“The incorrect supposition that we live in a world of scarce resources … has been responsible for wars, revolutions, political strategies, and human suffering of unfathomable proportions.”
In the 1800’s, before electricity was invented, the whaling industry provided most of the energy for lighting and heating. Demand was high for whale byproducts, and it came to a point where whale oil became scarce. During that time, dire predictions were made about the economy as whale stocks went down. Just in time, however, an oil well was discovered in the United States, heralding the start of the petroleum industry. Today, whale oil is rarely used, and commercial whaling is no longer used for energy production.
For the past ten years, petroleum prices have been increasing at alarming proportions. Doomsayers are saying that once the oil wells dry up, we will have a full-blown energy crisis with dire consequences to the economy. Must we be scared? Perhaps. But looking through the annals of history, I am confident in the creativity and resourcefulness of men. Sooner or later, new energy sources will be found to supplant petroleum.
Inspite of the scarcity of natural resources, the fact is that our world has adequately accommodated an increasing population. According to Paul Zane Pilzer, the global population has increased six times over the past 260 years, but the wealth of the world has multiplied 1,700 times over that same period. Someone Up There has given us unlimited resources. As stewards of creation, we have been given the ability to master technology and resources for the good of many.
In medicine, the scarcity mindset has sadly been propagated. Some medical societies limit the clinical practice of doctors in certain areas “in order to preserve the share of the pie”. This has resulted in monopolistic practices, resulting in the deterioration of medical care. Competition breeds an upgrading of skills on the part of the clinician. Without this competition, one becomes complacent and fails to better his or her craft. The community, left with no choice because of the “monopoly”, is forced to make do with what is available.
Must we be scared of things that take away our share of the pie? Perhaps we have to analyze our own motives to answer this. The desire to learn new things may initially be due to selfish reasons. But in the end, it results in the betterment of society. Drug manufacturers may initially benefit from patents for new drugs that they create, and they make a lot of money out of it. But once the patent expires, society stands to benefit more when drug prices go down. At the same time, this inspires drug manufacturers to do more research and find better cures for prevailing ailments. Is it intrinsically wrong to allow pharmaceutical companies to have patents on their discoveries? As long as the competition is healthy and it fosters creativity, the freedom to cash in on one’s intellectual property must be preserved. It is only when greed overrides the desire to do good that safeguards must be put in place.
The world is an abundant place. I believe that God wants all of us to be rich. But money must circulate. It must be shared. The ultra-rich people of society have learned this by sharing their wealth with their philanthropic deeds. Medical knowledge is no different. It must not be monopolized. Its quest must be promoted. And ultimately, it must be shared.