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I'm thinking (for no good reason) about how some people's houses never contain certain things.

And you think that if you give that person the thing, they will then have that thing in their house in future. And yet it doesn't work that way. Why does it so rarely work that way?

It feels like this is touching on something deeper that I can't quite articulate. About shortages in general and how the reasons for them are more complex than we think.

I'll give an example: I have elderly relatives who don't have a frying pan. This is annoying for family members who visit, because it's the guests who cook and to most people, a frying pan is a basic & necessary kitchen item.

So two other relatives bought them a frying pan. Put it in the cupboard.

Problem solved?

Problem not solved.

Next time they visit, there's still no frying pan. Even though they bought one last time. So they bought another one and put it in the cupboard. Repeat. They bought three frying pans for these people last year and yet somehow the situation where these people don't own a frying pan has not changed.

We talk about "just throwing money at the problem" as if it's a bad thing, and clearly sometimes it is. But you'd think that the problem of not possessing a household item that is easily purchasable in exchange for money would be precisely the kind of problem you *can* throw money at. And yet it's not! Or these people would have a frying pan!

In this specific case, the problem is that every time this couple get a new frying pan, their grandson takes it. So presumably this is the reason why they don't buy a frying pan themselves.

Of course this brings up other questions. Why does the grandson need more than one frying pan? (Is there someone in his life who keeps taking *his* frying pans? Is that person doing it because someone else is taking *their* pans? How far back does this thing go???)

The boring answer is probably that he keeps burning them or something. But still more questions: why do this couple keep letting him take every frying pan they get? Why have they just accepted that they'll never own a frying pan for more than a few weeks?

As far as I can tell, the reason is that they're making entirely understandable choices about this.

These days they mostly eat things like ready meals and sandwiches, so the lack of a frying pan doesn't impact their day-to-day lives at all. But their grandson is a big part of their lives. They love him, they'd do anything for him, he lives nearby and they see him a lot.

So of course it's rational that they'd see his immediate need for a frying pan as more important and valid than the need of a guest who isn't even there and won't be coming to stay again for, say, another three months.

Of course it's annoying to keep buying the same item only for it to vanish, but the phenomenon is not as maddeningly mysterious as it first looks. Nobody is acting irrationally here.

And I wonder: does this apply to other shortages, other schemes to help through giving that "mysteriously" fail? Other groups of people who "can't be helped" because of their "irrational" choices?

(End of thread!)

Ooh, I just want to add a key element here: this couple have never complained about not having a frying pan, let alone asked a guest to buy them one.

When guests do it, it's actually for ourselves because we'll be the ones using it. And this is an important element of a lot of "failed" schemes to "help" people: the people being "helped" haven't asked for that specific kind of help. It's all shaped by what the helper wants to do.

OK, I've really finished now. If you've read this far, thanks for your patience.

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Sunbeam City 🌻

Sunbeam City is a Libertarian Socialist solarpunk instance. It is ran democratically by a cooperative of like-minded individuals.