Artificial scarcity

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Artificial scarcity refers to situations in which scarcity is deliberately created, most commonly in response to a perceived business need. The term is applied to both rival goods and non-rival goods, but the significance and mechanisms are somewhat different in each case.

For more in-depth discussion of these contexts, see:

The inefficiency associated with artificial scarcity is formally known as a deadweight loss.


One argument is that this arrangement has come about because capitalism and the profit motive create a situation where it is easier to profit from creating scarcity than from meeting unmet needs[1].

The argument goes as follows:

  • Producers are primarily motivated by profit – not to satisfy wants or needs, or even to provide economic value.
  • Profit is maximized by satisfying effective demand through selling at the highest possible price.
  • When all needs are met, effective demand is low.
  • When effective demand is low, prices are also low (due to the law of supply and demand).
  • Therefore: profit can be increased by artificially limiting availability (through any of several mechanisms), thereby increasing effective demand.


Common mechanisms for creating or enforcing such scarcity include:

  • monopoly [W] pricing structures, such as those enabled by intellectual property rights or by high fixed costs in a particular marketplace.
  • cartels [W]
  • guilds [W]
  • copyright - Grants authors a limited monopoly to copy and distribute their works.
  • Hoarding by traders and middlemen
  • Black market activities
  • Insider trading

All these activities are beneficial for the producer who gets a high profit margin by increasing prices due to deficiency in the supply of goods. Ultimately it is the final consumer who bears the burden of not being able to obtain the amount of goods he requires and also being unable to get them at a reasonable price.

These actions are used to artificially prevent market failure, artificially preserve profits for producers, or artificially reduce costs for a certain group. A state of complete abundance will crash any market economy.