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Not enough sand?

After going over the course syllabus in an introductory economics course, one of the first things an instructor will discuss is scarcity, that there are not enough resources to satisfy all of the wants for that resource.   While it is easy to see that there are not enough cancer doctors or not enough petroleum or not enough diamonds for all of our wants, it seems that there are some things that do not seem to be scarce, that there is plenty of it.  For instance, think of something like sand.  One look at the vast quantities of sand in the Saharan desert, and one gets the idea that there is plenty sand.

Yet sand is often scarce.  For instance, I had a few holes develop around some storm drains.  After stepping in one, I decided to put an end to them.  I went to Lowe’s and got some gravel and sand.  Lowe’s made me pay for the sand.  I was willing to pay for the sand because it was scarce, at least in my yard.  If I had all that I wanted and could get it without going to the Fourchon Beach or to the Sahara, I would.  I can’t, though.

If that does not convince you that sand is scarce, read this article in the Washington Times by Cheryl Chumley about how beaches in Florida are running out of sand.  With the outer edge of the continental shelves not far from the Florida shores, beach sand is being washed out and off the edge of these shelves.  Dredging for sand just is not going to provide them with enough sand.   They are looking at a different substance, glass, which, of course, is made from sand in the first place, to replace sand on their beaches.  Yes, even sand is scarce.

One lesson to be learned here is that anything someone will pay for is scarce.  Market prices are good indicators of scarcity and good measures of scarcity.  However, even if there is no market for some things, that does not mean that scarcity is absent and we have plenty.  As we see in the case of public goods, we might have a scarce good or resource, even though there is no market for that good.  This is the case where people will not pay for something when they can free ride for that good.


39 Responses to “Not enough sand?”

  1. LT says:

    After reading this blog and following the links provided I believe that sand is scarce and is becoming more scarce, like so many other things in the world. However it is all about the location of the sand that makes it scarce. Although there is still an abundance of sand in the world it is in parts where it is not used or wanted like the desert for instance. Places that it is scarce increase the price because it is less readily available.

  2. BS says:

    I never really looked at sand as if it could run out. Sand is almost alone every coast and more in the deserts. I actually brought of souvenir that had sand in the bottom of the bowl. I guess it depends on where you go in the world. In a place like Florida where you could find sand almost anywhere, sand shouldn’t be scarce. Sand becoming scarce will be someone like Louisiana where we don’t have plenty of sand surrounding us.

    • mcoats says:

      BS, Notice that it is exactly Florida where they have been shipping in sand to their beaches, because they have lost so much. They are also considering finely ground glass as a replacement.

  3. KR says:

    Sand is getting scarce. Where I live i had to pay a lot of money to fill holes and make a driveway. My father and I did it for our self-interest. We were willing to pay a lot of money for sand to get the job done.

  4. MF says:

    I have to agree LB, it is hard for us to comprehend that sand in some areas is scarce considering that in general, it is so easy for us to access sand. Furthermore, like you stated, we should never run out of glass meaning that manmade sand should always be available if needed.

  5. MF says:

    It would seem most absurd at first thought to even for a minute consider the possibility that Florida beaches are running out of sand. However, the article from ‘The ‘Washington Times’ entails us to give a thought about what really is happening to resources that we take for granted (beaches in Florida). I do believe, however, to say sand is become scarce in Florida is a touch extreme. This is because scarcity of sand in Florida wouldn’t be noticeable to us as there are many beaches in Florida. However, it would seem more understandable to say sand is scare in New York. I believe it really boils down to the location of area, the supply and how easy it is to get hold of sand for reliability to suggest sand is becoming scarce.


  6. BDL says:

    Scarcity occurs when our human wants surpass the resources available to satisfy them. Scarcity has always existed and it affects everyone locally and globally. An example of scarcity on the global level would be the growing water crisis in South Africa. South Africa has limited resources and with an ever-increasing population, the country has been having trouble meeting the demands for water. An example of scarcity on the local level (US) would be the scarcity of sand in Florida as referenced in this blog.
    After reading the title of this blog, my first thought was how we could not have enough sand. When I first moved in my house, I wanted to level my yard so I purchased sand from a local company. The sand was readily available. Louisiana does not have a problem with sand scarcity; however, other states are not as fortunate. According to The Washington Times, Florida is one of the places where sand is scarce. Short-term solutions such as trucking sand from nearby counties in central Florida has worked thus far, but it is not a long-term solution. Leaders must come up with a solution soon because the shortage of sand will leave the beaches of Florida susceptible to environmental conditions such as coastal erosion.

    • mcoats says:

      Anytime you pay for something, it is scarce. It is only not scarce if there is as much or more freely available than people’s uses. If sand were not scarce, it would be free.

