Shortage Economy YKTTW Discussion

Shortage Economy
A society plagued by chronic shortages of everyday goods.
(permanent link) added: 2011-11-24 13:25:00 sponsor: mdulwich edited by: Arivne (last reply: 2015-01-09 08:29:37)

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At any given moment there was some necessary article which the Party shops were unable to supply. Sometimes it was buttons, sometimes it was darning wool, sometimes it was shoelaces; at present it was razor blades.

A country where everything is in short supply and acquiring even basic goods can be a struggle. Expect rationing and constant queues, with no guarantee that there will be anything left when it comes to your turn. What is available will tend to be of low quality. Frequently leads to a Black Market.

Often part of a Crapsack World. A major exception would be stories taking place during wartime, especially wartime Britain, where there's a very good reason why things are in short supply. Here, people are likely to muddle through and make-do-and-mend. After all, there is a war on.

The term was coined by Hungarian economist János Kornai to describe the inefficient command economies of the Eastern Bloc.

Note that a shortage economy generally doesn’t mean famine, just an awful lot of inconvenience and chronic low living standards.

Also note this does not tend to include After the End scenarios, since you probably wouldn't expect a functioning economy at all - let alone an efficient one.


  • Seeing his childhood friend in a food queue is what ultimately leads Superman to become leader of the USSR in Superman: Red Son.
  • Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is a particularly anvilicious example, suggesting that people were being turned away in food queues for not being good Communists, while fake factories were built to make foreign visitors think that the economy was doing well.

  • Moscow on the Hudson: in an early scene in Russia, when Robin Williams' character comes home from a day of rehearsal he finds a long line for something. He doesn't even know what they're selling at the other end but he queues up anyway. Turns out it's shoes; he gets a pair even though they're the wrong size. Another time he comes home with a big score: several rolls of toilet paper.
    • Truth in Television as people really did end up buying things they had no use for just because it was all that was available. It was better than nothing and whatever you had could always be traded away later.
  • Brazil is this. Even fancy restaurants only serve a kind gruel. But you get to look at pretty pictures of real good food.

  • A staple of East European humour during the Cold War. An example: a man goes into a shop and asks for a loaf of bread. The shopkeeper replies: “Sorry, this is the butcher’s so we don’t have any meat here. It’s next door that doesn’t have any bread”.

  • A Minor Apocalypse, by Tadeusz Konwicki, is set in Warsaw under the Communists. At one point the narrator sees a display written with sausages in a butcher’s window proclaiming the ‘building of socialism’. On closer inspection the sausages are all fake.
  • 1984. Shortages are deliberately created to keep the population worn down, maintained both by a heavy-handed, extremely centralised regime and a permanent state of war.
  • Tom Clancy's depictions of the Soviet Union in his Jack Ryan books often follow this model. For everyone but the elite, finding descent quality goods can be a real problem. In The Hunt for Red October, Jack Ryan tells a Defector from Commie Land that the thing that Soviets find most suprising about America is the size and abundance of the grocery stores.
  • This is alluded to in Phoenix And Ashes — most characters are affected by wartime rationing, but Alison has black market connections for meat and sugar.

Live-Action TV
  • Crops up a lot in Dad's Army, seeing as the whole series is set on The Home Front. Especially since Corporal Jones is a butcher, and commonly uses his control over the meat supply as a carrot and stick. Private Walker’s Black Market activities come up a lot too. One episode had the characters trying to outbid each other in an auction to with a prized commodity: an orange.

Tabletop Games
  • Kolejka (‘Queue’) is a Polish board game which aims to simulate problems getting hold of goods during the 1980s. Ironically, demand for the game was so high that getting hold of a copy proved very difficult.
  • Paranoia. Shortages of consumer goods are a standard part of Alpha Complex life. Somewhat made up for by the black market efforts of the Free Enterprise secret society.

Video Games
  • Possibly an example: in Hearts of Iron public dissent will increase if you aren’t producing enough consumer goods, and demand will decrease while you’re at war.
  • On the Megaman Zero series there is Neo Arcadia, one of the last habitable places on Earth, wich is also a Mega City, after a while there was Starting to be an Energy Shortage, plartly caused by the city massive population, and partly because part of it was being used to keep the dark elf sealed, also using X's Original Body, to combat this Copy X decided to Give Priority to the Human needs those of the Reploids and declaring many of them mavericks so he could "Retire" them. this led to many reploids to creat ressitance groups, wich in return led Neo Arcadia to More Ressources on it's army(and therefore, increase even more the energy Shortage for the rest of the population), how ever Ciel was working on an alternate source of energy, and by the time of the ZX Series it seems like the problem it was finally resolved considering the fact that Ciel created Copy X on the first place, she kind had to made it to compensate for all the problems she made, right?

Western Animation
  • Warner Brothers cartoons made during World War II sometimes mentioned rationing in the United States. One often-used one was gasoline rationing, indicated by the cards that were displayed on cars to show how much gasoline could be bought for them.
  • A number of WWII Era Disney shorts mention various shortages.

Real Life
  • Just about all Eastern Bloc states experienced this, although with varying degrees of severity.
    • Economic problems in the USSR were severely exacerbated by the war, especially in areas that were cut off such as Leningrad.
  • North Korea is completely reliant on foreign aid to feed its population. Ironically, the official state ideology, Juche, means 'self-reliance'.
  • During the period of rationing in Britain, The Times famously received a letter complaining about the amount of bread that was used as filler in sausages. The author claimed that they weren’t sure whether to put mustard or marmalade on them.
  • Happens temporarily before severe windstorms or blizzards, when regional supplies of fuel, flashlight batteries, or staple foods such as bread are rapidly bought out by people stocking up. In the aftermath, perishables are often hard to find because stores that lose electricity have to throw out spoiled meat and dairy en masse.

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