I’ve been reading this one for a few days off and on. Sendhil Mullainathan speaks with Harold Pollack about how scarcity, having too little of anything really, changes how you think. The interview makes the claim that scarcity is scarcity, whether it’s money, time, or friends.
The scarcity trap captures this notion we see again and again in many domains. When people have very little, they undertake behaviors that maintain or reinforce their future disadvantage. If you have very little, you often behave in such a way so that you’ll have little in the future.
In economics, people talk about the poverty trap. We’re generalizing that, saying this happens a lot, and we’ve experienced it. For example, sometimes you get really busy. Then you’re stuck, and you just can’t seem to climb your way out. Dieters experience this, too. It’s very hard
Another tragic example concerns lonely people. The lonely are interesting because it’s so tempting to say: “Oh, lonely people. Yeah, those are just losers, or whatever. Those are people who can’t make friends.” Actually, the data suggests that the vast majority of lonely people don’t lack any social skills at all. It’s just they found themselves in lonely situations.