close together for the available scarce resources, such as water, light and soil.

Perhaps relative local scarcity or rarity (which are different only from the perspective of our needs) embodies some very deep wisdom (based on other or more universal, equally deeply wise scarcity).

Cosmic Abundance and Local Job Scarcity

On the cosmic, political and job-market scales, scarcity indeed seems to be mostly local and relative.

Habitable planets we could occupy in an emergency are estimated to be plentiful, but just not anywhere near us; relief supplies quickly piled up in post-earthquake Haiti, but were not distributed; there are jobs to fill, but not enough applicants geographically close enough to take them.

Logically, it stands to reason that if the universe is in fact infinite in at least space and time, the resources, e.g., jobs, money and recruiters, we see distributed throughout the observable bits should be similarly and brilliantly distributed everywhere, in the absence of some compelling reason to think otherwise.

The unequal and uneven distribution (and resulting appearance of relative scarcity) we in fact observe may be due to a natural concentration of matter at the center or at the “edge” of the Big Bang or the Cosmic Designer’s distaste for the ugliness, gravitational risks or ecological inadvisability of greater densities.

Still, cosmically, it seems odd that a universe could be designed such that there is local scarcity of everything except of space and time—neither of which is scarce absolutely nor relatively, since for every space, place and second there is another one infinitesimally close to it.

If we can explain why, despite cosmic abundance, local and relative scarcity exists or is “justified” (i.e., necessary) at all, perhaps we can better understand why there is ever scarcity in our job markets.

To understand economic scarcity,  perhaps we need to gaze at the heavens (instead of our navels).

So what does the coexistence of cosmic abundance with local scarcity tell us about the role of scarcity in recruiting?

A Cost-Benefit Perspective on Scarcity

Scarcity of jobs, applicants, communications channels, etc., may, like the local scarcity of habitable planets (that could, if closer, lead to inter-planetary wars,  spread of modern pop culture throughout the universe, gravitation-induced collisions, etc.) be a good or necessary thing.

Like bonsai plants that need some space between them to thrive, the distance between, or other causes of the scarcity of job applicants and jobs, may be the consequence of a very good thing, e.g., social and physical mobility of job seekers in a free society.

So when bemoaning how difficult it is to fill a job locally, bear in mind the positive reason and design rationale for that: freedom—especially freedom of movement and residence, as well as freedom of career choice, in a free society. The price of freedom may be scarcity.

As for job seekers, when bewailing the scarcity of jobs, they should factor in—however reluctantly—the fact that our collective appetite for cheap manufactured goods (along with the corporate desire for higher profits) has contributed to a local imbalance in the form of abundant goods and scarce jobs.

That is the horrible irony the unemployed and underemployed now face: an abundance of goods and a scarcity of the dollars needed to buy them, or even to pay for the necessities of life, irrespective of where they have been produced.

Hence, scarcity is often the price of abundance. The fact that an over-abundance of workers carries a scarcity of jobs as its price is an additional illustration of this correlation—in this case, correlation-by-definition of “supply” and “demand”.  By definition, and except for perfect balance of these, an excess of one means a shortage (relative scarcity) of the other.

That is a relationship, that by definition, cannot be removed by any design, however intelligent.

An Intelligently Designed Evil Argument for Scarcity?

Assuming (which I personally do not), as some do, that the universe was designed just for the benefit of us humans, far from being a sign of a flawed or malicious design, scarcity may in fact be an essential human-friendly feature of the universe and any sub-system of it, such as our economy, that has supply and demand features.

For, the argument goes, if supply and demand were always and everywhere in perfect balance, with no scarcity, where would the incentives for improvement come from? If every job seeker and company faced no challenge in the recruiting process, wouldn’t both sides become complacent?

Employers would have fewer or even no incentives to improve conditions and compensation; job applicants would be less motivated to upgrade their skills.

Whatever “improvement” that occurred would be mostly attributable to corrections of bad judgment, as at least two employees and two companies, disappointed by their initial choices, decide to “trade up” for a new job and job-holder.

Analogously and, from the genetic evolutionary standpoint, some (Social) Darwinists might argue that if every male is guaranteed a female mate, how could animal species “improve”? (The “best” mating with the “best” and the “worst” with the “worst” would not guarantee changes in their respective ratios or traits, as groups.)

Hence, the argument goes, scarcity and imbalance, if not outright inequality, exist for our collective, if not individual, benefit. Such scarcity, if designed, appears to be not only intelligent, but also brilliant.

Conclusion: Scarcity is a precondition of excellence and evidence of brilliant cosmic design in its pursuit.

For better or worse, there is no shortage of arguments like this last one. If this is indeed an evil line of reasoning, its root is anything but a scarcity of adherents.

So, all things considered, is scarcity the root of all evil?

If I had to bet, it might be smarter to put my money on money as the root…

….regardless of whether I was intelligently designed to do so, or not.

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