Tag Archives: scarcity

Lesson in Misunderstanding Abundance and Scarcity: Quebec and Abitibibowater

One of the biggest problems old institutions have grasping the internet is how it changes notions of abundance and scarcity. We are used to a world of scarcity where, if you have something, I cannot also have it, so we need a way to figure out how to allocate it (market forces, government regulation, etc…). The two following examples are wonderful cases of acting like their is scarcity when there is abundance, and acting like there is abundance, where there is scarcity…

The Province of Quebec – Don’t help people vote!

The other day a friend of mine, a web developer who goes by the name Ducky, asked the Province of Quebec for image (KML) files for provincial ridings in Quebec. These files would allow her to show people, in say, Google Maps, which riding they live in, who their representative in the National Assembly might be, etc… The Government of Quebec was happy to share, but only on the condition that she never make money using the information:

From: Charlotte Perreault <Cperreault@dgeq.qc.ca>
Date: 2009/12/8
Subject: Shapefiles pour les circonscriptions électorales québécoises
To: ducky@*******.com
Cc: Mireille Loignon <Mloignon@dgeq.qc.ca>

Madame Duck Sherwood

Nous avons pris connaissance de votre demande concernant l’utilisation des cartes des circonscriptions électorales québécoises sur le site http://www.electionsquebec.qc.ca/fr/copyright.asp .  Après analyse, nous considérons que pour l’instant il n’y a pas d’utilisation commerciale de ces fichiers.  Par conséquent, vous êtes autorisée à les utiliser en mentionnant la source, soit la Commission de la représentation électorale du Québec.

Cependant, si vous souhaitez un jour commercialiser un produit fait à partir de ces cartes, vous devrez communiquer avec nous en nous transmettant plus de renseignements comme par, exemples, le prix de vente dudit produit, ou tout autre renseignement qui nous permettra d’évaluer correctement  votre demande.

Veuillez agréer, Madame, l’expression de nos meilleurs sentiments.

Charlotte Perreault, conseillère en communication
Direction des communications
Directeur général des élections du Québec
Édifice René-Lévesque
3460, rue de La Pérade
Québec (QC)
G1X 3Y5
So, if Ducky, or say a newspaper, wanted to create a website to help residents of Quebec identify what riding they live in… and were going to have advertising on the site, they couldn’t do that without permission from the Quebec government. Heaven forbid that someone offer citizens or voters a helpful or interesting service, especially using information that is in the public interest.
Why is this? I’m not sure. If Ducky created her site, it wouldn’t preclude someone else from using the exact same information to create their own site. No, the Quebec government is turning something that is infinitely abundant and that can be used over and over again (election data) and making it scarce by preventing anyone from using it in a way that could be useful and profitable. Maybe they think they could make some money from the data… but sadly, every academic anlsysis shows they won’t – usually money recovered for data like this is covers the cost of collecting the money, and nothing else. In the end, the losers in all this are… Quebec residents.
Abitibibowater – Print, Print and Print more!
On the flip side of this is Abitibibowater, the producer of “a wide range of newsprint, commercial printing papers, market pulp and wood products.” Apparently, they have become concerned about the number of people who include “do not print this e-mail” at the bottom of their emails. So they sent around this memo to their employees:

To all our employees:

At AbitibiBowater, we rely on the forest to make our products, and respect for the environment is a fundamental part of everything we do. Too often, however, we see the use of paper singled out as something ‘bad’ for the environment, which is the reason why some people include “do not print this e-mail” notes to the end of their electronic messages. There has been ongoing discussion concerning this matter in the media recently, given the proliferation of electronic readers. Here is a link to a March article that appeared on PBS’s website, which raises this issue.

We believe it is OK to print, especially if you use paper sourced from independently certified forests and recycle the paper after you are finished with it. Our Company works hard to operate in a way that is sustainable, and that reflects the values of our employees, our customers, and the communities in which we operate. We are continuously improving our manufacturing processes and reducing our environmental footprint.

We have developed a page on our website to address this issue (abitibibowater.com/print) that explains why you can feel comfortable knowing that using paper is an environmentally responsible choice. We have written our own e-mail footnote that makes this point and invites others to find out why:

It’s OK to print this e-mail. Paper is made from a renewable resource. Please choose paper sourced from independently certified sustainable forests and recycle. For more information visit abitibibowater.com/print.

Uh… actually it is still really, really, wasteful to print an email that you could just forward to someone. Even if that email is printed on certified paper. Paper may be a renewable resource, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t scarce. Trees used for making paper aren’t being used for something else, like say, building homes, making tourists happy, or, say, converting CO2 into air.

Pretending like something is abundant when it is actually scarce is deeply irresponsible – and Abitibi’s email is prompting me to actually add the “do not print this email” signature to the bottom of my own emails.

The economics of abundance and scarcity matter – knowing which one you are dealing with matters. Make the wrong choice, and you could end up looking at best like a fool, at worst, deeply irresponsible.