Tuesday, May 15, 2001

In search of enough-II

We, as a civilisation, suffer from the never enough syndrome: the more we have, the more we want to have.
Gautam Chikermane
The one whose appetite is satisfied loathes honey, but to the hungry mouth every bitter thing is sweet. –Proverbs 27:7, Bible
Satish Patel from New Delhi has been one of our earliest, most regular and steadfast readers, encouraging us when we do good work and reprimanding us when we slip up. This time he’s pointed out something so basic, so simple and so obvious, that I wonder why I didn’t think of it before. In my previous column, I had explored the limits of wealth we want, and was wondering when we’ll ever have Enough of it. In response to which Patel writes: "There is a lot of truth in your musings (In Search of Enough, April 30). However, I believe that somewhere down the line the inexorable Law of Diminishing Returns would start to take effect. That’s when people face lifetime crises. And, perhaps, start contributing to others’ wealth–shrinks and doctors."
For those who are not students of economics, the law of diminishing returns is an economic principle that lays down that the application of additional units of any one factor of production– labour, land, capital–to fixed amounts of the other factors yields successively smaller increments in the total output. For instance, if more and more labourers are added to harvest a farm, at some point each additional labourer will add less output than his predecessor did, simply because he has less and less of the fixed amount of land to work on. A long-time characteristic of Indian agriculture, economists have called this ‘disguised unemployment’. First hinted at by sociologist-economist Thomas Robert Malthus in his 1798 paper, Essay on the Principle of Population, this principle was later accepted as an economic law underlying all productive enterprises.
Opinion in Outlook Money

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