What Is Economics? Why Is It Important?
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.
The Division of and Specialization of Labor
The formal study of economics began when Adam Smith (1723–1790) published his famous book The Wealth of Nations in 1776. Many authors had written on economics in the centuries before Smith, but he was the first to address the subject in a comprehensive way. In the first chapter, Smith introduces the division of labor, which means that the way a good or service is produced is divided into a number of tasks that are performed by different workers, instead of all the tasks being done by the same person.
To illustrate the division of labor, Smith counted how many tasks went into making a pin: drawing out a piece of wire, cutting it to the right length, straightening it, putting a head on one end and a point on the other, and packaging pins for sale, to name just a few. Smith counted 18 distinct tasks that were often done by different people – all for a pin, believe it or not!
Modern businesses divide tasks as well. Even a relatively simple business like a restaurant divides up the task of serving meals into a range of jobs like top chef, sous chefs, less-skilled kitchen help, servers to wait on the tables, a greeter at the door, janitors to clean up, and a business manager to handle paychecks and bills – not to mention the economic connections a restaurant has with suppliers of food, furniture, kitchen equipment, and the building where it is located. A complex business like a large manufacturing factory, such as the shoe factory shown in Figure 1.4, or a hospital can have hundreds of job classifications.