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My Bitchy Soulmate yTer paradigmatic While we often remind ourselves not to blame the victim in some contexts that is still pervasive in many domains Even among those on the political left policies often assume that the poor don t understand something when the theory of scarcity induced cognitive deficits would tell us instead that they don t have the moneytimeenergy to act on what they often uite well know The numerous examples of how busyness or dietary failures among the not impoverished leads to the same kind of flawed behavior is a salutary reminder that this isn t a phenomena of poverty but part of human cognition Unfortunately the mass of examples gets in the way of clarity There might be too much narrative those that are unfamiliar with the state of cognitive research might be uneasy enough with the evolving argument and dismiss the conclusions sticking with their preexisting opinions Actually it is worse most people whose preexisting opinions lean in the other direction are probably wary enough of cognitive research that they won t even open this bookEven if this book was only about poverty the implications really are staggering As the authors say one prevailing view explains the strong correlation between poverty and failure to make good choices in life etc by saying that failure causes poverty Our data suggest causality runs at least as strongly in the other direction that poverty the scarcity mindset causes failure This book tells us that we should be reexamining all of our policies and social adjustment mechanisms from a different angle not just because they would be effective but also because of the fundamental unfairness of creating obstacles that perversely can make peoples situation worseBut this is an academic book There is no sense of outrage to incite change through passion It doesn t make the dire predictions of Piketty stirring controversy and wider discussion Many of those reading this will respond Oheah Duh This is a five star book because awareness of this theory and its profound social and political implications needs to be elevated Please read it even as a self help book in Lichen Sclerosis: How to Heal It your own life I rearranged my daily habits to make sure this review got written something that otherwise I might have considered important but not uite urgent But the goal really is to think about it enough that it changes one s perspective of the struggle of many of our fellow humans 2016 update Good tie in to the current political discussion about how economic injustice leads to social injustice The Psychological Argument for a Universal Basic Income Personally I think the best argument for a UBI instead of a higher Minimum Wage is that the technological unemployment of the coming decades is going to make it harder and harder for many people to be employed at all and a high Minimum Wage isn t much of a social safety net for the unemployed I haven t seen a plausible plan for a UBIet but it is probably going to be needed for social stability Excellent reviews and articles from around the web From the Economist Days late dollars short Those with too little have a lot on their mind From the New York Review of Books It Captures Your Mind From the Guardian Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much A study showing how poverty impairs judgment has far reaching implications From Pacific Standard How Being Poor Makes You Poor New research shows how poverty can often be a self perpetuating trap From the author Sendhil Mullainathan in the New York Times The Mental Strain of Making Do With Less The mathematics of ueuing theory demonstrates that as resource utilization approaches 100% ueue length and delay increase toward infinity Systems that are not resilient to congestion reach a point of overload where they experience a decrease in carried load even as offered load increases We experience this when congested highways encounter volume delays fewer cars per hour get through simply because too many are trying to get throughThe authors apply these principles without the math to analyzing several important social problems Scarcity c There is no scarcity of books about the brain and psychology and emotion In fact the shelves are groaning with them But here s a psychological take on what Irish Paganism you might regard as a problem of economics and that makes it genuinely fascinating So it s a shame that it doesn t work better as a book but this is one of those titles thatou will want to read despite thatThe authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir look at the nature of scarcity and crucially the effect it has on human performance You might hear the term and think it s about going hungry and that is one example of scarcity but they also look at what happens when money time and even friends are in short supply Although they aren t exact analogues all have related impacts on us as human beingsBy referencing the best available studies and doing a few of their own the authors come to some important conclusions Scarcity isn t all bad It concentrates the mind gives us focus But there is a price to pay for being in that tunnel It means that other essential aspects of life get ignored And most strikingly what the authors call bandwidth a combination of cognitive ability and ability to concentrate is reduced They call this a bandwidth tax So far so engaging We aren t just offered the symptoms and diagnosis but also some attempts to counter this Pointing out for instance that it s better for people to make decisions and learn things when they are going through a good phase than through scarcity However I have two problems with this as a book One is that while it s no textbook it really isn t particularly readable it takes a really interesting subject and makes it a bit dull And the other is that there are strong signs that this is really a magazine article not a book For page after page the same thing is said in subtly different ways If I see the word bandwidth again today I ll scream The meat of this book could easily fit in 4000 wordsSo paradoxically I do urge ou to read the book as the subject is well worth exploring but I can t promise that ou will enjoy the experience Some people say poor people have you will enjoy the experience Some people say poor people have ways the implication being that they are poor because of their poor ways These #authors maintain that the reverse is true that #maintain that the reverse is true that have poor