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The duetting professors present their adventures in metaphor as a kind of quest, though it is not always clear who is Quixote and who Sancho Panza. Their journey begins with the sort of revelation common to all such quests, a leap from the personal to the universal. The hypothesis to be tested is this: do the patterns of behaviour they themselves show when under deadline pressure in busy academic lives bear relation to those displayed by those billions of people in the world struggling to survive on minimal resources? In other words, do the stressed-out time-poor of the west have common cause with the actual dollar-a-day poor of the developing world?

If they do, it is Mullainathan and Shafir's contention that the link between these two states is "scarcity". If that link sounds tendentious, or even arrogant, then the American professors have no end of smart studies to back it up. It is, to begin with, their provable belief that "scarcity captures the mind", and it doesn't matter whether the absent resource is time or food or money.

Some of this understanding is not new: a study of hunger prompted by a need to understand and feed Europe's starving after the war among American volunteers revealed not only the obvious — that, faced with starvation, food of any kind would be eaten and plates licked clean — but also that the brain was hijacked entirely by this need.

The subjects of the study who watched movies were interested only in the scenes in which food was mentioned; when they talked they made plans to open restaurants or become farmers when the study was ended; they hoarded cookbooks. Further studies show this preoccupation to occur in far less extreme circumstances.

In one experiment, a group is divided into those who'd had lunch, and those who hadn't eaten since breakfast.


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Both sets watched words flashed very quickly — at one-thirtieth of a second — on a screen. The hungry cohort identified as many of the words as the others except in one instance — they were far more likely to identify the word "cake" than their fully fed peers. From such findings the authors begin to count the ways in which scarcity of all kinds — sleep, security, time, food, money — remodels patterns of thinking. Sometimes the results are counterintuitive.

Thus, the lonely and isolated are far more alive to the nuances of facial gesture than the popular and sociable. Sometimes the "tunnelling" of vision is more creative: as any artist or writer will confirm, an unmissable deadline will focus the mind like nothing else. But always, the authors observe, such narrowing comes at a price. The cost is an undue focus on the necessity at hand, which leads to a lack of curiosity about wider issues, and an inability to imagine longer-term consequences.

The effect of this scarcity-generated "loss of bandwidth" has catastrophic results in particular in relation to money. While the poor have a much sharper idea of value and cost, an obsessive concentration on where the next dollar is coming from leads not only to poor judgment, a lessened ability to make rational choices or see a bigger picture, but also to a diminishing of intelligence even "feeling poor" lowers IQ by the same amount as a night without sleep , as well as a lowering of resistance to self-destructive temptation.

This "scarcity trap" provides an explanation for unpalatable truths, the authors argue. It shows why the "poor are more likely to be obese… Less likely to send their children to school… [why] the poorest in a village are the ones least likely to wash their hands or treat their water before drinking it. They are short on bandwidth. Mullainathan and Shafir discuss how scarcity affects our daily lives, recounting anecdotes of their own foibles and making surprising connections that bring this research alive.

Scarcity : : why having too little means so much / | Nielsen

Their book provides a new way of understanding why the poor stay poor and the busy stay busy, and it reveals not only how scarcity leads us astray but also how individuals and organizations can better manage scarcity for greater satisfaction and success. Mullainathan and Shafir have made an important, novel, and immensely creative contribution. Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics. Scarcity is likely to change how you view both entrenched poverty and your own ability -- or inability --to get as much done as you'd like It's a handy guide for those of us looking to better understand our inability to ever climb out of the holes we dig ourselves, whether related to money, relationships, or time.

Together they manage to merge scientific rigor and a wry view of the human predicament.


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Their project has a unique feel to it: it is the finest combination of heart and head that I have seen in our field. What's particularly useful about the idea of scarcity is that it is overarching; ease that burden, and people will be better able to deal with all the rest. They offer insights that can help us change our individual behavior and that open up an entire new landscape of public policy solutions.

