Understanding Economic Systems

Site: Saylor Academy
Course: BUS101: Introduction to Business
Book: Understanding Economic Systems
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Date: Friday, June 14, 2024, 2:50 AM

Description

Read this explanation of the United States economy. American workers are considered some of the most productive in the world. Productivity is the final output after you have considered the hours worked. Productivity in this country has grown because technology has lowered the cost of producing goods and services.

Introduction

Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to answer these questions:

  1. How do businesses and not-for-profit organizations help create our standard of living?
  2. What are the sectors of the business environment, and how do changes in them influence business decisions?
  3. What are the primary features of the world's economic systems, and how are the three sectors of the U.S. economy linked?
  4. How do economic growth, full employment, price stability, and inflation indicate a nation's economic health?
  5. How does the government use monetary policy and fiscal policy to achieve its macroeconomic goals?
  6. What are the basic microeconomic concepts of demand and supply, and how do they establish prices?
  7. What are the four types of market structure?
  8. Which trends are reshaping the business, microeconomic, and macroeconomic environments and competitive arena?


EXPLORING BUSINESS CAREERS

Team Rubicon: Disaster Relief and a Sense of Purpose

Accounting for a substantial amount of economic activity in the United States, not-for-profits are an undeniable force in the business world, even though their focus on goals other than profit falls outside the traditional model of a for-profit business. But it is this shift away from a focus on profit that allows them to pursue missions of social improvement and contributions to society as a whole. To be truly effective in a not-for-profit organization, a person must share the organization's vision.

The vision for Team Rubicon was shaped by its cofounders, Jake Wood and William McNulty, who saw the devastation caused by the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and sprang into action. Both marines, Wood and McNulty knew they could do something to help in this devastating and chaotic situation. Within 24 hours, they enlisted the help of six other military veterans and first responders, gathered donations and supplies from friends and family, and made their way to Haiti to help with disaster relief, and Team Rubicon was born.

Man in Team Rubicon tee shirt.

Exhibit 1.2 Team Rubicon


The organization gets its name from the Rubicon, a river in northern Italy that Julius Caesar and his troops crossed on their epic march to Rome, with the river marking the point of no return. The name underscores the cofounders' experiences during the Haitian disaster, where despite advice from government officials and other aid organizations not to proceed, their small team crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic carrying crucial gear and medical supplies to thousands of earthquake victims.

Seven years later, Team Rubicon's mission is twofold: to pair the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to hit the ground running in any type of disaster and to provide a sense of community and accomplishment to veterans who have served their country proudly but may be struggling as a result of their war experiences.

According to the organization's mission statement, Team Rubicon seeks to provide veterans three things they sometimes lose after leaving the military: a purpose, gained through disaster relief; a sense of community, built by serving with others; and a feeling of self-worth from recognizing the impact one individual can make when dealing with natural disasters.

Headquartered in the Los Angeles area, Team Rubicon is staffed by more than 60 employees who work in 10 regions around the country, along with more than 40,000 volunteers ready to deploy within 24 hours. Similar to company operations in for-profit organizations, staff positions at Team Rubicon include regional administrators; field operations (including membership and training); marketing, communications, and social media; fundraising and partnership development; finance and accounting; and people operations.

Team Rubicon's staff members bring professional and/or military experience to their daily jobs, but they all share the organization's vision. Many staff members started as volunteers for Team Rubicon while working in for-profit careers, while others took advantage of the organization's strong internship program to become familiar with its mission and focus on disaster relief.

In 2016, Team Rubicon trained 8,000 military veterans and first responders in disaster relief and responded to 46 disasters, which required more than 85,000 volunteer hours. In addition to donations from individuals and corporations, Team Rubicon relies on its partnerships with other organizations, such as Southwest Airlines, which supplies hundreds of free plane tickets each year to fly volunteers to disaster sites.

Team Rubicon actively engages its nationwide community at every level of the organization, from volunteer to board member, and every step of its operation: from training to planning to implementation to seeking donations and volunteers to help with any type of disaster relief. Over the past several years, Team Rubicon has been recognized as one of the top nonprofits to work for by The NonProfit Times, based on employee surveys and business partners' input about the organization's work environment.