ways because they are poor They say it can be explained by the psychology of scarcityWhat will suprise many readers is that rich or non poor persons manifest the same behavior attributed to poor people when subjected to situations of scarcity eg lack of time In other words the rich often have poor ways too but they have enough money of cover the fiscal mistakes However the psycholgy of scarcity can show up in scarcity of time and friends as well as money and the psychology of scarcity can come into play for all social and economic classesThis book finds surprising links and similarities between the stressed out time poor of the west with the truly poor dollar a day workers of the developing world Many wealthy people who are critical of the behavior of poor people will be surprised to learn from this book that they share the same behavior patterns as the Very Poor When In An Environment Of Scarcity The Psychology poor when in an environment of scarcity The psychology scarcity and its resulting behavior can be witnessed when there s a scarcity of time money or relationships with others Two terms repeatedly used in this book are bandwidth and tunneling Bandwidth refers the limited number of things that any human can focus on at one time The results of this limited bandwidth leads to a kind of cognitive tunnel limiting what a person is able to focus on at one time Limited bandwidth and tunneling depletes self control and leads to impulsive and sometimes dumb behavior Unfortunately this behavior can spiral into a trap of worsening scarcityThe authors bring an abundance of examples from their respective fields of study to support their descriptions of the psychological and behavioral conseuences of the feeling of scarcity Sendhil Mullainathan is a behavioral economist and Eldar Shafir is a cognitive psychologist Scarcity is one of those books that explains some aspect of the world in a way ou hadn t though of before in an accessible form and backed by research results I Scarcity and the strategies it imposes the problems of modern life come into sharper focusMullainathan 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 successhttpusmacmillancomscarcitySen. Tle like try not being poor While it did not morally blame us for our failings it still located causes in us I am skeptical that is really what s driving the poverty of the street vendors in Chennai Are the poor to blame for their poverty For their flawed choicesAre the overweight struggling with a diet What about those who complain of being too busy What about the lonelyWhat these have in common is scarcity something that economists have always studied But until fairly recently the idea of studying cognition or feelings from an economic perspective would have been absurd or even heretical The field of behavioral economics and neuroeconomics has changed that and took off like a rocket when Daniel Kahneman a psychologist won the Nobel Prize in Economics What Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir focus on is how the human mind functions when it perceives scarcity there are predictable cognitive changes that most of would describe as seriously dysfunctionalThe term is scarcity trap and the basic idea is that our brains so tightly focus on what is so desperately lacking that thinking about anything else becomes tremendously difficult Like several other cognitive problems this was undoubtedly evolutionarily adaptive for our paleolithic ancestors so under some circumstances it probably remains beneficial but nevertheless outside of our controlThe result is revelatory there are profound implications for how our governments poverty programs should function for what diets are likely to work or even how overly busy parents of newborn or sick etc children reactThis is an important book perhaps even a critical book We all have seen discussions of ineuality gain attention across the political spectrum and throughout the world Pikkety s book brought it to a head in the blogosphere but we d been watching the Occupy and 99% movement for some time Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much tells us that in many ways the situation is worse than we thought Not only are we tolerating economic and social policies that worsen the situation of and people with each passing ear it seems that being poor creates cognitive problems that make the burden even tougher to overcomeScarcity is the curse The subconscious perception of scarcity changes how we think in ways that are detrimental to escaping whatever is causing scarcity in the first placeThis probably wasn t always so We can imagine once upon a time a world that was so much less complicated that the mechanisms described here didn t backfire and instead helped those individuals get back on their feetNote that poverty while it is the form of scarcity that deserves the most attention is definitely not the only one that is addressed in the book More on that belowThat scarcity is the cause of the problem and not the result reuires a significant conceptual reframingLet s go through the paradigm they lay outThe authors start out exploring focus under conditions of scarcity If two people are told to identify words flashing very very uickly before them on a screen it turns out that hunger will increase the effectiveness of recognition of words associated with food without decreasing effectiveness of other words This focus is a good thing right There are many many examples where that is precisely what we wantWhat is happening is that scarcity causes adjustments to be made by unconscious parts of the brain and the attention of our conscious brain is much easily captured by stimuli that respond to that scarcity We can t control it we can t avoid it that point is made time and again by the evidence presented hereThe word they use to describe this is tunneling When scarcity causes us to focus we descend into a cognitive tunnel and aspects of the world that don t deal with that all important need become increasingly invisible to us We can even become completely oblivious Even when voluntarily focusing this is evident We ve all been so deeply engrossed in something reading playing a video game watching a tense movie that we are startled by someone telling us they d been trying to get our attention for some time Those unperceived stimuli have been inhibited from arriving in our awareness Other objectives we might have otherwise thought important can be eliminated from our consideration by goal inhibition A salient example the authors give