The Venus Project Has an Unrealistic View of the Human Response to Scarcity

by Glen Wallace

by Glen Wallace

I think Jacque Fresco of the Venus Project is oversimplifying the principle of scarcity and how that relates to how humans value any given good or services.  People don’t, wont and wouldn’t act in a way that would fit in so neatly into his idea of how people respond to an abundance of any material good.  When some thing that is needed or wanted by the public becomes abundant, there is always some subset of the population that wants that abundant thing in an improved form that is not so abundant.  People often are not satisfied with some thing being merely adequate in a utilitarian sense.  It varies with the product as to how satisfied the general population of consumers tends to be with some product being merely adequate to getting a job done.

It is not difficult to find examples for demonstrating how the principle of dissatisfaction with adequate works and comes into play in everyday consumerist life.  In fact, the difficult part is in finding examples of products where satisfaction with adequate is nearly universal.  Instead, just look at any group of consumers in any category of shopping and you discover a plethora of varying desires and ideas for what they are looking for in a product beyond merely getting the job done.

For a first example, think of any of the house shopping and house remodeling reality TV shows.  If you watch one of those shows, it wont take long to find either the potential buyer or seller or often both complaining about how a perfectly functional kitchen is outdated.  I watch such shows and I wonder to myself what are they complaining about as the kitchen usually looks perfectly fine to me.   And usually such kitchens are indeed perfectly functional but merely the style is no longer in vogue.  So in they come with all their drills, saws, pry bars and hammers and start ripping the thing apart, expending all sorts of human labor and money and time to get right back where they started from functional point of view.

And even for a product where a large majority of the population is satisfied with merely getting the job done, there usually is going to be some subset of connoisseurs that are unsatisfied with adequate and still want something special in the product.  An example there would be the ordinary CD player that has become so ubiquitous that you can find them built into the cheapest boom box and still sound pretty good.  Nonetheless, audiophiles insist that the sound of CD players can be significantly improved through circuitry and better DAC chips.  As a result a demand quickly emerged in the audio market sufficient for a great number of manufacturers building and selling boutique CD players for prices ranging from hundreds of dollars for a single unit to many thousands of dollars.  The demand for a product and a scarcity of the higher end product emerged despite a dearth of scarcity of the adequate, lower end product.

But from my understanding of Jacque Fresco, he seems to be claiming that people wouldn’t do in his vision of the ideal Venus Project world what people are indeed already are doing time and time again here in today’s everyday world.   Even if something is not scarce, people will continue to desire that same something in a deluxe form that some of those people believe is a better form, but is scarce in that deluxe form.  All this demonstrates two of my main concerns with the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist movement — First, there seems to be disconnect with the reality of everyday world and how people behave in this world and how they would behave in the worlds envisioned by those movements.  The people behind those movements seems to have become so fanciful in their ideas that they never seem to come up with a starting point in today’s world where the first ‘baby steps’ are taken that would move society towards their utopia and what those first steps would and should be.  The second concern is with the possibility that people might be told, by the powers that be in a Venus Project that has come to fruition, what they, the citizens, want or should want in terms of products.  Would the Venus Project political powers make it illegal to buy and sell scarce, hand crafted objects?

OK, now were delving into the area of where it might sound like I’m supporting the ideas of Hayek in his book ‘The Road to Serfdom’ — but I’m not, at least I am not a universal supporter of the so-called free market system of economics.   Indeed, I think a great deal of government intervention is needed to create an environment where smaller entrepreneurs are on a more even competitive plane with the larger corporations.   It is these smaller crafts people that improve the merely adequate product, that have a more difficult time absorbing many of the costs of doing business compared with the giant corporation.   So with government intervening to redistribute the wealth of the big business towards the small business, the freedom of both the budding entrepreneurs ability to bootstrap and start a small business and the shopping consumers ability to choose from a greater variety of products, is increased.  With Hayek’s brand of laissez faire economics, the economics of scale present inherent advantages to the large conglomerates that lead to monopolies and trusts that decrease the choices of the consumer, the worker and the budding entrepreneur.

Advertisements