Scarcity of resources exists in many forms and is the problem in economics. If resources were not scarce, there would be no need to economize. The existence of scarcity is true of all resources (such as time, human energy, and natural resources). However, it is not necessarily intuitive that allowing scarce resources to be owned privately is the solution to this problem.
Consequently, socialism appears attractive to many and they turn to having all resources owned collectively for the ‘common good.’ Unfortunately, a society which spurns private property – and hands resources over to government planners instead – often learns the terrible lessons of central planning and the tragedy of the commons (i.e., commonly held resources will be plundered to extinction).
If society spurns allowing private ownership of resources, it must find some other means to prevent the tragedy of the commons and to allocate goods. Historically, the means chosen is the use of force and central planning. Throughout history, most of mankind has been divided into a hierarchical system of masters and slaves with some gradations between the two extremes. The masters (pharaohs, emperors, kings, sultans, warlords, etc.) devised complex rules-based systems for resource distribution that were decided by a small number of people and not by markets. And ultimately, these plans depended upon pure terror for enforcement. But this so-called solution to the problem of scarcity – restricting the people’s liberty through the use of force – does not work.
This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on NOVEMBER 2, 2015.