  7. JV says:

    Scarcity can also be found in intangible goods. Like a sporting event. If you have a favorite player, eventually they will retire. You are willing to buy tickets to watch them play but eventually it will end. Its happening right now in MLB. 2014 is Derek Jeter’s last year as a MLB player. Every stadium he plays at, ticket sales are increased so fans get a chance to say “Farewell to the captain”. Im sure if people could watch Michael Jordan play another game they would pay top dollar for those tickets.

  8. JS says:

    In my opinion, sand basically is free. I think that our human nature forces us to want the bigger and better things, which is why many things are scarce. If you really think about it, we could easily drive to Grand Isle and pick up some sand to bring home, but it is easier to just go to the store and buy it. Water is another example. We could drink free water if we really wanted to, but no one wants to drink nasty pond water or rain water from the ground, so we go and buy clean, bottled water from the store.

    • mcoats says:

      Where the sand is and the transportation costs of getting it from where it is free and not scarce to where it is not free and is scarce needs to be considered.

  9. TC says:

    Like others have previously stated, I would have never imagined such an infinite resource such as sand to be considered scarce. After all, sand is everywhere isn’t it? This makes me have an entirely new outlook on the concept of scarcity. I’ve always thought that scarcity meant that there was almost “no more” of something. I think that many people look at something like sand and think there there is no way that we could ever run out of it. It is not until something like “paying for sand” comes up that people realize, something doesn’t have to be nearly nonexistent to be considered scarce.

    • JS says:

      I agree with your statement about having a new outlook on the concept of scarcity. The thought of not having enough sand someday is weird to think about. I think the scarcity of sand will always be only in some areas.

  10. FJB says:

    This puts thing in a whole new perspective for me. I would have never thought about an item such as sand to be a scarce resource. This also made me realize that specializing in production is not only an international issue but it could also go as deep as state to state. If one state has abundant amounts of sand and the other large amounts of fresh water, the trade in these commodities will benefit both parties with the least amount of effort.

  11. LB says:

    Like Florida, I can recall sand getting imported to Grand Isle after Hurricane Katrina. It’s funny to think of sand as being scarce, since it seems to encompass such large areas all over the world. You would never think that we’re lacking the substance, but I guess everything has to run out at some point, and it seems that only certain areas are lacking sand. Thankfully, there is manmade sand, so unless we run out of glass, then we should never actually run out of sand.

    • mcoats says:

      You would think we would not run out and we probably won’t run out of sand, but it will remain, in some areas, scarce.

    • lm says:

      I agree with your comment that everything runs out at some point. An interesting thought, if glass is made from sand, and we run out of sand, will we run out of glass as well? In that case, can we really continue to make sand?

      • mcoats says:

        Remember, it is not a matter of running out, but having fewer low cost sources, causing us to turn to more costly methods. Then, when those higher costs lead to greater profit potential of new technologies to replace those items. This is why there is really little worry about running out of crude oil. As our use of one source pushes costs up for that one source, other, currently more costly sources, suddenly become less costly. Now, we get crude for oil sands, while this was hard to imagine 30 years ago. As we use more and more, the costs go up (one of the costs of crude is not just the cost of bringing the oil up, but also the opportunity cost of selling it now instead of waiting to sell it later for a higher price when it is relatively more scarce. Speculators drive up the current price of oil when they think future prices will be higher–keeping us from running out. The future users compete with current users through futures markets and the actions of speculators. Speculators keep us from running out.

    • mcoats says:

      MLF, it is not a matter of running out. That is not what scarcity means. Rather, it is a matter of not having as much as we want for all of our uses of sand–and where that sand is. Notice that moving to artificial sand is far more costly, you would think, than just getting sand from some place. This is the law of increasing costs–trying to get more and more means we have to start using a more costly approach.

    • TC says:

      I agree, thankfully we have man made things to help us renew things that run low. I, too, remember the sand being transported to Grand Isle. Funny concept, a beach needing sand. But like you said, “everything runs out.”

  12. BA says:

    When I first started reading the blog I thought to myself, how can sand be scarce if it is everywhere? That is just the thing though, sand is not everywhere. The example of someone’s back yard is a good example to use. It is not readily available when needed and becomes something we have to pay for. Depending on the area you are located in you will face scarcity for different goods. Everyone faces scarcity because no one place can supply a person with everything they want and need. It is crazy that Florida of all places faces the problem that sand is scarce. That is one location I was not expecting to have that problem. The environmental pressures have led to less and less sand on their beaches. Never take something for granted cause you have plenty, you may see a day that it becomes scarce.

    • mcoats says:

      Be careful about scarcity. It does not mean running out, but just not having all we want. We will look at a similar concept later, the idea of shortages. This is when stuff is not available at the going price.


    • SA says:

      I agree with you. When I read this I would have never thought that sand would be scarce, but like you had stated sand is not everywhere like we think it is. I also would think one of the last places that would be scarce would be Florida. I also agree that we shouldn’t take anything for granted and now I will definitely start looking at things differently.

