Mentality of Scarcity or Plenty

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial adviser. He is married, has three kids and plans to retire at age 35.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

A couple weeks ago, my family went to visit a friend of my wife’s. They were roommates in university over a decade ago, but they’ve kept in touch since then. Her friend married a man who is older than her and who came from a family of “old money”. We spent a day with them, and on the long drive home, my wife and I got to talking about some of the differences between what I’ll refer to as the middle class and the monied class.

We’re all people, with similar needs and desires. He and I are both intelligent and both work long hours. We both love our family and try to spend as much time as we can with our children. We both try to run a profitable business, although on a somewhat different scale. We both like to own nice things, and I find that they were generous with what they have.

The main difference between middle class and monied class seems to be in their way of thinking. The middle class appears dominated by a mentality of scarcity. This is the rat race, the idea that I’m competing against everyone else. The pie, so to speak, is only so big, and if I’m to get more, I’ll have to take it from someone else’s slice. On the other hand, if someone else is earning more, that must mean that I’m losing the race. This type of mentality is responsible for the effort to keep up with the Joneses that we find in so much of suburbia. It feels like there’s a constant comparison with everyone based on how much we can earn and how much we can buy.

The monied class, conversely, differs in their mentality of plenty. They understand that they already have enough to survive. Over and above that, their effort and creativity is used to generate more value, whether jobs or economic growth or profit or income. They see that what goes around comes around, so they help each other out. They network, they share ideas and they support each other. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that competition is often much less fierce in the monied class versus the middle class. These people are generally involved in charitable efforts because they honestly believe that there’s enough for everyone.

Some people honestly struggle to accumulate any money at all. I understand that. When we are able to earn income and have some resources to manage, the way we think about and relate to our money and to others around us has a great impact on our enjoyment and our success.

How can we tell when we have enough to survive? Do we sometimes profit at the expense of another human being in need? What have you learned from others who have been successful managing their resources?

5 thoughts on “Mentality of Scarcity or Plenty”

  1. Nice post, and loved to meet you and your family this week. You’re absolutely right. In fact, if you work with others you necessarily make the pie bigger. The essence of a good business is that you help someone else do better. They buy your product or service because it makes them wealthier somehow, otherwise they would do it themselves. They also offer you a product or service that makes you better off if you buy it. That means both of you are better off than you were if you hadn’t interacted and helped each other. Economics and trade are all about growing the pie.

  2. An astonishingly broad generalization here between middle and “monied” class. Living with a sense of scarcity or plenty, I believe, is not necessarily tied to income level.

    Many monied peoples (corporate types, perhaps) who do not have any real money needs nevertheless go for greater salaries/incomes just like video game players go for more points. It’s an ego thing and many corporate heads have no problem cutting jobs and/or salaries while gladly accepting obscene bonuses. Never enough. And I also have seen well-heeled corporate leaders who are amazingly gracious with both time and money.

    And on the other side of the fence, I’m sure that we’ve encountered numerous middle class types (I’m not sure how you actually define middle class…) who also never have enough and are glad to play the Win-Lose game. Just as there are many people just scraping by who are quite grateful to share what they have.

    Living of life of scarcity or plenty is an attitude that doesn’t correlate with income, I believe. If you live with a sense of scarcity, then nothing is truly enough. If you live with an attitude of abundance, then the world is a joyous feast for all.

  3. Interesting post. The zero-sum attitude may not come from not having enough, but it sure will keep you there.

  4. Hi Alex (Perfecting Parenthood),
    It was also nice to meet you. There’s a benefit to socializing with people who have similar values and a similar outlook. Some people believe that economics shows us how to grow the pie. Others believe it’s not possible. I don’t know who’s right, but I know which belief allows me to be more successful.

  5. Banjo Steve, you are of course right that I’m generalizing. Sometimes, it’s the exception that proves the rule. Other times, generalizing simply allows us to discover something about how life works. It’s never always true all the time, as you point out.

    And I think Gerard responded to you better than I could.

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