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Scarcity: Microeconomics 101

| Monday, April 6, 2020

I have been thinking a lot recently about the consequences of our collective action in this global pandemic, and the tension of caring for the current crisis while avoiding the creation of a new, even more detrimental one in its wake.

On one hand, choosing to save people now means putting strain on families, on businesses, on parents, students, workers and people living paycheck to paycheck today. It brings large corporations and small businesses to a grinding halt, and pulls people out of the economy as both consumers and producers indefinitely. If saving people now means creating huge economic destruction in the future — pushing people at the margins into lives of poverty, altering childhoods, educational outcomes, decreasing parents’ ability to provide healthy food or create healthy lives for their futures — at what point do our efforts counteract each other? At what point do our choices to save those at the margins because of this virus — the elderly, the immunocompromised, the poor — infringe on our efforts to aid the margins of our society three weeks, three months, three years or three generations down the line?

Of course, all this changes when we start talking about our communities, our families, ourselves. It’s easy to see things in black and white looking at policies and statistics; it’s tougher when we’re talking about our neighbor, aunt, uncle, or friend — even ourselves — who might be affected by this pandemic. In a human community where everyone has the fundamental right to the resources they need to achieve their full potential — but with limited resources — it is difficult or nearly impossible to make these decisions. It’s classic scarcity, a concept many of us have learned in Microeconomics 101, on a broad scale. I’m not saying I have an answer, and I’m not saying anyone has an answer, but simply that we must be aware of the broadness of the repercussions of our choices. How we prioritize our resources shows how we prioritize the things in our world, and we must be mindful of doing everything we can, on both an individual and societal level, to utilize these resources to maximize the potential for life — full life — on this earth.

So if that means giving up some of our passions and joys of campus life this semester, so be it. But if it means setting up the margins of our society for years of greater difficulty to come, that is where we should pause and really consider the implications of our plan of action. We are all one human community — this crisis has shown us that more than ever — and I trust that as a community we will work to act in the best interest of all, to the best of our current knowledge and abilities. Though I don’t know what that looks like or what that means for me sitting in my room at Zoom University this afternoon, I do know we will all continue to care for each other as human beings and that, right now, is all I can hope to see and do.

Stay safe. Do your part. And when things seem hard, keep thinking about your place in this bigger world, this broader human community. We are all in this together. Even when we don’t know if what we are doing is right, we all have the responsibility to give it our best shot, and I have full faith and confidence we will, indeed, continue to show up for each other in the best ways we can.

Meghan Howat


April 5

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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