The not-for-profit world may not be for everyone, but if its growth is any indication within the overall economy, it does appeal to many. With a resolve to assist those in need, including both disaster victims and returning military personnel, Team Rubicon offers opportunities for those interested in nonprofit careers as well as those passionate about helping others.

This module provides the basic structures upon which the business world is built: how it is organized, what outside forces influence it, and where it is heading. It also explores how the world's economies and governments shape economic activity. Each day in the United States, thousands of new businesses are born. Only a rare few will become the next Apple, Google, or Amazon. Unfortunately, many others will never see their first anniversary. The survivors are those that understand that change is the one constant in the business environment. Those organizations pay attention to the business environment in which they operate and the trends that affect all businesses and then successfully adapt to those trends. In this module, we will meet many businesses, both large and small, profit and not-for-profit, that prosper because they track trends and use them to identify potential opportunities. This ability to manage change is a critical factor in separating the success stories from the tales of business failure.

We begin our study of business by introducing you to the primary functions of a business, the relationship between risk and profits, and the importance of not-for-profit organizations. We'll also examine the major components of the business environment and how changing demographic, social, political and legal, and competitive factors affect all business organizations. Next, we'll explore how economies provide jobs for workers and also compete with other businesses to create and deliver products to consumers. You will also learn how governments attempt to influence economic activity through policies such as lowering or raising taxes. Next, we discuss how supply and demand determine prices for goods and services. Finally, we conclude by examining key trends in the business environment, economic systems, and the competitive environment.


Source: Rice University, https://openstax.org/books/introduction-business/pages/1-introduction
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The Nature of Business

  1. How do businesses and not-for-profit organizations help create our standard of living?

Take a moment to think about the many different types of businesses you come into contact with on a typical day. As you drive to class, you may stop at a gas station that is part of a major national oil company and grab lunch from a fast food chain such as Taco Bell or McDonald's or the neighborhood pizza place. Need more cash? You can do your banking on a smartphone or other device via mobile apps. You don't even have to visit the store anymore: online shopping brings the stores to you, offering everything from clothes to food, furniture, and concert tickets.

A business is an organization that strives for a profit by providing goods and services desired by its customers. Businesses meet the needs of consumers by providing medical care, autos, and countless other goods and services. Goods are tangible items manufactured by businesses, such as laptops. Services are intangible offerings of businesses that can't be held, touched, or stored. Physicians, lawyers, hairstylists, car washes, and airlines all provide services. Businesses also serve other organizations, such as hospitals, retailers, and governments, by providing machinery, goods for resale, computers, and thousands of other items.

Thus, businesses create the goods and services that are the basis of our standard of living. The standard of living of any country is measured by the output of goods and services people can buy with the money they have. The United States has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Although several countries, such as Switzerland and Germany, have higher average wages than the United States, their standards of living aren't higher, because prices are so much higher. As a result, the same amount of money buys less in those countries. For example, in the United States, we can buy an Extra Value Meal at McDonald's for less than $5, while in another country, a similar meal might cost as much as $10.

Businesses play a key role in determining our quality of life by providing jobs and goods and services to society. Quality of life refers to the general level of human happiness based on such things as life expectancy, educational standards, health, sanitation, and leisure time. Building a high quality of life is a combined effort of businesses, government, and not-for-profit organizations. In 2017, Vienna, Austria, ranked highest in quality of life, followed by Zurich, Switzerland; Auckland, New Zealand; and Munich, Germany. It may come as a surprise that not one of the world's top cities is in the United States: seven of the top 10 locations are in western Europe, two are in Australia/New Zealand, and one is in Canada. At the other end of the scale, Baghdad, Iraq, is the city scoring the lowest on the annual survey. Creating a quality of life is not without risks, however. Risk is the potential to lose time and money or otherwise not be able to accomplish an organization’s goals. Without enough blood donors, for example, the American Red Cross faces the risk of not meeting the demand for blood by victims of disaster. Businesses such as Microsoft face the risk of falling short of their revenue and profit goals. Revenue is the money a company receives by providing services or selling goods to customers. Costs are expenses for rent, salaries, supplies, transportation, and many other items that a company incurs from creating and selling goods and services. For example, some of the costs incurred by Microsoft in developing its software include expenses for salaries, facilities, and advertising. If Microsoft has money left over after it pays all costs, it has a profit. A company whose costs are greater than revenues shows a loss.

