June 26, 2008

Stones run out

Hypothetical situation before I attempt a break from this space: You are part of a community that lives on an isolated mountaintop. When your ancestors got to the mountaintop, they found a particular kind of green stones lying around in abundance. These turned out to be valuable to the community for building homes, because the stones are easily laid on top of each other to form attractive and sturdy green walls.

Initially, there were so many stones that nobody even thought that there might be a finite number of them. But as the years and generations pass, and the population on the isolated mountain top increases and more houses get built, sure enough: the stones gradually become harder to find. This is a slow process, but eventually, at least to long-time residents, it becomes clear that they are soon going to run out of the stones.

Question: Of the two below, what's the more likely scenario?

* As the number of stones dwindles, they get more and more valuable. People are willing to pay higher and higher prices for them, and eventually even get into pitched fights with their neighbours for the remaining stones. By the time there are only a handful of stones left, those few are under permanent heavy guard, in effect museum pieces.

* As the number of stones dwindles, and since this happens slowly, they actually lose their economic importance to the community. By the time there are only a handful of stones left, they are essentially worthless, so nobody even notices the last ones being used up.

Bonus questions: Do you need any other information that might be relevant to trying to answer this? What? Does the kind of resource -- green stones, in this case -- matter? i.e. would it be different if we were talking about truffula trees, or birds that can be hunted for food, or a source of potable water?

Extra bonus question (though a simple one): why "truffula"?

Note: I don't have a definite answer about which of the two scenarios might apply. I can see it going either way, perhaps depending on the resource in question. (Consider oil, consider herbs).


chetan said...

MORE EFFICIENT UTILISATION OF EXISTING RESOURCES - the community institutes a council of elders who regulates the consumption of the stones, builds similar size houses of lesser stones, builds smaller houses where required - for small families or smaller sized people
SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVE RESOURCES - they learn to build homes out of mud, branches, etc
TRUFULA - from the allegorical works of Dr Seuss
ps - having attended Rage Against the Machine in Tel Aviv in 1999, i have little praise for their music and none for their stage antics

Nazim Khan said...

It would essentially depend on the utility of those green stones and the availability of its substitutes.
Since its utility is always high, you've got to create homes at any cost, so the demand for those green stones (or its substitutes will be there). Moving on.
If, say, the community finds other way (or stones) to construct homes, the rush and value of green stones comes down and it becomes worthless. The second scenario is more likely.
It there's no substitute, then the first.

Transmogrifier said...

Additional information needed: Who owns the stones? Do individuals own quarries from which they sell stones? Are the stones a common resource (like air)?

Assuming the stone quarries are privately owned, as numbers start dwindling, quantity of stones demanded will outstrip supply. This will drive the prices up. Some people will decide they don't need pretty green stones to build good houses and switch to alternatives (they gotta live in some sort of house!). Others might continue paying higher prices to build pretty green houses. Ultimately as all the available stones run out, supply will be limited to recycled stones from old houses which will still have a pretty high price. Some people will live in normal gray stone houses and invest in a few pretty green stones to get higher returns later.

Or in an alternative scenario, if stones in a "commons resource", people will use the stones as many as they want until they get depleted. After that the market of pretty green stones will consist only be that of recycled stone. Those who can't afford the prices will live in gray stone houses.

Sidhusaaheb said...

I would expect the prices to increase over the short to medium term, with the community being on the lookout for alternative resources all the time.

The stones are likely to be used for construction in conjunction with other materials, at first and, in the long term, be completely replaced with other and, obviously, cheaper materials, in my opinion.

jaideep said...

1. People will live in very large extended families in the existing houses
2. Shantytowns made of other materials will be created with just enough green stone used in each structure to make sure the structure does not collapse.
3. Various "leaders" will emerge to create trouble between groups 1and 2 above and within each group as well.

jaideep said...

truffla = a person that savors a savory bit of truffle and then says aaaaahhh

Rabin Stephen said...

Agree with Sidhu. I see both scenarios happening in this order:

a) The folks with the green stones, ie the haves, would restrict the development of other type of stones to keep the prices of green stones quite high on the medium term.

b) The demand of housing breaks through a threashold and hence people are forced to look at alternative solutions in the long term. Hence over a period of time the demand for green stones comes down.

Why not truffula? coz truffula doesn't keep the rain out...Why not water? well, water doesn't have an alternative, green stones do. No water =dwindling population, no green stones=alternative building material.

One more question...with the folks living in the mountain, if the rocks in the mountain are used for building, then wouldn't the mountain going to get smaller in size as the population grows larger?

Ajeya said...

The people kill each other because of their greed and short-sightedness. Their world and time on it comes to an end.