The Politics of Scarcity

It’s time for all of us across America to have a real conversation about how the fear of not having enough is affecting us

By Diane Smith

Over two years ago, I wrote about what I called then the Politics of Scarcity. I said at that time, “For most of our history, American leadership operated under the assumption that we had pretty abundant resources – food, water, energy, money, and military might to name a few. We could, therefore, take care of ourselves as well as a fair share of the world. Our foreign policies reflected this belief. We funded and policed countries around the globe. At the same time, our domestic policies funded just about everybody’s pet causes (that’s why legislation so often grew to 1000-plus pages). Our belief that we had enough in the way of respect, resources, and potential softened the edges of any bad decision we might make.”

At that time, I also observed that “scarcity” was still a relatively new phenomenon and, therefore, it was hard to say what our adaptation might look like.

Well now we know. It looks like Donald Trump railing against immigrants, Bernie Sanders calling for government expansion to regulate private sector activity in heretofore unpopular ways, and our European allies struggling with refugees.

Who among us hasn’t heard recently, “We can’t afford to be the world’s policeman … we can’t afford these immigrants, send them home… we should heavily tax the 1 percent to pay for universal college access, Social Security, health care, etc.”?

Before the tides of chaos overwhelm us, maybe it’s time for all of us across America to have a real conversation about how the fear of not having enough is affecting us. Our religious, civic, and business leaders would be doing us all a favor by helping us to figure it out. Because until we do, it’s unlikely that we will be our best selves – giving, not greedy; hopeful, not hostile; grateful, not fearful. We are going to need our best selves in the coming years. Not because we can’t be happy and prosper in this new era, we can, but because we’re not going to run out of controversies like refugees, immigrants, healthcare, social security, and college costs anytime soon. And, whatever solutions we seek will benefit from a sense of surefooted wisdom and calm. Indeed, surefooted wisdom and calm, as tough as they might be to come by, may be our greatest strengths in a time of scarcity.

Learn more about Diane by following her column here or visit American Rural at AmericanRural.org.

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