When a company such as Microsoft uses its resources intelligently, it can often increase sales, hold costs down, and earn a profit. Not all companies earn profits, but that is the risk of being in business. In U.S. business today, there is generally a direct relationship between risks and profit: the greater the risks, the greater the potential for profit (or loss). Companies that take too conservative a stance may lose out to more nimble competitors who react quickly to the changing business environment.

Take Sony, for example. The Japanese electronics giant, once a leader with its Walkman music player and Trinitron televisions, steadily lost ground – and profits – over the past two decades to other companies by not embracing new technologies such as the digital music format and flat-panel TV screens. Sony misjudged what the market wanted and stayed with proprietary technologies rather than create cross-platform options for consumers. Apple, at the time an upstart in personal music devices, quickly grabbed the lion’s share of the digital music market with its iPods and iTunes music streaming service. By 2016, Sony restructured its business portfolio and has experienced substantial success with its PlayStation 4 gaming console and original gaming content.

Not-for-Profit Organizations

Not all organizations strive to make a profit. A not-for-profit organization is an organization that exists to achieve some goal other than the usual business goal of profit. Charities such as Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, the American Cancer Society, and the World Wildlife Fund are not-for-profit organizations, as are most hospitals, zoos, arts organizations, civic groups, and religious organizations. Over the last 20 years, the number of nonprofit organizations – and the employees and volunteers who work for them – has increased considerably. Government is our largest and most pervasive not-for-profit group. In addition, more than 1.5 million nongovernmental not-for-profit entities operate in the United States today and contribute more than $900 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

Like their for-profit counterparts, these groups set goals and require resources to meet those goals. However, their goals are not focused on profits. For example, a not-for-profit organization's goal might be feeding the poor, preserving the environment, increasing attendance at the ballet, or preventing drunk driving. Not-for-profit organizations do not compete directly with one another in the same manner as, for example, Ford and Honda, but they do compete for talented employees, people's limited volunteer time, and donations.

Exhibit 1.3 Rescue boat Following Hurricane Irma affected The island of Puerto Rico, the Kentucky and Hawaii National Guard assisted storm victims by donating to disaster relief efforts. Some not-for-profit charities focused aid toward the people of the region, but others delivered care to a different group of sufferers: animals and pets. Although most animal hospitals are not normally a refuge for displaced animals, many facilities opened their doors to pet owners affected by the torrential rains. Why are tasks such as animal rescue managed primarily through not-for-profit organizations?


The boundaries that formerly separated not-for-profit and for-profit organizations have blurred, leading to a greater exchange of ideas between the sectors. As discussed in detail in the ethics chapter, for-profit businesses are now addressing social issues. Successful not-for-profits apply business principles to operate more effectively. Not-for-profit managers are concerned with the same concepts as their colleagues in for-profit companies: developing strategy, budgeting carefully, measuring performance, encouraging innovation, improving productivity, demonstrating accountability, and fostering an ethical workplace environment.

In addition to pursuing a museum's artistic goals, for example, top executives manage the administrative and business side of the organization: human resources, finance, and legal concerns. Ticket revenues cover a fraction of the museum's operating costs, so the director spends a great deal of time seeking major donations and memberships. Today's museum boards of directors include both art patrons and business executives who want to see sound fiscal decision-making in a not-for-profit setting. Therefore, a museum director must walk a fine line between the institution's artistic mission and financial policies. According to a survey by The Economist, over the next several years, major art museums will be looking for new directors, as more than a third of the current ones are approaching retirement.

Factors of Production: The Building Blocks of Business

To provide goods and services, regardless of whether they operate in the for-profit or not-for-profit sector, organizations require inputs in the form of resources called factors of production. Four traditional factors of production are common to all productive activity: natural resources, labor (human resources), capital, and entrepreneurship. Many experts now include knowledge as a fifth factor, acknowledging its key role in business success. By using the factors of production efficiently, a company can produce more goods and services with the same resources.

