Confronting Scarcity: Choices In Production

Read this chapter to learn about the factors of production and the way they are combined in production. Use the production possibilities curve to represent the alternative combinations of goods and services that an economy can produce. Make sure to understand how the curve represents efficient, inefficient, and unattainable levels of production. Pay attention to how economic growth can be represented by shifts in the curve. Also in this chapter, learn about how economic systems compare.

2. The Production Possibilities Curve

Case in Point: The Cost of the Great Depression

The U.S. economy looked very healthy in the beginning of 1929. It had enjoyed seven years of dramatic growth and unprecedented prosperity. Its resources were fully employed; it was operating quite close to its production possibilities curve.

In the summer of 1929, however, things started going wrong. Production and employment fell. They continued to fall for several years. By 1933, more than 25% of the nation's workers had lost their jobs. Production had plummeted by almost 30%. The economy had moved well within its production possibilities curve.

Output began to grow after 1933, but the economy continued to have vast numbers of idle workers, idle factories, and idle farms. These resources were not put back to work fully until 1942, after the U.S. entry into World War II demanded mobilization of the economy's factors of production.

Between 1929 and 1942, the economy produced 25% fewer goods and services than it would have if its resources had been fully employed. That was a loss, measured in today's dollars, of well over $3 trillion. In material terms, the forgone output represented a greater cost than the United States would ultimately spend in World War II. The Great Depression was a costly experience indeed.