The Limits to Scarcity: Contesting the Politics of Allocation
Lyla Mehta
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Scarcity is considered a ubiquitous feature of the human condition. It underpins much of modern economics and is widely used as an explanation for social organisation, social conflict and the resource crunch confronting humanity's survival on the planet. It is made out to be an all-pervasive fact of our lives - be it of housing, food, water or oil. But has the conception of scarcity been politicized, naturalized, and universalized in academic and policy debates? Has overhasty recourse to scarcity evoked a standard set of market, institutional and technological solutions which have blocked out political contestations, overlooking access as a legitimate focus for academic debates as well as policies and interventions?

Theoretical and empirical chapters by leading academics and scholar-activists grapple with these issues by questioning scarcity's taken-for-granted nature. They examine scarcity debates across three of the most important resources - food, water and energy - and their implications for theory, institutional arrangements, policy responses and innovation systems. The book looks at how scarcity has emerged as a totalizing discourse in both the North and South. The 'scare' of scarcity has led to scarcity emerging as a political strategy for powerful groups. Aggregate numbers and physical quantities are trusted, while local knowledges and experiences of scarcity that identify problems more accurately and specifically are ignored. Science and technology are expected to provide 'solutions', but such expectations embody a multitude of unexamined assumptions about the nature of the 'problem', about the technologies and about the institutional arrangements put forward as a 'fix.' Through this examination the authors demonstrate that scarcity is not a natural condition: the problem lies in how we see scarcity and the ways in which it is socially generated.

Lyla Mehta is a sociologist and Research Fellow with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK and an Adjunct Professor at the Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric), Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

List of Figures and Tables
List of Contributors
Foreword by Steve Rayner
Preface to the South Asian Edition
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
Lyla Mehta

Part I Why Does Scarcity Matter? Commentary
Lyla Mehta
  1. The Scare, Naturalization and Politicization of Scarcity
  2. Lyla Mehta
  3. Everybody’s Got the Fever: Scarcity and US National Energy Policy
  4. Nicholas Xenos
  5. The Ghosts of Malthus: Narratives and Mobilizations of Scarcity in the US Political Context
  6. Betsy Hartmann
Part II Economics and Scarcity Commentary
Lyla Mehta
  1. Economics and Scarcity: With Amartya Sen as Point of Departure?
  2. Ben Fine
  3. Deconstructing Economic Interpretations of Sustainable Development: Limits, Scarcity and Abundance
  4. Fred Luks
  5. Water Can and Ought to Run Freely: Reflections on the Notion of ‘Scarcity’ in Economics
  6. Sajay Samuel and Jean Robert
  7. A Bit of the Other: Why Scarcity Isn’t All It’s Cracked up to Be
  8. Michael Thompson
Part III  Resource Scarcity, Institutional Arrangements and Policy Responses:
Food, Agriculture, Water and Energy Commentary
Lyla Mehta
  1. ‘Scarcity’ as Political Strategy: Reflections on Three Hanging Children
  2. Nicholas Hildyard
  3. Seeing Scarcity: Understanding Soil Fertility in
  4. Ian Scoones
  5. Chronic Hunger: A Problem of Scarcity or Inequity:
  6. Erik Millstone
  7. A Share Response to Water Scarcity: Moving beyond the Volumetric
  8. Bruce Lankford
  9.  Advocacy of Water Scarcity: Leakages in the Argument
  10. Jasveen Jairath
  11. The Construction and Destruction of Scarcity in Development: Water and Power Experiences in Nepal
  12. Dipak Gyawali and Ajaya Dixit
  13. Afterword: Look beyond Scarcity?
  14. Lyla Mehta
Appendix: Institute of Development Studies Conference Statement on Scarcity
“Scarcity, like abundance, is not a neutral fact. It has powerful meanings and uses. In this timely and provocative book, Lyla Mehta follows the political career of scarcity in the modern world and, in turn, makes us look at the shape of the world in new light.”

FRANK TRENTMAN, Professor of History, Birbeck College, University of London, UK

“As environmental and economic challenges trigger the latest round of doom-laden scares about the scarcities facing humanity, leading thinkers offers us a vital, timely reminder that these are created by people and institutions, enwrapped with power, and lead to winners and losers. Definitely required reading for all seeking serious and realistic ways to meet sustainability challenges without undermining social justice.”

MELISSA LEACH, Director, ESRC STEPS Centre and Professional Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, UK

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