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Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much ePUB ñ

Librarian's Note this is an alternate cover edition ISBN 9781846143458A surprising and intriguing examination of how scarcity—and our flawed responses to it—shapes our lives our society and our cultureWhy do successful people get things done at the last minute? Why does poverty persist? Why do organizations get stuck firefighting? Why do the lonely find it hard to make friends? These questions seem unconnected yet Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show that they are all are examples of a mind set produced by scarcityDrawing on cutting edge research from behavioral science and economics Mullainathan and Shafir show that scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation why students and busy executives mismanage their time and why sugarcane farmers are smarter after harvest than before Once we start thinking in terms of scarcity and the strategies it imposes the problems of modern life come into sharper focusMullainathan and Shafir discuss how scarcity affects our daily lives recounting anecdotes of their own foibles and making surprising connections that bring this research alive Their book provides a new way of understanding why the poor stay poor and the busy stay busy and it reveals not only how scarcity leads us astray but also how individuals and organizations can better manage scarcity for greater satisfaction and successhttpusmacmillancomscarcitySend


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    Are the poor to blame for their poverty? For their flawed choices?Are the overweight struggling with a diet? What about those who complain of being too busy? What about the lonely?What these have in common is scarcity something that economists have always studied But until fairly recently the idea of studying cognition or feelings from an economic perspective would have been absurd or even heretical The field of behavioral economics and neuroeconomics has changed that and took off like a rocket when Daniel Kahneman a psychologist won the Nobel Prize in Economics What Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir focus on is how the human mind functions when it perceives scarcity — there are predictable cognitive changes that most of would describe as seriously dysfunctionalThe term is “scarcity trap” and the basic idea is that our brains so tightly focus on what is so desperately lacking that thinking about anything else becomes tremendously difficult Like several other cognitive problems this was undoubtedly evolutionarily adaptive for our paleolithic ancestors — so under some circumstances it probably remains beneficial but nevertheless outside of our controlThe result is revelatory — there are profound implications for how our governments’ poverty programs should function for what diets are likely to work or even how overly busy parents of newborn or sick etc children reactThis is an important book perhaps even a critical book We all have seen discussions of inequality gain attention across the political spectrum and throughout the world Pikkety’s book brought it to a head in the blogosphere but we’d been watching the Occupy and 99% movement for some time Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much tells us that in many ways the situation is worse than we thought Not only are we tolerating economic and social policies that worsen the situation of and people with each passing year it seems that being poor creates cognitive problems that make the burden even tougher to overcomeScarcity is the curse The subconscious perception of scarcity changes how we think in ways that are detrimental to escaping whatever is causing scarcity in the first placeThis probably wasn’t always so We can imagine once upon a time a world that was so much less complicated that the mechanisms described here didn’t backfire and instead helped those individuals get back on their feetNote that poverty while it is the form of scarcity that deserves the most attention is definitely not the only one that is addressed in the book More on that belowThat scarcity is the cause of the problem and not the result requires a significant conceptual reframingLet’s go through the paradigm they lay outThe authors start out exploring focus under conditions of scarcity If two people are told to identify words flashing very very quickly before them on a screen it turns out that hunger will increase the effectiveness of recognition of words associated with food without decreasing effectiveness of other words This focus is a good thing right? There are many many examples where that is precisely what we wantWhat is happening is that scarcity causes adjustments to be made by unconscious parts of the brain and the attention of our conscious brain is much easily “captured” by stimuli that respond to that scarcity We can’t control it we can’t avoid it — that point is made time and again by the evidence presented hereThe word they use to describe this is tunneling When scarcity causes us to focus we descend into a cognitive tunnel and aspects of the world that don’t deal with that all important need become increasingly invisible to us We can even become completely oblivious Even when voluntarily focusing this is evident We’ve all been so deeply engrossed in something reading playing a video game watching a tense movie that we are startled by someone telling us they’d been trying to get our attention for some time Those unperceived stimuli have been inhibited from arriving in our awareness Other objectives we might have otherwise thought important can be eliminated from our consideration by goal inhibition A salient example the authors give is the neglect of a firefighter to fasten their seatbelt in the urgent rush from the station to a burning building although the scarcity here is of time not moneyBut if it is scarcity that is causing the tunneling we can’t escape it easily and fall into it readily even when we do escape What tunneling reflects is a lack of bandwidth The term is annoyingly contemporary but quite apropos because like the cyber term it encompasses two related but different resources Tunneling taxes both our cognitive capacity ie “intelligence” as well as our executive control ie “discipline” Another way of perceiving this tunneling is very revealing A common way of prioritizing a to do list is to rank each item by both urgency and importance Something that is urgent but not important might be ranked higher than something that is important but not urgent correct? Tunneling forces us to focus intensely on this urgent