Factors of Production and the Production Possibilities Curve

Read Sections 2.1 and 2.2. Take a moment to read through the stated learning outcomes for this chapter, which you can find at the beginning of each section. These outcomes should be your goals as you read through the chapter. Also, attempt the "Try It" problems for each section before checking your answers.

The first section of the chapter will introduce you to the four factors of production that are present in the economy: labor, capital, natural resources, and entrepreneurship. Using any two factors of production, you can then learn to construct the production possibility frontier (PPF) in a two plane model. Note the economic implications of the downward slope and the bowed-out shape of the PPF curve. Also, note the meaning of producing on the curve versus inside the curve. Lastly, think about what it means to move along the curve

2.1 Factors of Production

Natural Resources

There are two essential characteristics of natural resources. The first is that they are found in nature – that no human effort has been used to make or alter them. The second is that they can be used for the production of goods and services. That requires knowledge; we must know how to use the things we find in nature before they become resources.

Consider oil. Oil in the ground is a natural resource because it is found (not manufactured) and can be used to produce goods and services. However, 250 years ago oil was a nuisance, not a natural resource. Pennsylvania farmers in the eighteenth century who found oil oozing up through their soil were dismayed, not delighted. No one knew what could be done with the oil. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that a method was found for refining oil into kerosene that could be used to generate energy, transforming oil into a natural resource. Oil is now used to make all sorts of things, including clothing, drugs, gasoline, and plastic. It became a natural resource because people discovered and implemented a way to use it.

Defining something as a natural resource only if it can be used to produce goods and services does not mean that a tree has value only for its wood or that a mountain has value only for its minerals. If people gain utility from the existence of a beautiful wilderness area, then that wilderness provides a service. The wilderness is thus a natural resource.

The natural resources available to us can be expanded in three ways. One is the discovery of new natural resources, such as the discovery of a deposit of ore containing titanium. The second is the discovery of new uses for resources, as happened when new techniques allowed oil to be put to productive use or sand to be used in manufacturing computer chips. The third is the discovery of new ways to extract natural resources in order to use them. New methods of discovering and mapping oil deposits have increased the world's supply of this important natural resource.