The Public Interest

Is scarcity dead?

Kenneth E. Boulding

Fall 1966

Economics is first and foremost the science of scarcity. Its problems only arise if there is not enough to go around. This is why it is a dismal science. Now, there is a fundamental conflict, which has gone on through almost all of recorded history, between the heroic and the economic, between greatness and prudence, between extravagance and sobriety, between glory and common sense. Economics is the good, gray, rational science. After the charge of the Light Brigade, economics asks the reason why. Byronic frenzy may inspire us to say, “Let joy be unconfined”; the economist says, “you’ll have to pay for this tomorrow.” Even when St. Francis urges us to give and not to count the cost, the economist says that somebody has to count the cost; and when someone wants a Great Society, the economist asks, “Who is going to pay for it?” It is no wonder that the economist is not very popular.

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