What Does ‘Scarce’ Mean?

The term ‘scarce’ comes from the world of economics, where it is used to describe the basic economic problem of having seemingly unlimited human needs and wants in a world of limited resources. In other words, if something is scarce, it implies that it is deficient in quantity or number compared to the demand. Essentially, it is available only in small amounts or quantities and is therefore hard to obtain.

The term ‘scarce’ is derived from the Old Norman French word ‘schars’ or Old French term ‘escars,’ both of which mean “scanty” or “insufficient.” It’s a term that is widely used in various fields, including economic, social, political, and environmental discourses.

In economics, scarcity refers to the basic economic problem, the gap between limited—that is, scarce—resources and theoretically limitless wants. This situation requires people to make decisions about how to allocate resources effectively and efficiently to meet basic needs and as many additional wants as possible. Any resource that has an alternative use is considered scarce. For example, a patch of land is scarce as it can be used for agriculture, development, or left in its natural state. Managing such resources involves making decisions about its best use.

In a more general sense, whenever we don’t have as much of something as we would like to have, we describe it as scarce. For instance, clean drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world, just as certain kinds of job opportunities might be scarce in a struggling economy.

Apart from the quantity aspect, ‘scarce’ can also indicate the frequency of occurrence. For example, in an area where it rarely rains, one could say that rain is scarce. In this case, it implies that the rain does not happen as often as it is desired or expected to happen. Another example could be a rare piece of art that is ‘scarce’ because there are limited or nearly no more pieces of that particular work left.

In summary, ‘scarce’ denotes deficiency, insufficiency, paucity, or lack of something in comparison to its demand, need, or in relation to a certain expectation. It is a relative term, as scarcity of something may not be universal but might only exist in certain locales, among specific communities, or under specific conditions. Understanding and identifying what is truly scarce is an important ability, particularly in a world where resources are becoming increasingly strained due to exponential population growth and environmental concerns.