Commodities that are useful inputs in their natural state are known as natural resources. They include farmland, forests, mineral and oil deposits, and water. Sometimes natural resources are simply called land, although, as you can see, the term means more than just land. Companies use natural resources in different ways. International Paper Company uses wood pulp to make paper, and Pacific Gas & Electric Company may use water, oil, or coal to produce electricity. Today urban sprawl, pollution, and limited resources have raised questions about resource use. Conservationists, environmentalists, and government bodies are proposing laws to require land-use planning and resource conservation.

Labor, or human resources, refers to the economic contributions of people working with their minds and muscles. This input includes the talents of everyone – from a restaurant cook to a nuclear physicist – who performs the many tasks of manufacturing and selling goods and services.

The tools, machinery, equipment, and buildings used to produce goods and services and get them to the consumer are known as capital. Sometimes the term capital is also used to mean the money that buys machinery, factories, and other production and distribution facilities. However, because money itself produces nothing, it is not one of the basic inputs. Instead, it is a means of acquiring the inputs. Therefore, in this context, capital does not include money.

Entrepreneurs are the people who combine the inputs of natural resources, labor, and capital to produce goods or services with the intention of making a profit or accomplishing a not-for-profit goal. These people make the decisions that set the course for their businesses; they create products and production processes or develop services. Because they are not guaranteed a profit in return for their time and effort, they must be risk-takers. Of course, if their companies succeed, the rewards may be great.

Today, many individuals want to start their own businesses. They are attracted by the opportunity to be their own boss and reap the financial rewards of a successful firm. Many start their first business from their dorm rooms, such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or while living at home, so their cost is almost zero. Entrepreneurs include people such as Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, who was named the richest person in the world in 2017, as well as Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Many thousands of individuals have started companies that, while remaining small, make a major contribution to the U.S. economy.


CATCHING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT

StickerGiant Embraces Change

Entrepreneurs typically are not afraid to take risks or change the way they do business if it means there is a better path to success. John Fischer of Longmont, Colorado, fits the profile.

The drawn-out U.S. presidential election in 2000 between Bush and Gore inspired Fischer to create a bumper sticker that claimed, "He's Not My President," which became a top seller. As a result of this venture, Fischer started an online retail sticker store, which he viewed as possibly the "Amazon of Stickers". Designing and making stickers in his basement, Fischer's start-up would eventually become a multimillion-dollar company, recognized in 2017 by Forbes as one of its top 25 small businesses.

The StickerGiant online store was successful, supplying everything from sports stickers to ones commemorating rock and roll bands and breweries. By 2011, the business was going strong; however, the entrepreneur decided to do away with the retail store, instead focusing the business on custom orders, which became StickerGiant's main product.

As the company became more successful and added more employees, Fischer once again looked to make some changes. In 2012 he decided to introduce a concept called open-book management, in which he shares the company's financials with employees at a weekly meeting. Other topics discussed at the meeting include customer comments and feedback, employee concerns, and colleague appreciation for one another. Fischer believes sharing information about the company's performance (good or bad) not only allows employees to feel part of the operation, but also empowers them to embrace change or suggest ideas that could help the business expand and flourish.

Innovation is also visible in the technology StickerGiant uses to create miles and miles of custom stickers (nearly 800 miles of stickers in 2016). The manufacturing process involves digital printing and laser-finishing equipment. Fischer says only five other companies worldwide have the laser-finishing equipment StickerGiant uses as part of its operations. Because of the investment in this high-tech equipment, the company can make custom stickers in large quantities overnight and ship them to customers the next day.

This small business continues to evolve with an entrepreneur at the helm who is not afraid of making changes or having fun. In 2016, StickerGiant put together Saul the Sticker Ball, a Guinness World Records winner that weighed in at a whopping 232 pounds. Fischer and his employees created Saul when they collected more than 170,000 stickers that had been lying around the office and decided to put them to good use. With $10 million in annual sales and nearly 40 employees, StickerGiant continues to be a successful endeavor for John Fischer and his employees almost two decades after Fischer created his first sticker.

