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The Scarcity Mindset

Scott Bahlmann

We’ve seen a bit how Calvinism has influenced Dutch society, emphasising investment over indulgence during its heyday in 1500’s. Though they certainly found ways to continue indulgence, the idea was to let finances grow without frivilance. Delft was one of the first capitalist nations, emphasising thrift and hard work over monarchy, and they didn’t mind showcasing the rewards of their hard work. Vermeer clearly demonstrated this shift to thrift with his choice of subject matter. Naturalistic lighting, in contrast to Rembrandts dramatic contrasts, highlighted the everyday tasks of the people, and made them worthy of attention. 

This emphasis on personal gain very likely contributed to the aggressive colonization of the 17th and 18th centuries. With merit for effort, the more you could do the greater was your reward, resulting in the Golden Age. With the Dutch East and West Indies companies leading much of global trading, the success of these capitalist ventures was quickly implemented by all those with the power to do so, and laid the framework for our current business and social structures. The correlation between colonialism and capitalism isn’t something I’ve seen addressed, but they arise in the same century, and both were clearly implemented by the Dutch through mercantile enterprise and to a lesser extent industrialization. 

Other nations really excelled, with Britain and America using Capitalism as a means to protect individual investment through exploitation of resources and segregation. This seems to relate to the scarcity mindset that Rose mentioned on Monday’s discussion, with those who control more carrying greater fears about hypothetical loss of their products and power. Those with a scarcity mindset tend to fear change, hoard information and data, operate from a transactional mindset, feel entitled, and blame others for their failures.

Interestingly, our capitalist structure still employs colonial attributes. The United States and the United Kingdom are among the top five countries to obtain foreign land for their own profits. This is accompanied by an aggressive vetting of support for foreign countries or citizens seeking asylum, many of which were harmed by our governments involvement. It seems the scarcity mindset is pretty firmly entrenched in our policy and global interactions. 

We also saw this grab for power in the discussion surrounding Elsevier, with high costs and personal gain leading their decision making process. Fortunately, we also see resistance in this situation, with support growing for open access publications circumventing the obstacles posed through their manipulation of power. With the subscriber base resisting their monopolistic control, there’s a greater space for innovation and sharing of information. I was surprised to learn that Elsevier has been around since 1880, indicating a strong foundation in the historical Dutch perspectives previously discussed. Curiously, American and Dutch libraries have generally adapted drastically to be more open and inclusive, a sharp contrast to these scarcity principles. 

This isn’t to completely decry the usefulness or benefit these perspectives can bring to a situation. The rebranding effort for the Seattle Public Library was met with clear resistance, stemming from that idea of limited resources. With scarcity as a mindset, we need to be more conscientious of our resources and how we put them to use. In particular, those working in the public sphere have an accountability to their constituents, and should employ more transparency in decision making. Early invitation for response would help to establish the value of a proposal, as well as assuring it met the intended objectives by involving more stakeholders in the development. This attentiveness would hopefully also include more diverse perspectives, bringing a consideration to counter the limited perspective of colonialists who established some of these early mindsets.