Scarcity versus Abundance

Nathan Richardson

Economics can sometimes be a hard term to define; it’s a field of study with blurry boundaries. This is in part “because it possesses many of the overt features of the natural sciences, while its object consists of social phenomena.”1It is like a natural science in that modern economists try to describe patterns with abstract “laws” of economics. But it is also a social study in that it deals largely with people’s decisions about exchanging goods and services.

When Gonzo asks his partner to stop eating the apples they’re trying to sell, Rizzo the rat replies, “I’m creating scarcity—drives the prices up!

When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he covered four main areas of economics. The working definition of economics has been based on his approach for a long time: “aspects of the production, exchange, distribution, and consumption of commodities.”1 Of course, many of those words require further definition, but it’s a pretty intuitive and sensible place to start.

There Can Only be One!

Nowadays, however, there’s another ingredient to economics that seems to be assumed by most people. In my high school economics class, our teacher taught us that there is one basic premise that we had to know in order to understand modern economics: scarcity. This idea has been considered fundamental at least since the 1930s, when Lionel Robbins gave a new definition of economics: “the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between given ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.”2

This definition is the most widely used today, and it assumes that “people have unlimited wants but resources are limited,” and thus there will never be enough resources to meet all the wants that people have.3 With all the material desires you might have, there are not enough material goods to satisfy them all while also satisfying all the material desires of every other person in the world.

That is probably a useful assumption for most economic pursuits, but is it possible to take this definition too far? Is there anything in the gospel that might cause us to question this assumption?


Note that scarcity refers to wants, not just needs. The gospel might provide one answer to the problem of scarcity by teaching us unselfishness. That is, if we were humble and selfless and didn’t focus on our wants, but rather only required that we meet our genuine material needs, then scarcity wouldn’t be a problem. It wouldn’t matter that there weren’t enough resources to meet our wants, because people would be OK with just meeting their needs. Scarcity might be a fact, but not a problem.

This resolution, however, does not question the accuracy of the scarcity premise; it merely responds to it with a solution. It continues to assume that we cannot satisfy all our wants, and so we deal with that through self-abnegation. However, there might be cause to question whether scarcity is an indelible reality.

Needs, but Also Wants

Consider the following verses, for example:

And they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants. (Mosiah 18:29)

If there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants. (D&C 42:33)

Let my servant Edward Partridge [the presiding bishop] … appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs. … Let the bishop appoint a storehouse unto this church; and let all things both in money and in meat, which are more than is needful for the wants of this people, be kept in the hands of the bishop. (D&C 51:3, 13)

Nevertheless, inasmuch as they receive more than is needful for their necessities and their wants, it shall be given into my storehouse. (D&C 70:7)

You are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just. (D&C 82:17)

These verses all seem to imply that through obedience, the Lord is prepared to meet not only our needs, but also our wants.

One objection needs to be addressed right off: the definition of wants as used in the scriptures. Nowadays, want usually means desire, as in wish, crave, or demand.4 Thus, want is frequently contrasted with need in contemporary speech.

But in the time period that the Book of Mormon was translated and the Doctrine and Covenants was received, want simply meant lack, as in deficiency or “absence of that which is necessary or useful.”5 Thus, want was virtually synonymous with need. So the Lord might have been saying, “They did impart to one another according to their needs and their [lacks].”

This might be the case for some of these passages, but other seem to indicate that the Lord meant desires, in the modern sense. In the last passage, D&C 82:7, it doesn’t make sense (at least to me) to require that our “wants are just” if it refers to what we lack. How can a lack of something be just? In fact, if it were just for me to lack something, why would the Lord promise to fill that absence? In at least this case, he seems to be saying that he is willing to satisfy not only our basic needs, but also our desires, if those desires are fair and virtuous, even if they’re not strictly necessary.

Scarcity or Abundance

So how is it possible for the Lord fulfill our wants if scarcity is a cold, hard reality? Perhaps it is possible because scarcity is only a factor under certain conditions, but it is not an eternal factor—and not even a factor intrinsic to mortality. The Lord said,

And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment. (D&C 104:15–18)

While mortal economists have observed their surroundings and concluded that there is an immutable law of scarcity, the Lord might be describing a more fundamental law of abundance. Perhaps the only reason we appear to always be influenced by what we’ve labeled scarcity is that we are not living the Lord’s laws. If we were, it might completely revolutionize the way we approached economics.

This is not license to start hedonistically pursuing all our whims and desires with unfettered abandon, just because “the Lord will provide.” On the contrary, he has said that to live with the abundance he has promised, “it must needs be done in mine own way.”

It makes me wonder what economy of Zion would look like. What would be the foundational principles in an economics course in the City of Enoch? I suppose, if we just keep trying to live the laws the Lord has given us, we may eventually get to find that out first hand.


1. “Philosophy of Economics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

2. “Lionel Robbins,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Library of Economics and Liberty,

3. “Scarcity,” Investopedia.

4. “Want,”

5. “Want,” Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language,

See also this discussion at

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