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Scarcity, Preferences and Cooperation: A Mimetic Analysis

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In “The Ambivalence of Scarcity” which is my contribution to L’Enfer des choses. René Girard et la logique de l’économie, written by Jean-Pierre Dupuy and originally published in French in 1978, I attempt to apply mimetic theory to modern economics and to economic
phenomena, and also to explain why economic issues and economics as a discipline occupy such an important place in the modern world.

The “ambivalence” in the title refers to the fact that in many social and economic discourses, both political and academic, scarcity plays, or can play, a double role. First, scarcity, in the form of want and deprivation, is viewed as a cause of violence and conflicts and as a problem to be solved. We spontaneously tend to see poor neighbourhoods as dangerous neighbourhoods and assume that high levels of poverty and unemployment lead to social unrest. However, want, lack and needs are also considered as central, indispensable economic incentives that should be harnessed judiciously for economic growth. This constitutes the second opposite value of the ambivalence. Scarcity is viewed then both as a threat, as a danger to social order, and as one of its foundations, perhaps as its most important and solid basis, for it is scarcity, understood as an “incentive,” that underpins economic growth, and economic growth is simultaneously seen as our best defence against social unrest and disorder.