is the neglect of a firefighter to fasten their seatbelt in the urgent rush from the station to a burning building although the scarcity here is of time not moneyBut if it is scarcity that is causing the tunneling we can t escape it easily and fall into it readily even when we do escape What tunneling reflects is a lack of bandwidth The term is annoyingly contemporary but uite apropos because like the cyber term it encompasses two related but different resources Tunneling taxes both our cognitive capacity ie intelligence as well as our executive control ie discipline Another way intelligence as well as our executive control ie discipline Another way perceiving this tunneling is very revealing A common way of prioritizing a to do list is to rank each item by both urgency and importance Something that is urgent but not important might be ranked higher than something that is important but not urgent correct Tunneling forces us to focus intensely on this urgent need even if our rationalconscious mind would prefer to treat something else as critical This seems counterintuitive but the book provides plenty of supporting evidence What this means is that what is merely important but not urgent is consistently suppressed For example replacing seriously worn tires on the car is important of course but at no point is it necessarily urgent until it is too late Dental care same thing Budgeting for long term but completely predictable expenditure is important but to someone tunneling through life with two jobs with variable hours child care troubles etc they will very often be surprised to discover that something important has crept up on themEven when they emerge from that cognitive tunnel their troubles won t be over of course This is where juggling comes in suddenly all those other important things are visible but there isn t enough time or energy or slack to consider them much less money in the bank account The stress is likely to kick them straight back into a scarcity mindset one where the bandwidth tax imposed by scarcity affects their intelligence and disciplineJust to remind us that all of these problems aren t just relegated to the poor who we might privately suspect are dysfunctional anyway the authors provide several counterexamplesBy way of an empirical analysis they uiz strangers in a mall After getting some socioeconomic data the intelligence of the participants is tested Then they are asked a key uestion and then their intelligence is tested some The key uestion is one designed to selectively trigger the scarcity capture phenomena Half of the subjects are asked how they would deal with a sudden emergency capture phenomena Half of the subjects are asked how they would deal with a sudden emergency repairs that cost about 150 for the other half the figure is bumped up to 1500 For those at the high end of the economic scale there was no change in the intelligence testing But for those downscale the later uestions showed a significant cognitive deficit as much as fourteen I points which at least temporarily would make them borderline deficient Another empirical study looked at how air traffic controllers interact with their families On days when the air traffic load was low the controllers had a cognitively easy day and went home and appeared to engage with their children in a stereotypically upper or middle class manner On days when the job was especially tough their interactions with their family were troubled and reminiscent of a stereotypical lower class familyThe effect of scarcity is seen across cultures and in diverse domains uite a few of the studies cited take place among struggling farmers or impoverished street vendors in India Others involve struggles with diets a scarcity of permissible calories in effect or loneliness a scarcity of social interaction In fact the book is chock full of interesting examples Some are illustrative just so stories or telling anecdotes but the forty pages of endnotes are tied to the large volume of empirical evidence This weight of substantiation is necessary because the message is coun. Earch 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. I once heard Sendhil Mullainathan speak at an event in DC and he was smart and engaging He s a MacArthur Foundation genius a Harvard economist and a TED speaker He has a wry sense of humor and tells anecdotes from his personal life to make his economics work come alive And all of that is in this book written with his long time collaborator Eldar Shafir who s a Princeton psychologistStill this book was a bit of a disappointment possibly because I expected so much A lot of the conclusions are well obvious The book s entire thesis can be summarized as People make bad decisions when they are resource constrained whether the resources in uestion are money time food or something else Some of it recaps what has been said before about hyperbolic discounting in economicsThe book s chapters go like thisIntro definition of scarcity and overview of its conseuencesChap 1 The good scarcity can cause focus The bad focus can mean inattention to other thingsChap 2 Scarcity causes an internal disruption that makes it harder to make good decisionsChap 3 Slack the opposite of scarcity allows better choices and reduces the bad conseuences of failiureChap 4 Poor people are sometimes realistic about estimating costs because they have to beChap 5 Borrowing when Comprendre et grer les conflits dans les entreprises et les organisations you re short of cash leads to a descending spiral of debtChap 6 7 Poverty is a vicious circle of scarcity leading to bad decisions leading to scarcityChap 8 Poverty can be alleviated by creating slack such as extra cash or day care to create timeChap 9 Efficient use of resources and division of labor helps organizations become efficientChap 10 Efficient use of self control helps with life issuesOn the positive side the book contains some interesting stories and a rich set of endnotes to track down the many studies the authors cite On the negative side the book keeps talking about how mainstream economics is traditionally for example that people are rational decision makers just so the authors can tear down the mainstream view Economists come across as completely clueless which maybe they are Is it really surprising that whenou re poor hungry and stressed that ou would make less than rational decisionsMullainathan and Shafir seem aware of this problem with the book Chap 2 contains some defensive passages about how bad decisions under scarcity are