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Related: economics - rare - expensive
Scarcity is a central concept in economics. Resources are scarce if any individual would prefer to have more of that good or service than they already have. Most goods and services are scarce - those that are not are known as free goods.
Where goods are scarce it is necessary for society to make choices as to how they are allocated and used. Economists study (among other things) how societies perform the optimal allocation of these resources.
For example, we may all want to own gold jewelery. However, the amount of gold available is limited, so it is necessary to make choices as to how it is allocated. In a market economy, this is achieved by trade. Individuals trade resources between themselves to reallocate resources to where they are most wanted. In a smoothly operating market system, the rate of exchange between different resources, or price will adjust so that demand is equal to supply. One of the roles of the economist is to discover the relationship between demand and supply and develop mechanisms (such as pricing, incentives, or penalties) to achieve an optimal outcome (in terms of consumer welfare) between supply and demand.
"Substantivist" economists and economic anthropologists have argued that "scarcity" is a social construct and not a universal.
Certain intangible goods are likely to remain scarce by definition or by design; examples include awards generated by honours systems, fame, and membership of elites. These things are said to have scarcity value; that is to say, all or most of their value is derived from their scarcity. 
- Georges Bataille's The Accursed Share
- Trade and Market in the Early Empires, edited by K. Polanyi, C. Arensberg, and H. Pearson
- Marshall Sahlins Stone Age Economics
see also Thomas Malthus
- Accursed Share, Vol. 1: Consumption - Georges Bataille [Amazon US]
Bataille, a leading writer in France from the 1930s to his death in 1962, offers here nothing less than a new theory of civilization. Economists usually emphasize scarcity: limited means must be carefully allotted to serve conflicting ends. Bataille dissents: in his view, much more energy lies available than societies can use. The surplus energy must be dissipated; historically, this was accomplished through war and spending on luxuries. Though Bataille's eye for vivid detail is evident, his theory appears more valuable as a framework for his dazzling literary skills than a contribution to knowledge. Probably of greater interest to students of French literature than to economists or historians. David Gordon, Bowling Green St. Univ., Ohio Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Anglo-American readers know Bataille as a novelist. The Accursed Share provides an excellent introduction to Bataille the philosopher. Here he uses his unique economic theory as the basis for an incisive inquiry into the very nature of civilization. Unlike conventional economic models based on notions of scarcity, Bataille's theory develops the concept of excess: a civilization, he argues, reveals its order most clearly in the treatment of its surplus energy. The result is a brilliant blend of ethics, aesthetics, and cultural anthropology that challenges both mainstream economics and ethnology.
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