Me (2008): “The end of abundance.” Macron (2022): “Oui.”

NN mentioned that Macron used a familiar phrase in a speech last month:

“What we are currently living through is a kind of major tipping point or a great upheaval … we are living the end of what could have seemed an era of abundance … the end of the abundance of products of technologies that seemed always available … the end of the abundance of land and materials including water,” he said.

In the original French, he said:

Les Français face à “une grande bascule que nous vivons”, Emmanuel Macron a employé l’expression “fin de l’abondance” pour qualifier la période.

…which emphasizes his focus on a “new normal” in which fewer natural resources (and potentially the damages of climate chaos and the political strife that entails) will lead to a change in living.

In my dissertation (2008, page 2), I wrote:

Note that a club good is similar to a private good with excess supply, i.e., supply greater than demand at a zero price. In both cases, non-rivalry or excess supply can end: Club goods become rival with congestion; excess supply ends when supply is less than demand at a price of zero. Although there is no need to manage demand with abundance, the end of abundance can lead to problems if institutions of abundance do not change to ration demand when there is congestion or excess demand at zero prices (Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop, 1975).

In fact, I liked this phrase so much that I made it the title of my 2011 book (free PDF since 2020 :), which came with the following blurb:

In a past of abundance, we had clean water to meet our demands for showers, pools, farms and rivers. Our laws and customs did not need to regulate or ration demand. Over time, our demand has grown, and scarcity has replaced abundance. We don’t have as much clean water as we want. We can respond to the end of abundance with old ideas or adopt new tools specifically designed to address water scarcity.

So that’s what I said around 10 years ago, but how does it line up with Macron’s thought? (Or, more properly, did Macron understand my point?)

He did, as my point was that growing water scarcity would either lead to (a) necessary changes in lifestyles to reflect scarcity, or (b) shortages due to people ignoring (the admittedly faint) signals of water scarcity.

Those signals are not faint to anyone paying attention, but Americans, seem determined to rush in the wrong direction: moving from places with water to places without it. (This is partially due to an ongoing failure to reflect water scarcity in utility water prices as well as an inadequate and counterproductive regulatory regime with respect to groundwater and agricultural demand.)

Is the long delay between my pronouncement (I’ve been taking Moses lessons) and action? As someone who sees the glass as half-empty, I tend to see (or worry about) issues long before other people do (another case-in-point: cyber crime), and it’s taken me awhile to realize that (a) some people need more time to worry about stuff and (b) lots of people will never worry (consequences or not). Politicians, as leaders (rather than vote-whores), have an important role in highlighting issues and calling for action — looking at you Jimmy! Of course, they need to be careful about getting out too far in advance of voters (Obama’s flip flop on gay marriage is a clear example), so it’s impressive to see Macron stepping up on the need to change expectations and actions.

My one-handed conclusion is that leaders such as Macron are right to talk about an end of abundance, as that fact is bringing consequences, and failure to engage with facts will only make more people (especially the poor) more miserable. Bien dit, Monsieur President!

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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