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U.S. Economic System, Markets and the Problem of Scarcity

problem of scarcity, purchasing power, economic systems, factors of production, final products

A basic principle in every economic system—even one as large and wealthy as the U.S. economy—is that few, if any, individuals ever satisfy all of their wants for goods and services. That means that when people buy goods and services in different markets, they will not be able to buy all of the things they would like to have. In fact, if everyone did have all of the things they wanted, there would be no reason for anyone to worry about economic problems. But no nation has ever been able to provide all of the goods and services that its citizens wanted, and that is true of the U.S. economy as much as any other.

Scarcity is also the reason why making good economic choices is so important, because even though it is not possible to satisfy everyone’s wants, all people are able to satisfy some of their wants. Similarly, every nation is able to provide some of the things its citizens want. So the basic problem facing any nation’s economy is how to make sure that the resources available to the people in the nation are used to satisfy as many as possible of the wants people care about most.

The U.S. economy, with its system of private ownership, has an extensive set of markets for final products and for the factors of production. The economy has been particularly successful in providing material goods and services to most of its citizens. That is even more striking when results in the U.S. economy are compared with those of other nations and economic systems. Nevertheless, most U.S. consumers say they would like to be able to buy and use more goods and services than they have today. And some U.S. citizens are calling for significant changes in how the economic system works, or at least in how the purchasing power and the goods and services in the system are divided up among different individuals and families.

Not surprisingly, low-income families would like to receive more income, and often favor higher taxes on upper-income households. But many upper-income families complain that government already taxes them too much, and some argue that government is taking over too many things in the economy that were, in the past, left up to individuals, families, and private firms or charities.

These debates take place because of the problem of scarcity. For individuals and governments, resources that satisfy a particular want cannot be used to satisfy other wants. Therefore, deciding to satisfy one want means paying the cost of not satisfying another. Such choices take place every time the government decides how to spend its tax revenues.

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