Questions for Discussion
  1. How does being a risk-taker help Fischer in his business activities?
  2. If you were a small business owner, would you consider sharing the company's financial data with employees? Explain your reasoning.

A number of outstanding managers and noted academics are beginning to emphasize a fifth factor of production – knowledge. Knowledge refers to the combined talents and skills of the workforce and has become a primary driver of economic growth. Today's competitive environment places a premium on knowledge and learning over physical resources. Recent statistics suggest that the number of U.S. knowledge workershas doubled over the last 30 years, with an estimated 2 million knowledge job openings annually. Despite the fact that many "routine" jobs have been replaced by automation over the last decade or outsourced to other countries, technology has actually created more jobs that require knowledge and cognitive skills.

Concept Check

  1. Explain the concepts of revenue, costs, and profit.
  2. What are the five factors of production?
  3. What is the role of an entrepreneur in society?

How Business and Economics Work

  1. What are the primary features of the world's economic systems, and how are the three sectors of the U.S. economy linked?

A business's success depends in part on the economic systems of the countries where it is located and where its sells its products. A nation's economic system is the combination of policies, laws, and choices made by its government to establish the systems that determine what goods and services are produced and how they are allocated. Economics is the study of how a society uses scarce resources to produce and distribute goods and services. The resources of a person, a firm, or a nation are limited. Hence, economics is the study of choices – what people, firms, or nations choose from among the available resources. Every economy is concerned with what types and amounts of goods and services should be produced, how they should be produced, and for whom. These decisions are made by the marketplace, the government, or both. In the United States, the government and the free-market system together guide the economy.

You probably know more about economics than you realize. Every day, many news stories deal with economic matters: a union wins wage increases at General Motors, the Federal Reserve Board lowers interest rates, Wall Street has a record day, the president proposes a cut in income taxes, consumer spending rises as the economy grows, or retail prices are on the rise, to mention just a few examples.

Global Economic Systems

Businesses and other organizations operate according to the economic systems of their home countries. Today the world's major economic systems fall into two broad categories: free market, or capitalism; and planned economies, which include communism and socialism. However, in reality many countries use a mixed market system that incorporates elements from more than one economic system.

The major differentiator among economic systems is whether the government or individuals decide:

  • How to allocate limited resources – the factors of production – to individuals and organizations to best satisfy unlimited societal needs
  • What goods and services to produce and in what quantities
  • How and by whom these goods and services are produced
  • How to distribute goods and services to consumers

Managers must understand and adapt to the economic system or systems in which they operate. Companies that do business internationally may discover that they must make changes in production and selling methods to accommodate the economic system of other countries. Table 1.1 summarizes key factors of the world's economic systems.

The Basic Economic Systems of the World
Capitalism Communism Socialism Mixed Economy
Ownership of Business Businesses are privately owned with minimal government ownership or interference. Government owns all or most enterprises. Basic industries such as railroads and utilities are owned by government. Very high taxation as government redistributes income from successful private businesses and entrepreneurs. Private ownership of land and businesses but government control of some enterprises. The private sector is typically large
Control of Markets Complete freedom of trade. No or little government control. Complete government control of markets. Some markets are controlled, and some are free. Significant central-government planning. State enterprises are managed by bureaucrats. These enterprises are rarely profitable. Some markets, such as nuclear energy and the post office, are controlled or highly regulated.
Worker Incentives Strong incentive to work and innovate because profits are retained by owners. No incentive to work hard or produce quality products. Private-sector incentives are the same as capitalism, and public-sector incentives are the same as in a planned economy. Private-sector incentives are the same as capitalism. Limited incentives in the public sector.
Management of Enterprises Each enterprise is managed by owners or professional managers with little government interference. Centralized management by the government bureaucracy. Little or no flexibility in decision-making at the factory level. Significant government planning and regulation. Bureaucrats run government enterprises. Private-sector management similar to capitalism. Public sector similar to socialism.
Forecast for 2020 Continued steady growth. No growth and perhaps disappearance. Stable with probable slight growth. Continued growth.
Examples United States Cuba, North Korea Finland, India, Israel Great Britain, France, Sweden, Canada

Table1.1


Capitalism

In recent years, more countries have shifted toward free-market economic systems and away from planned economies. Sometimes, as was the case of the former East Germany, the transition to capitalism was painful but fairly quick. In other countries, such as Russia, the movement has been characterized by false starts and backsliding. Capitalism, also known as the private enterprise system, is based on competition in the marketplace and private ownership of the factors of production (resources). In a competitive economic system, a large number of people and businesses buy and sell products freely in the marketplace. In pure capitalism, all the factors of production are owned privately, and the government does not try to set prices or coordinate economic activity.