  13. dl says:

    I’d have to agree. I do believe that sand is scarce and that one day it might become a problem, but I also know that sometimes things are exaggerated. For example, OIL is a non-renewable resource. It was estimated many years ago that the world should have run out of oil by now–take a look around. Does it seem like we have run out yet? The truth is that technology grows at a rate faster than we can make accurate predictions about these kinds of things. So using that same judgement, I would assume that before not having enough sand became a problem, that technological advances will have pulled through to solve this problem of scarcity.

    • mcoats says:

      DL, one of the problems we see with something like oil is not that we will run out, but that we have to take more drastic measures to get that extra bit of oil. I remember when oil sands were thought to be uneconomic to get to. Not anymore. This is the idea behind the law of increasing costs or the law of low-hanging fruit.


  14. mcoats says:

    Yes, it is not just the what that is scarce, it is the where. Even in Florida, at least according to the article, sand is scarce in some places–they want more than they have freely available, which means it is scarce. A good rule of thumb: if you or somebody else has to pay for it to get it, it is scarce.

  15. lm says:

    Although we would all love to have no limitations on the goods we can have, scarcity is a necessity in the business world. If everything was available and free, we would have no incentive to work or make the world a better place. On the other hand, it is easy to take items like sand for granted. It seems like we have an unlimited amount, but the article proves that even places best known for their beaches are now discovering that sand is not always readily available. Scarcity is both a blessing and a curse for the business world.
    Oil prices are also a good example of scarcity. When the oil field is doing well, customers are happy because gas prices are lower. But the minute the oil field has some sort of issue and oil becomes limited, the prices hike back up.

    • mcoats says:


      I am not sure that scarcity is ever really a blessing. It is what it is.


    • mcoats says:

      I am reading a book now, called The Zero Marginal Cost Society where the author suggests that capitalism needs scarcity. I am waiting to be convinced.


      • FJB says:

        I could agree with you on this one. I believe marginal cost needs to be in place in order to provide checks and balances, but scarcity will cause people/nations to make irrational decisions

        • mcoats says:

          FJB, people as individuals make rational decisions, they will do the vest they can for themselves as they see it, weighing the benefits and costs against one another. I hope we will have time at the end of the class to see how when we make group decisions, as in a democracy, what results is hard to call rational.


    • LB says:

      I agree that nearly everything seems to be scarce or lacking at some point. The lack of availability makes it capable of selling.

  16. SP says:

    Infinite human wants and finite or limited amount of resources leads to scarcity. Considering all the deserts in the world such as Sahara desert, Gobi desert one would not have considered sand to be a scarce resource, however for beaches in Florida and South Carolina that are running out of sand, it would be a scarce resource for them. A little girl taking a bucket of sand home to play can do so without paying however a construction industry in India would have to pay for the sand. Only considering the availability and quantity, sand is less scarce for the little girl and she can get away without paying for it, however, for the construction industry that doesn’t have easy access to sand and has high demand for sand at the same time will face scarcity and high cost for buying sand. A good example would be in the construction industry in Nashik which faced 50-60% increase in sand price.


    • BA says:

      I believe it is exactly that, the availability of the good in the area that makes the price. It is supply & demand. What is scarce for some is plentiful for others.

  17. vg says:

    Sand can be expensive depending on where you live. If you live in Nevada, sand is free. They have plenty. Sand in Hawaii or even Louisiana would be expensive. Hawaii actually had all there sand barged to them. Sand is not originally from there being the islands are built off of magma. Same thing with dirt. Up north in the mountains people have to pay to get dirt removed, but here in Louisiana you have to pay to get it. It all comes down to the available resources in the area.

    • SP says:

      I agree with the statement “It all comes down to the available resources in the area.” as if the resource are easily available and in large quantity then people consider the resource to be less scare and vice-versa. This also affects the price of the resource as if the sand is easily available the price can be as less as zero and if if there is high demand for huge quantity of sand then the price will go up.

    • BDL says:

      I agree with the statement that it all comes down to the available resources in the area. While one resource may be abundant in one area, it may be scarce in another area. For example, there are many places in Louisiana that can provide crawfish to consumers. However, in places such as Virginia, there are limited resources/places for consumers to eat crawfish. Therefore, the price of crawfish in that state will be much more expensive than the price of crawfish in Louisiana.

    • JV says:

      Yes regional is a huge factor in scarcity, but so is seasonal. Even sand has seasons. There is more sand in the summer than the winter due to smaller calmer waves. If you buy sand during the winter it will probably cost more than it would if you bought sand during the summer

    • KR says:

      I agree, sand in louisiana can get expensive. Location does play a roll. Up north, they use sand to make the road better to drive on after a winter storm or blizzard.

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