The Scarcity that binds us after disasters

South Asia’s traditional caste system has been around for several millenia.  The idea that people are borne into their status in life- it seems offensive- an idea that we should reject if we believe in meritocracy.  But here’s another unpopular opinion- Caste societies have a rational, if exploitative roots.  They start with identifying groups of people who have fallen into a trap, and then taking advantage of them while they are caught.

  • Poverty causes the Scarcity mindset*, creating a cycle of poverty with a foundation of short-sighted habits that once were effective in helping one survive, but now only serve to inhibit one to plan for the future.
  • These habits, like any habits, are social- meaning they are passed along to friends and family.
  • Therefore the concept of a “Caste” society has a legitimate foundation in recognizing the cycles that some groups are perpetuating, and serves to label them permanently as Losers instead of just people caught in negative, self-perpetuating cycles.

The roots of this problem likely starts in crisis.  Crisis is what disturbs our healthy equilibrium- our sense of moderation and discipline.

We were doing fine, walking down the modest path of slow-growing prosperity.  Slowly accruing wealth, getting exercise, working most of the week and then spending time with friends and family the rest of us.  Giving back to the community, developing hobbies and sharing them.

And along came a Crisis.  A flood.  Or mass layoffs.  Or a medical procedure that bankrupts us.  Or suddenly becoming the caretaker to someone else.  Some Crisis that levels our sense of balance with our money, our time, and our health.  How resilient are we in the face of this Crisis?

Crisis disrupts our healthy living;  Scarcity replaces our sense of disclipline as developed in good habits; and then Castes and predatory capitalism keep us in a state of Scarcity- fat, broke, sick, and desperate.

Resiliency ought to be measured in so many other ways than we see it now.  It’s more than Jobs.  It’s the fabric of our daily lives. Are we back to getting enough exercise?  Are we eating well- mostly vegetables, not too much processed crap?  Are we saving money again, do we have time for the people and activities that make our lives meaningful?  If the answer is yes- then we have Recovered.  We are Resilient.  But if we are still living on short-term measures- meals that come out of a box but take their toll on our health;  a budget that gets us through the month but at the expense of our retirement; a schedule that keeps us in our homes but defers all of their required maintenance; a job or two that leaves us too tired to socialized, and too busy to volunteer;   then we have not Recovered, we are not Resilient- and we are still stuck in the Scarcity Loop.


*for more info on Scarcity, check out the excellent book written in 2013 by Mullainathan and Shafir

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