Scarcity and the subtle art of staying at home.

As of early January [checks notes for year…] ,er, 2021 the inhabitants of England are told, again, to stay at home. A simple instruction, with – as I understand it – a simple aim. That is, an easily transmissible contagion is afoot and keeping people apart will limit it’s spread. Do that effectively, with discipline, for long enough and people will cease to get sick from it. Job done.
Of course, simply retreating into the bunker and locking the door isn’t going to work because you’d run out of provisions and die. Sub optimal. A case of…

“Doctor, how was the procedure?
The operation was a success!
How is the patient?
Mmm? Oh, they died.”

Hence we have exceptions. We are given legitimate reasons to go outside, to leave the compound, to blink in the watery winter sun. The government have detailed these exceptions. Ergo, it’s a simple case of following the rules and “job’s a good’un” yeah? Any questions? No? Good.

Except apparently not. If 2020 has taught us something – and by “us” I don’t include the Johnson government – it’s that when you make something scarce, swathes of people start to defy the laws of behavioural physics. 2020 itself is not our teacher, nor is COVID-19. We are merely being reminded and given vivid illustration of what many already know rather than being schooled. I choose language carefully here because some people are being taught over and over, but what they are refusing to do is learn.
(Clearly, many people are not in need of a lesson, they nod sagely and comply with lockdown because although they don’t like it, they get it.)

I am moved to write this piece because I have left the house today. Given the short hours of northern hemisphere daylight, the (unusual) absence of precipitation, noticeable midriff excess and sheer frustration I have been inspired – probably not the right word – to get out and take the permitted exercise. IE: A convoluted marched lap of the locality here in rural Wiltshire.

“Hello… yes, bit chilly… and to you too” summarises the flavour of each conversational exchange en route. Not stopping, I encountered several locals on apparently similar constitutional missions. Recalibrating the radar then takes in the can’t-do-this-from-home-workers people. Telecoms, electricians, plumbers and even a thatcher in evidence – their liveried commercial vehicles – plying trades. The local farmer paving over more of paradise for no apparent reason. An all but empty bus. On the main road, larger trucks. No school run today.

Noticing: there’s still a lot of traffic.

Eventually a mildly ta-da realisation. Not all of these people need to be out.

Then a question: why the flip-flop are they not at home?

People are not at home because… ___________________________________________________________________

[Space left intentionally blank for your answer in 15 words or less: use the comment function. No prizes, just for fun.]

A lifetime of answers rather possibly.

(An awful lot of judging motives rather probably.)

Yet a fascinating phenomenon. Why go out?
I mean, it’s January in England. IE: it’s bleak.

Christmas is but a memory (apart from the extra weight which remains). Back to work (notionally) this week. Bills to be paid. Summer an impossibly long way away. In essence, January is a zero-laughs, rubbish month and many of us happily wish it away for a spring morn’.

So – in an admittedly narrow sense – this winter lockdown is a gift right? January has been banished!

Wrong. It seems that people cannot bear to stay indoors and simply do the right thing.
It’s been less than 24hrs and the madness has set in: “We have to get out!”

(Imagine the answers the police are getting when challenging motorists as to their reason for their journey. I recall a rumoured 2020 Swansea seafront summer lockdown incident where the family from Birmingham had come to see the sea: an essential 200mile round trip. Then there was that chap who had to drive to Barnard Castle to check his eyesight…)

In a parallel universe 2021 it is business-as-usual January where everyone is – oh the irony – self-locked-down making hygge: box-set-binging with hot-chocolate and blanketed snuggles, riding out the winter by not going outside.

So if January sucks, just why do people want to go out?

Part of the behaviour lies in the influential nature of scarcity. There is the human condition that generates an increased desire for that which is rare. Simply that if you threaten to take something away, then oh-my-days, hells bells, heavens to Betsy people want it more. Step in economists to tell us all about supply and demand. And yet… and yet…

Many people are defying the economists. They are defying rational behaviour…

Summary thought: Scarcity. It makes people cray-cray.

Request to you: So next time you’re heading out. Have a word with yourself. Lockdown means stay at home. Are you making an essential journey? Have a rational word with yourself again stop making reasons up, go back inside and have a cup of tea.

If you want to learn more about the principles or scarcity, get in touch. 

And if you want a reading recommendation on the topic? Likewise.

Stay well, stay indoors, don’t embarrass us both okay?

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