need even if our rationalconscious mind would prefer to treat something else as critical This seems counterintuitive but the book provides plenty of supporting evidence What this means is that what is merely important but not urgent is consistently suppressed For example replacing seriously worn tires on the car is important of course but at no point is it necessarily urgent — until it is too late Dental care same thing Budgeting for long term but completely predictable expenditure is important but to someone tunneling through life with two jobs with variable hours child care troubles etc — they will very often be surprised to discover that something important has crept up on themEven when they emerge from that cognitive tunnel their troubles won’t be over of course This is where juggling comes in suddenly all those other important things are visible but there isn’t enough time or energy or slack to consider them much less money in the bank account The stress is likely to kick them straight back into a scarcity mindset one where the “bandwidth tax” imposed by scarcity affects their intelligence and disciplineJust to remind us that all of these problems aren’t just relegated to the poor who we might privately suspect are dysfunctional anyway the authors provide several counterexamplesBy way of an empirical analysis they quiz strangers in a mall After getting some socioeconomic data the intelligence of the participants is tested Then they are asked a key question and then their intelligence is tested some The key question is one designed to selectively trigger the scarcity capture phenomena Half of the subjects are asked how they would deal with a sudden emergency car repairs that cost about 150 for the other half the figure is bumped up to 1500 For those at the high end of the economic scale there was no change in the intelligence testing But for those downscale the later questions showed a significant cognitive deficit as much as fourteen IQ points which at least temporarily would make them “borderline deficient”Another empirical study looked at how air traffic controllers interact with their families On days when the air traffic load was low the controllers had a cognitively easy day and went home and appeared to engage with their children in a stereotypically upper or middle class manner On days when the job was especially tough their interactions with their family were troubled and reminiscent of a stereotypical lower class familyThe effect of scarcity is seen across cultures and in diverse domains Quite a few of the studies cited take place among struggling farmers or impoverished street vendors in India Others involve struggles with diets a “scarcity” of permissible calories in effect or loneliness a “scarcity” of social interaction In fact the book is chock full of interesting examples Some are illustrative just so stories or telling anecdotes but the forty pages of endnotes are tied to the large volume of empirical evidence This weight of substantiation is necessary because the message is counter paradigmatic While we often remind ourselves not to blame the victim in some contexts that is still pervasive in many domains Even among those on the political left policies often assume that the poor don’t understand something when the theory of scarcity induced cognitive deficits would tell us instead that they don’t have the moneytimeenergy to act on what they often quite well know The numerous examples of how busyness or dietary failures among the not impoverished leads to the same kind of flawed behavior is a salutary reminder that this isn’t a phenomena of poverty but part of human cognition Unfortunately the mass of examples gets in the way of clarity There might be too much narrative those that are unfamiliar with the state of cognitive research might be uneasy enough with the evolving argument and dismiss the conclusions sticking with their preexisting opinions Actually it is worse most people whose preexisting opinions lean in the other direction are probably wary enough of cognitive research that they won’t even open this bookEven if this book was only about poverty the implications really are staggering As the authors say “one prevailing view explains the strong correlation between poverty and failure to make good choices in life etc by saying that failure causes poverty Our data suggest causality runs at least as strongly in the other direction that poverty — the scarcity mindset — causes failure” This book tells us that we should be reexamining all of our policies and social adjustment mechanisms from a different angle not just because they would be effective but also because of the fundamental unfairness of creating obstacles that perversely can make peoples’ situation worseBut this is an academic book There is no sense of outrage to incite change through passion It doesn’t make the dire predictions of Piketty stirring controversy and wider discussion Many of those reading this will respond “Oh yeah Duh”This is a five star book because awareness of this theory and its profound social and political implications needs to be elevated Please read it even as a self help book in your own life I rearranged my daily habits to make sure this review got written — something that otherwise I might have considered important but not quite urgent But the goal really is to think about it enough that it changes one’s perspective of the struggle of many of our fellow humans                      ❦2016 update Good tie in to the current political discussion about how economic injustice leads to social injustice The Psychological Argument for a Universal Basic Income Personally I think the best argument for a UBI instead of a higher Minimum Wage is that the technological unemployment of the coming decades is going to make it harder and harder for many people to be employed at all and a high Minimum Wage isn’t much of a social safety net for the unemployed I haven’t seen a plausible plan for a UBI yet but it is probably going to be needed for social stability                      ❦                       ❦Excellent reviews and articles from around the web• From the Economist Days late dollars short Those with too little have a lot on their mind• From the New York Review of Books It Captures Your Mind• From the Guardian Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much A study showing how poverty impairs judgment has far reaching implications• From Pacific Standard How Being Poor Makes You Poor New research shows how poverty can often be a self perpetuating trap• From the author Sendhil Mullainathan in the New York Times The Mental Strain of Making Do With Less