A capitalist system guarantees certain economic rights: the right to own property, the right to make a profit, the right to make free choices, and the right to compete. The right to own property is central to capitalism. The main incentive in this system is profit, which encourages entrepreneurship. Profit is also necessary for producing goods and services, building manufacturing plants, paying dividends and taxes, and creating jobs. The freedom to choose whether to become an entrepreneur or to work for someone else means that people have the right to decide what they want to do on the basis of their own drive, interest, and training. The government does not create job quotas for each industry or give people tests to determine what they will do.

Competition is good for both businesses and consumers in a capitalist system. It leads to better and more diverse products, keeps prices stable, and increases the efficiency of producers. Companies try to produce their goods and services at the lowest possible cost and sell them at the highest possible price. But when profits are high, more businesses enter the market to seek a share of those profits. The resulting competition among companies tends to lower prices. Companies must then find new ways of operating more efficiently if they are to keep making a profit – and stay in business.

McDonalds storefront in China named McCafe

Exhibit 1.5 McDonald's China Since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has continued to embrace tenets of capitalism and grow its economy. China is the world's largest producer of mobile phones, PCs, and tablets, and the country's over one billion people constitute a gargantuan market. The explosion of McDonald's and KFC franchises epitomizes the success of American-style capitalism in China, and Beijing's bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics is a symbol of economic openness. This McCafe is an example of changing Western products to suit Chinese tastes. This is an example of changing Western products to suit Chinese tastes. Do you think China's capitalistic trend can continue to thrive under the ruling Chinese Communist Party that opposes workers' rights, free speech, and democracy?


Communism

The complete opposite of capitalism is communism. In a communist economic system, the government owns virtually all resources and controls all markets. Economic decision-making is centralized: the government, rather than the competitive forces in the marketplace, decides what will be produced, where it will be produced, how much will be produced, where the raw materials and supplies will come from, who will get the output, and what the prices will be. This form of centralized economic system offers little if any choice to a country's citizens. Early in the 20th century, countries that chose communism, such as the former Soviet Union and China, believed that it would raise their standard of living. In practice, however, the tight controls over most aspects of people's lives, such as what careers they can choose, where they can work, and what they can buy, led to lower productivity. Workers had no reasons to work harder or produce quality goods, because there were no rewards for excellence. Errors in planning and resource allocation led to shortages of even basic items.

These factors were among the reasons for the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union into multiple independent nations. Recent reforms in Russia, China, and most of the eastern European nations have moved these economies toward more capitalistic, market-oriented systems. North Korea and Cuba are the best remaining examples of communist economic systems. Time will tell whether Cuba takes small steps toward a market economy now that the United States reestablished diplomatic relations with the island country a few years ago.


Socialism

Socialism is an economic system in which the basic industries are owned by the government or by the private sector under strong government control. A socialist state controls critical, large-scale industries such as transportation, communications, and utilities. Smaller businesses and those considered less critical, such as retail, may be privately owned. To varying degrees, the state also determines the goals of businesses, the prices and selection of goods, and the rights of workers. Socialist countries typically provide their citizens with a higher level of services, such as health care and unemployment benefits, than do most capitalist countries. As a result, taxes and unemployment may also be higher in socialist countries. For example, in 2017, the top individual tax rate in France was 45 percent, compared to 39.6 percent in the United States. With both countries electing new presidents in 2017, tax cuts were a campaign promise that both President Macron and President Trump took on as part of their overall economic agendas.

Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, India, and Israel, have socialist systems, but the systems vary from country to country. In Denmark, for example, most businesses are privately owned and operated, but two-thirds of the population is sustained by the state through government welfare programs.


Mixed Economic Systems

Pure capitalism and communism are extremes; real-world economies fall somewhere between the two. The U.S. economy leans toward pure capitalism, but it uses government policies to promote economic stability and growth. Also, through policies and laws, the government transfers money to the poor, the unemployed, and the elderly or disabled. American capitalism has produced some very powerful organizations in the form of large corporations, such as General Motors and Microsoft. To protect smaller firms and entrepreneurs, the government has passed legislation that requires that the giants compete fairly against weaker competitors.

Canada, Sweden, and the UK, among others, are also called mixed economies; that is, they use more than one economic system. Sometimes, the government is basically socialist and owns basic industries. In Canada, for example, the government owns the communications, transportation, and utilities industries, as well as some of the natural-resource industries. It also provides health care to its citizens. But most other activity is carried on by private enterprise, as in a capitalist system. In 2016, UK citizens voted for Britain to leave the European Union, a move that will take two or more years to finalize. It is too early to tell what impact the Brexit decision will have on the UK economy and other economies around the world.

The few factors of production owned by the government in a mixed economy include some public lands, the postal service, and some water resources. But the government is extensively involved in the economic system through taxing, spending, and welfare activities. The economy is also mixed in the sense that the country tries to achieve many social goals – income redistribution and retirement pensions, for example – that may not be attempted in purely capitalist systems.

Macroeconomics and Microeconomics

The state of the economy affects both people and businesses. How you spend your money (or save it) is a personal economic decision. Whether you continue in school and whether you work part-time are also economic decisions. Every business also operates within the economy. Based on their economic expectations, businesses decide what products to produce, how to price them, how many people to employ, how much to pay these employees, how much to expand the business, and so on.

Economics has two main subareas. Macroeconomics is the study of the economy as a whole. It looks at aggregate data for large groups of people, companies, or products considered as a whole. In contrast, microeconomics focuses on individual parts of the economy, such as households or firms.

Both macroeconomics and microeconomics offer a valuable outlook on the economy. For example, Ford might use both to decide whether to introduce a new line of vehicles. The company would consider such macroeconomic factors as the national level of personal income, the unemployment rate, interest rates, fuel costs, and the national level of sales of new vehicles. From a microeconomic viewpoint, Ford would judge consumer demand for new vehicles versus the existing supply, competing models, labor and material costs and availability, and current prices and sales incentives.

Economics as a Circular Flow

Another way to see how the sectors of the economy interact is to examine the circular flow of inputs and outputs among households, businesses, and governments as shown in Exhibit 1.6. Let's review the exchanges by following the red circle around the inside of the diagram. Households provide inputs (natural resources, labor, capital, entrepreneurship, knowledge) to businesses, which convert these inputs into outputs (goods and services) for consumers. In return, households receive income from rent, wages, interest, and ownership profits (blue circle). Businesses receive revenue from consumer purchases of goods and services.

The other important exchange in Exhibit 1.6 takes place between governments (federal, state, and local) and both households and businesses. Governments supply many types of publicly provided goods and services (highways, schools, police, courts, health services, unemployment insurance, social security) that benefit consumers and businesses. Government purchases from businesses also contribute to business revenues. When a construction firm repairs a local stretch of state highway, for example, government pays for the work. As the diagram shows, government receives taxes from households and businesses to complete the flow.

Changes in one flow affect the others. If government raises taxes, households have less to spend on goods and services. Lower consumer spending causes businesses to reduce production, and economic activity declines; unemployment may rise. In contrast, cutting taxes can stimulate economic activity. Keep the circular flow in mind as we continue our study of economics. The way economic sectors interact will become more evident as we explore macroeconomics and microeconomics.

The diagram is a circle, with a labeled core, showing economics as a circular flow

Exhibit 1.6 Economics as a Circular Flow

Concept Check

  1. What is economics, and how can you benefit from understanding basic economic concepts?
  2. Compare and contrast the world’s major economic systems. Why is capitalism growing, communism declining, and socialism still popular?
  3. What is the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics?