Everyone is strapped for time. Our attention is courted and dissipated more than ever. Our energy is spread amid a vast field of concerns. Our abilities are diverted from where they would be most impactful. Our capacity to care, to give a shit, only stretches so far.
We have a paradox. An abundance of scarcity.
Considering the finite quantities we have of energy, attention and time we are left feeling quite distressed. Scarcity is a feeling that is exacerbated by seeing the world around us a zero-sum game. That there is only so much of the pie for us all to share. That if I win, it must be at the expense of you losing. Whilst it is a partially valid argument, it has damaging consequences.
Your allowance of attention, time and energy is limited. But how about the driver of human prosperity? Wealth does not operate under the same rules as the aforementioned resources. Wealth, frequently and mistakenly, is assumed to be synonymous with money.
“Real wealth, of course, consists in what is produced and consumed: the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in. It is railways and roads and motor cars; ships and planes and factories; schools and churches and theatres; pianos, painting and books. Yet so powerful is the verbal ambiguity that confuses money with wealth, that even those who at times recognise the confusion will slide back into it in the course of their reasoning.”
– Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
“A surprising number of people retain from childhood the idea that there is a fixed amount of wealth in the world. There is, in any normal family, a fixed amount of money at any moment. But that’s not the same thing.
When wealth is talked about in this context, it is often described as a pie. “You can’t make the pie larger,” say politicians. When you’re talking about the amount of money in one family’s bank account, or the amount available to a government from one year’s tax revenue, this is true. If one person gets more, someone else has to get less.
I can remember believing, as a child, that if a few rich people had all the money, it left less for everyone else. Many people seem to continue to believe something like this well into adulthood. This fallacy is usually there in the background when you hear someone talking about how x percent of the population have y percent of the wealth. If you plan to start a startup, then whether you realize it or not, you’re planning to disprove the Pie Fallacy.
What leads people astray here is the abstraction of money. Money is not wealth. It’s just something we use to move wealth around. So although there may be, in certain specific moments (like your family, this month) a fixed amount of money available to trade with other people for things you want, there is not a fixed amount of wealth in the world. You can make more wealth. Wealth has been getting created and destroyed (but on balance, created) for all of human history.”
– Paul Graham, How to Make Wealth
Yet, what I would argue is vastly more important, is to discover which resources are abundant and provide opportunity.
To start seeing the world around you, not as an if-I-win, you-lose environment, but as one in which we all can prosper. To see (and act on) the knowledge that wealth is within reach if you are willing to step forward and create it.
Or in the words of Paul Graham, “to make something people want.”