Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Heavenly Vision Without Scarcity

Earlier this month, I noted that Gary Becker viewed time as the fundamental constraint that inevitably leads people to live in a world of scarcity--and therefore a world in which economic choices must be made. A reader sent me a  reminder about some speculation on what a situation without scarcity would look like. Scott Gordon offered a brief speculation on "The Economics of the Afterlife" in the February 1980 issue of the Journal of Political Economy  (88:1, pp. 213-214). Gordon wrote:
"I start with one postulate: that in Heaven there is no scarcity. As David Hume recognized, all conflict springs from scarcity, so it is not necessary to describe Heaven as characterized by justice, peacefulness, mutual love, etc., since these are derivatives from the no-scarcity postulate. One might wonder how economic analysis could be applied to a regime of no scarcity, but this is exactly the point: we can use the analysis, not to describe how to allocate resources efficiently, but to discover the characteristics Heaven must have if no such allocation is necessary."

However, as Gordon points out, even if time is infinite in Heaven, scarcity in terms of time would still exist, because people would not be able to do everything at once, and thus would need to decide what to do sooner and what to do later. Gorgon draws the logical inference:
For Heaven to be characterized by no scarcity, it is necessary that Heaven time be different from World time. Tentatively, let us assume that Heaven time, in addition to being infinite in length, is also infinite in width. Instead of being represented by a Euclidian line which has length but no width, a Heaven time line would have both length and width and would be infinite in both dimensions. In such a regime, there would be no time constraint upon actions or experiences. This would be a condition of no scarcity, since at every instant there is an infinite amount of time.
But if the infinite range of all possible experiences could occur within an instant of time, additional instants of time would be superfluous. Heaven would thus be simultaneously rapturous and brief. Gordon sums up:
I conclude from this that, if the basic postulate of Heaven is the absence of scarcity, then the afterlife will be exquisitely intense in experience but fleetingly brief. Perhaps the reason why most people display great reluctance to experience the bliss of Heaven is due to the fact that, being accustomed to thinking in terms of World time, where duration is of the essence, they find the brevity of Heaven time unappealing. Of course, in making this suggestion, I am assuming that most people have all along known intuitively what economics only just now has proven logically.