Read this section to learn about the basic problem of scarcity and the study of economics. Be sure to click through to read each of the pages in this section. As you read, reflect on the things that society needs and the resources that are needed for production like natural resources, money, labor, etc. Every society needs to take into account the problem of scarcity, and that decisions are needed to choose from producing one thing over another. An example is choosing between having a natural wild environment by not developing a piece of land, or developing that land for housing.
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
Economics is the study of how humans make decisions in the face of scarcity. These can be individual decisions, family decisions, business decisions or societal decisions. If you look around carefully, you will see that scarcity is a fact of life. Scarcity means that human wants for goods, services and resources exceed what is available. Resources, such as labor, tools, land, and raw materials are necessary to produce the goods and services we want but they exist in limited supply. Of course, the ultimate scarce resource is time- everyone, rich or poor, has just 24 hours in the day to try to acquire the goods they want. At any point in time, there is only a finite amount of resources available.
Think about it this way: In 2015 the labor force in the United States contained over 158.6 million workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similarly, the total area of the United States is 3,794,101 square miles. These are large numbers for such crucial resources, however, they are limited. Because these resources are limited, so are the numbers of goods and services we produce with them. Combine this with the fact that human wants seem to be virtually infinite, and you can see why scarcity is a problem.
Figure 1.2 Scarcity of Resources Homeless people are a stark reminder that scarcity of resources is real.
If you still do not believe that scarcity is a problem, consider the following: Does everyone need food to eat? Does everyone need a decent place to live? Does everyone have access to healthcare? In every country in the world, there are people who are hungry, homeless (for example, those who call park benches their beds, as shown in Figure 1.2), and in need of healthcare, just to focus on a few critical goods and services. Why is this the case? It is because of scarcity. Let's delve into the concept of scarcity a little deeper, because it is crucial to understanding economics.
Source: Rice University, https://openstax.org/books/principles-microeconomics/pages/1-1-what-economics-is-and-why-its-important
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