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I am having trouble identifying a short story that I have read a while ago. It is about the definition of economics in a future where all necessary goods are abundant/readily available. The story is written as a dialogue with (afaik) no external context given, so my interpretation that it is set in the future may just stem from the fact that we're not yet living in a world of abundant goods. Anyway, in the story, the meaning of economics has shifted from the study of distributing scarce goods to the study of creating scarce goods.

The two characters go on and introduce some examples of such created scarce goods. One of them is, if I remember correctly, that they eliminate some kind of fruit, except for a few cases that they have hidden away inside wooden enclosures, which makes them scarce and thereforce precious luxury goods. Also, most of the remaining pieces of fruit are worm-ridden or otherwise inedible, which only means that the bad fruit is still scarce and valuable, but not as valuable as the few remaining good pieces. The creations are all rather horrible acts and one person is disgusted.

The story also mentions that the definition of economics started a very long time ago as the study of the distribution of a single turnip. (I am not sure if it really was a turnip, though.)

I do not recall the title or author of this story and cannot find it. Does any of you perhaps know its author and title?

  • Sounds like a cross between Pohl & Kornbluth's The Space Merchants and Pohl's The Cool War. – Joe L. Oct 5 '14 at 1:29
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    This is from SMBC comics, but I don't have the exact comic at hand. – Arturo Torres Sánchez Oct 5 '14 at 19:06
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    A very well described question. You have my +1 for usefulness. – Valorum Oct 5 '14 at 20:10
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The story is Scarcity, published in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weinersmith.

Economics,” said the fat man, “is the study of the allocation of scarce resources.”

The fat woman nodded.

“However,” he continued, searching through the papers on his desk for a particular one, “that is only a recent definition. In the past, economics has been the study of the allocation of very scarce resources.”

She nodded.

“Prior to that, it was extremely scarce resources.” At this point, he located a drawing of the descent of man. This drawing was unusual, in that at each evolutionary stage, the hominids were arguing with each other over something in the middle of them. “In fact,” he said, handing the image to her, economics can be traced all the way back to a particular March in 1,332,014 B.C. during which a group of sapiens in sub-Sahara Africa had to divy up a turnip. At that time, economics was defined as the study of the allocation of this one turnip.”

You can read it online here

  • That's it! Thank you! – Carsten Oct 5 '14 at 19:27
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    An excellent find. – Valorum Oct 5 '14 at 20:02
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    I actually follow SMBC's RSS feed, and I read the story the day it was published. – Arturo Torres Sánchez Oct 5 '14 at 20:34

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