different from bad decisions due to stress The explanation isn t compelling and unlike most of their other claims that passage doesn t have lots of studies to back it upThe most interesting study in the book is one about street vendors in India who are in perpetual debt from a loan sell repay cycle Chap 6 The researchers give the vendors a cash grant to pay off their debts which should have allowed them to start saving a little and eventually eliminate the need for borrowing altogether One by one though the vendors fall back into debt Any non economist would see this as challenges of personality or habit It s the same reason why couch potatos find it hard to get off the couch and exercise everyday The authors though somehow turn this into a story of scarcity How it was because there wasn t enough slack Why don t they do an experiment where they give everyone a little extra cash to save They don t though and I d bet good money that with additional cash the vendors would still have fallen back into debt eventually What the vendors need is some training and hand holdingThis study illustrates one of the biggest problems with the book In order to make a case for the centrality of scarcity the authors go too far Not every bad decision is about scarcity Sometimes people are dumb and sometimes there are dumb people And sometimes people are smart and there are also smart people At one point the authors write all people if they were poor would have less effective bandwidth Not sure about that My grandmother managed seven kids and ran a shop but she was dirt poor until her children grew up While I find the topic very interesting and the science and research put into understanding the scarcity factor intriguing I think the book was overly long repetitive and uite frankly circular Many of the points and ideas made were well described early in the book and et 70% of it was just regurgitating the same themes Many books are written in such manner especially when they deal with non fiction topics and this book is no different Editors must be gunning for volume and as such authors are forced to write the same thing over

and over again 
over again different words The book did a good job explaining the issue and et did not offer much on terms of strategies to handle In short good albeit long and repetitive description of the problem and almost no solutions of the problem and almost no solutions to new readers You can bail out after the first third and not miss anything of substance I stuck to the end and can attest to that This extremely important book takes a close and counter intuitive look at how the brain behaves when confronted with the lack of something That something is often money but it can also be time or will power or human connection In a nutshell it explains how the brain s default method of creating immediate solutions to urgent problems can very often create a much larger problem down the roadThe reason for this is that urgent problems causes the brain to tunnel which takes a tremendous amount of cognitive processing capacity Focus on the immediate problem creates a tax on processing power that impairs the ability to step back and take a wider view of the situation in particular it causes us to underestimate the long term costs of what may seem on the surface to be a good short term solutionThis book is written in a fairly academic style and is somewhat repetitive in the first half While it is not a self help book it does contain critical information on how we can counteract mental habits that keep us in a scarcity loop It also contains scores of real world examples of the bandwidth tax in action from farmers in India to small business owners in the Caribbean to air traffic controllers in the Midwest That latter group offered a particularly uniue example of the bandwidth tax on days when flights were backed up and they were reuired to manage a heavier load of airborne planes than normal they demonstrated decreased ability to parent their children in a consistent fashionI originally assumed this would be an academically interesting book that would be most useful to those who develop aid programs It is definitely that as the authors address how many programs designed to help people get out of poverty fail because their structure contributes to a worsening of this bandwidth tax In reading it however I also saw and of myself in its pages Though it took me weeks to finish it because I was trying to put out so many fires at work the irony of it ending up overdue at the library was not lost on me it gave me tremendous insight into how I had ended up so far behind and what I need to do to fix that Thanks to Richard for encouraging me to bump it up my list The premise of the book is that we have a limited amount of mental bandwidth and we use a bit of that bandwidth each time we address a problem Poverty time pressure and responsibilities all tax our mental bandwidth even when we are not actively thinking about them The value of this text is not in highlighting that pressure from outside factors affects us all the time but rather in explaining the importance of considering bandwidth in designing programs assigning tasks etcScarcity provides a lexicon that is severely lacking from the conversations of social entrepreneurs behavioral economists and managers alike A uick read I highly recommend this to anyone who has ever been perplexed by the disconnect between knowing what to do and being able to do it Proposes that scarcity undermines rationality in consistent but unrecognized ways across human life The schedule the diet the budget the farm the attempt to connect The butter was spread a little thin but I appreciate that this book attempted to be humane about human failings I also appreciate that it did not fall into the Malcolm Gladwell smugness about how we re doing it wrong without any help on doing it right Mullainathan and Shafir at least tried though their suggestions did sound a lit. Librarian's Note this is an alternate cover edition ISBN 9781846143458A surprising and intriguing examination of how scarcity and our flawed responses to it shapes our lives our society and our cultureWhy 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 uestions seem unconnected et Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show that they are all are examples of a mind set produced by scarcityDrawing on cutting edge res. ,

REVIEW Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much


Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much