top of page

Scarcity and value

We live in a culture which values things that are rare.

With most of the western world operating in a free market system, it's no wonder that scarcity and value are so closely linked in our minds. It's a fundamental economic principle that when supply exceeds demand for a good or service, prices fall. When demand exceeds supply, prices tend to rise. If something is rare, it is typically hard to obtain, and therefore people who want that thing will have to compete harder with each other to get it, and this competition drives up the price for it. If it is easily available, there will be more of it in circulation, and people don't have to compete as hard for it - therefore we aren't willing to pay more for it.

The link between scarcity and value is deeply rooted in our culture. In economic terms this makes a lot of sense:

  • Gold is rare, and therefore has very high economic value.

  • A house on the beachfront in Clifton is rare, and therefore has very high economic value.

  • Bluefin tuna is rare, and therefore has very high economic value.

The list goes on...

These principles of supply and demand very quickly spill over to the economic value we place on the status associated with scarce positions in our society:

  • It's rare to be a rock star.

  • It's rare to be an influencer.

  • It's rare to be the CEO of a major multinational company.

Again the list goes on...

There's nothing wrong with any of these rare items or positions in our society - we need them. But, and there is a big but here, economic value is not the only lense through which we view the world, and we need to be careful of conflating that which is rare with that which is valuable in every domain of our lives:

  • Being a supportive partner isn't rare.

  • A beautiful tree in the forest isn't rare.

  • Being a supportive friend isn't rare.

  • A colourful sunrise isn't rare.

  • Being an average, but consistent runner isn't rare.

  • A friendly dog isn't rare.

  • Being a caring mother isn't rare.

  • Snuggling with your partner to watch a good movie isn't rare.

  • Being a loving son isn't rare.

  • Listening to a beautiful song isn't rare.

  • Being a great colleague isn't rare.

It's up to every one of us to set our own values compass in order to navigate the world. When you're grappling with rank ordering the things you value in life, be cautious of overvaluing that which is rare, as compared with that which nourishes your soul, gives you a sense of meaning and purpose, and makes the world a little bit better than before.


Subscribe to my blog posts
bottom of page