Supposin': Abundance, Choice and Accomplishment

Supposin’ that we developed an economic model and instead of using the standard economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost, we used abundance, choice, andaccomplishment. What if we actually worked into our model the possibility that the cost factor could be shifted because the consequence of our choice function did not necessarily eliminate the utilization of the next highest two or three other alternatives?

In our traditional economic model we presume that everything is scarce because it has at least two alternative uses for the resource. We then presume that the cost of our having chosen one of the alternative uses is the lost opportunity of utilizing one of the other next highest alternatives. What if . . . the abundance of the resource eliminated, or at least minimized the consequence of the choice to such a degree, that a positive accomplishment, or multiple accomplishments, could be realized rather than a negative cost? The whole paradigm would change!

The example of George Washington Carver comes to my mind. Born into slavery in 1864, he became an inventor, scientist, botanist, and professor at Tuskegee University for 47 years. The South had become a one-crop cotton culture. The soil had become depleted and the boll weevil was spoiling any cotton that could be grown. Carver creatively took up the challenge to introduce alternative crops to the land to pump needed nutrition into the ground as well as into the farm families’ tummies

Mr. Carver started with the lowly peanut. He invented 145 different uses for the peanut, including cosmeticsdyespaintsplasticsgasoline, and nitroglycerin. He also came up with 105 food recipes using peanuts. Sweet potatoes and soybeans then caught his attention. Products from just the sweet potato included: wood fillers, dyes, breakfast foods, molasses, glue for library books, vinegars, coffee, after-dinner mints, lemon drops, and orange drops.

George Washington Carver told Raleigh Merritt, one of his biographers, that he was merely scratching the surface of scientific investigations of the possibilities of the peanut and other Southern products. (1) Fortunate for Mr. Carver, there was no one from our generation present to persuade him that there was such a thing as insufficiency, lack, or scarcity. He really believed that the economic trilogy should be abundance, choice and accomplishment. It makes me not only wonder how many more items would be on our local grocer’s shelves had Mr. Carver lived another fifty years, but also, can you imagine what he could have accomplished with the new technology just from the gleanings of the NASA discoveries? You would have had a difficult time convincing him that we live in a culture of shortage and zero sum economics!

There was another historical character that comes to my mind who tried to convince his culture that abundance should be at the very heart of their economic thinking. He found out, however, that folks that make up cultures don’t necessarily respond positively to the good news of abundance. He experienced that there are a lot of people on this earth who are pretty much stuck somewhere between ignorant and stupid and would rather resort to coveting, lusting after, and stealing what someone else has in their possession than to personally experience the concept of abundance, choice, and fulfillment.

There was a certain rabbi in the area of Palestine who traveled teaching and explaining the old Jewish scriptures. With his very presence, he reminded the common people and leaders of their historical inheritance and traditions. At the time they lived in a land occupied by conquerors and controlled by financial restraints and taxation. In fact, the rabbi had been born on a trip where his parents were registering for a census and a new tax that would become more tribute to the conquerors.

The people who heard the rabbi were already familiar with the past heroes of their culture. They were aware of the abundance of creation. They knew the story of how wealthy God had made their early patriarch, Abraham (Gen. 13:2), and how God had promised Moses: the Lord will grant you abundant prosperity (Deut. 28:11). God had promised them through their hero Isaiah: Instead of shame and dishonor, you shall have a double portion of prosperity and everlasting joy (Isa. 61:7). The sometimes wealthy old guy Job had reminded them, this is the way he (God) governs the nations and provides food in abundance (Job 36:31) and Haggai had cleared up the question as to who really owned all the earth’s wealth, the silver is mine and the gold is mine declares the Lord Almighty (Haggai 2:8).

The people along the routes of the itinerate rabbi from Bethlehem north to the Sea of Galilee knew about the writings of their beloved psalmist and former patriarch, King David. But they needed to be reminded of his words regarding provisions, sufficiency and abundance. It had been the psalmist who had written:

  • The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Ps. 34:10).
  • . . . but you brought us to a place of abundance.(Ps. 66:12)
  • He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Ps. 1:3)
  • In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. (Ps. 37:19)
  • Our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace. Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision. Our sheep will increase by thousands, by ten thousands in our fields; our oxen will draw heavy loads. (Ps. 144: 12-14)

Their history included stories about when their leader, Moses, had led them out of Egypt’s captivity and they had no food. Their God had supplied manna, a food that fell on the ground like morning dew. When they had no water, springs of fresh water came gushing out of the solid rocks to quench the thirst of over a half million people. For the next 40 years their shoes never even needed repair, because they simply never wore out!

But that was in the past. That was just history. Now they got up each morning to encounter occupying troops in the intersections of their towns. They were in need of a refresher course and new proof of the old but enduring economic laws of an eternal economy. The weariness of the day had beaten them down until they were beginning to believe again in the old rumors of scarcity, insufficiency and lack. Even some of their own people, like Zacchaeus, had begun to believe in scarcity and zero sum economics and had joined the occupying troops of the conquerors and were actually cheating their own people by collecting more taxes than were due and stealing the difference for themselves. Something new needed to happen.

Next Week: Potential Resource

(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson’s new writing project on Cultural Economics)