A breathtaking achievement! Take a behavioral economist and a cognitive psychologist, each a prominent leader in his field, and let their creative minds commingle. What you get is a highly original and easily readable book that is full of intriguing insights. What does a single mom trying to make partner at a major law firm have in common with a peasant who spends half her income on interest payments?

The answer is scarcity. Read this book to learn the surprising ways in which scarcity affects us all. Thaler, University of Chicago, coauthor of Nudge. But a long-term dearth can result in fixations that hinder our decision-making Less is not necessarily more. This is a book with huge implications for both personal development and public policy. Everyone has experienced scarcity, and the research cited will likely alter every reader's worldview.

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much

It is essential reading for those who don't have the time for essential reading. The authors support their lucid, accessible argument with a raft of intriguing research. Sendhil Mullainathan , a professor of economics at Harvard University, is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and conducts research on development economics, behavioral economics, and corporate finance.

He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He conducts research in cognitive science, judgment and decision-making, and behavioral economics. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey. A surprising and intriguing examination of how scarcity--and our flawed responses to it--shapes our lives, our society, and our culture Why do successful people get things done at the last minute?

Read more Read less. Product details Hardcover: pages Publisher: Times Books; 8. Review "Extraordinarily illuminating. Sunstein, The New York Review of Books "Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir offer groundbreaking insights into, among other themes, the effects of poverty on cognition and our ability to make choices about our lives.

Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics "Compelling, important Thaler, University of Chicago, coauthor of Nudge "[Mullainathan and Shafir] examine how having too little of something first inspires focused bursts of creativity and productivity--consider how looming deadlines can motivate us. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human " Scarcity is certain to gain popularity and generate discussion because it hits home. No customer reviews.

Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. September 24, - Published on Amazon. Verified Purchase. The authors' basic point seems to be that scarcity of time or money leads to diminished "bandwidth" ability of the mind to hold information in the forefront of consciousness and therefore "tunneling," the intense focus on what is most immediate or important and the neglect of other issues.

The authors' tone is engaging with lots of anecdotes and jokes presumably to appeal to their undergrad students and their thesis is supported by the usual hit parade of social science research dealing with decision making. It is hard to know how valid a lot of this research really is and whether you are persuaded by the authors will probably depend on your views going in. One of the authors' main points is that some of poverty is a function of reduced ability to concentrate because of the stress of life.

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But whether this is a major factor is unaddressed. The authors' recommendations that they believe follow from their conclusions are haphazard and leave the reader shrugging his shoulders. The book only takes a couple of hours to read but whether that time was well spent was to me, now having finished the book, unclear.

July 28, - Published on Amazon. I went looking for this book after hearing the podcast Tunnel Vision on Hidden Brain which presented such an illustrative case for the theories presented in the book. Scarcity presents compelling arguments that could change the way societies perceive and address issues of poverty, debt and support programs. I have already heard people incorporating the authors' perspective in public discourse. Their ideas have also had a profound effect on me personally, on how I think about money problems and time management and on my emotional reactions to these universal challenges.

I certainly recognize tunnel vision in my choices and have been learning to check outside the tunnel from time to time and use a wider lens when choosing priorities. If you're struggling with time or money management or judging those who are, you will find new ways of thinking about these issues in this book. My new motto: In abundance lie the seeds of scarcity. December 30, - Published on Amazon.

This book by behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir explains the cognitive difficulties people encounter when faced with managing a crucial scarce resource e. The authors argue that scarcity creates a mindset that results in myopia and adversely affects fluid intelligence, resulting in flawed decisions concerning matters related and unrelated to the scarce resource. Scarcity results in temporary cognitive impairment that makes people focus on the immediate pressures of scarcity at the expense of long-range planning. For example, a cash-strapped person might take out a high-interest payday loan to relieve scarcity in the present moment, only to find cash-scarcity is even worse later on.

A busy executive under time pressure may "borrow" time from future projects by delaying them only to find the time pressure increasing in the long run. Scarcity becomes a causal loop The authors refer to this self-defeating behavior as the "scarcity trap.