A surprising and intriguing examination of how scarcity—and our flawed responses to it—shapes our lives, our society, and our culture
Why 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 examples of a mind-set produced by scarcity.
Drawing 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 focus.
Mullainathan 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 success.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Written by two academic heavyweights, Scarcity is a lively exploration of the ways that a lack of time, meaningful relationships, and especially money conspire to compromise our cognitive abilities and choices. Sendhil Mullainathan (a Harvard economist and winner of a MacArthur “genius grant”) and Eldar Shafir (a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University) use established research and original studies—as well as personal experiences—to show how scarcity generates a self-defeating mindset and set of behaviors that trap individuals who lack resources. Infused with compassion, Scarcity is scholarly without a whiff of stuffiness, a thought-provoking and accessible read. Mullainathan and Shafir offer strategies to “scarcity-proof” our environments, a boon to anyone (dare we say everyone?) who's ever dealt with the unpleasant consequences of falling short or falling behind.
The struggle for insufficient resources time, money, food, companionship concentrates the mind for better and, mostly, worse, according to this revelatory treatise on the psychology of scarcity. Harvard economist Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Shafir examine how scarcity in many forms, from poverty and scheduling pressures to dieters' food cravings and loneliness a kind of "social scarcity" force the brain to focus on alleviating pressing shortages and thus reduce the mental "bandwidth" available to address other needs, plan ahead, exert self-control, and solve problems. The result of perpetual scarcity, they contend, is a life fixated on agonizing trade-offs, crises, and preoccupations that impose persistent cognitive deficits in poor people they lower mental performance as much as going a night without sleep and reinforce self-defeating actions. The authors support their lucid, accessible argument with a raft of intriguing research in psychology and behavioral economics (sample study: "We recruited Princeton undergraduates to play Family Feud in a controlled setting") and apply it to surprising nudges that remedy everything from hospital overcrowding to financial ignorance. Mullainaithan and Shafir present an insightful, humane alternative to character-based accounts of dysfunctional behavior, one that shifts the spotlight from personal failings to the involuntary psychic disabilities that chronic scarcity inflicts on everyone. 8 illus.