Life is NOT a Zero Sum Game – Part I

If this is your first visit to the blog, please see the Welcome above.

The following is from my draft book, The Next Golden Age of America – We Can Give our Grandchildren a Better World.

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, he describes paradigms as our basic beliefs or how we “see” the world.  One paradigm is the “Abundance Mentality versus the Scarcity Mentality”.  We need to think in terms of abundance not scarcity.  The Scarcity Mentality leads to a zero sum philosophy of life.  “If you gain that’s bad because I must be losing; if you are losing that’s good because I must be gaining.”  Life is not a ball game that one wins, and another loses.  It’s more like a golf game among friends.  Each of us plays against the course.  Individually we can play well, or we  can play poorly, and we can help each other.  I give you tips on putting; you help me with driving.  We both play better.  Note of caution: our “help” for each other must be real.  We cannot give each other mulligans (do overs) or declare all short putts “gimmies.”  Our recorded score decreases, but it’s false improvement.

The Scarcity Mentality believes there is only so much: if you get more, I must be getting less.  This is dangerous because it can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  We will create scarcity where none actually exists.  You Boomers remember the gas crisis of the mid ’70s.  Oil cartel countries cut production for political reasons, and gas tripled to about $0.75/gallon.  As a result of the partly perceived and partly real scarcity, people horded gasoline.  Almost nobody let their tanks get below a third full, and many “topped off” at half.   As soon as the supply tanker pulled into a gas station, a line formed.  People would top-off and even get that old clunker they rarely drove and fill it “just in case.”  Consequently, the station would soon run out, and a real (though temporary) neighborhood gas shortage was produced.  Eventually people got tired of spending so much time waiting in gas lines and let their fuel get lower.  The “scarcity” started going away.  This turned into a positive cycle.  As lines got shorter people horded less, which led to ever shorter lines.  We also started using less by combining trips and car pooling.  Eventually the Law of Supply and Demand stepped in to produce a permanent change:  Americans bought more fuel efficient cars, the price settled at about $1.25/gallon, and supplies increased.

Side bar: As a country we swore we’d become energy independent if not immediately, soon.  In the late 1970s we imported about 50% of our oil (6 M barrels per day-bpd).  By the early 2000’s this had risen to 60% (12M bpd) before dropping back to 40% (projected – 6 M bpd for 2013).  Excellent, we are moving in the right direction.  However, this improvement is due to supply and demand (not to Americans executing better long range plans).  The price has risen enough to make expensive oil extraction methods profitable.  The Middle East is less stable now than it was in the 70’s.  If we are to give our Grandchildren a better world, we would do well to reduce the 40%.

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