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The economic problem is the problem of scarcity.
What is an Economic Problem in Microeconomics?
To satisfy the social and biological needs of a man and improve the standard of living one requires many articles and services like shoes, books, food, furniture, scooter, fridge, TV set, cloths, house, pens, recreational, and medical facilities, etc. Often the income he earns is not so much as to purchase all these services and goods. Or he is not capable to buy all the facilities available with his limited income. The only way out is to pick and choose only those facilities or more urgent goods and leave those that are less important. He has to make his choice from the available goods and resources with his limited income. This situation presents an economic problem for an individual. The problem of choice arises due to scarcity of resources and their alternative uses.
Society as a whole can also confront this kind of problem. Society requires several goods like roads, dams, tractors, ships, rockets, rail engines, cars, petrol, houses, factories, buses, power, canals, and other means of irrigation, fertilizers, tanks, trucks, etc. But the resources like land, labor, capital, and enterprises are limited which have alternative uses. To obtain maximum satisfaction of goods and services, the society must have to make choices among alternative uses of available resources.
The economic problem is the problem of resource allocation or making choices in the use/allocation of scarce resources having alternative uses.
According to Oscar Lange when he defines Economics as a “Science of administration of scare resources in a human society.”
According to Prof. Erich Roll, “Economic Problem is essentially a problem arising from the necessity of choice; choice of the manner in which limited resources with the alternative uses are disposed of. It is a problem of husbandry of resources.”
In the words of Prof. Leftwitch, “Economic problem is concerned with the use of scarce resources among alternative human wants and in using these resources towards the end of satisfying wants as fully as possible.”
Causes of Economic Problems
The economic problems have the following causes.
- Unlimited wants
- Limited Resources
- Alternative uses of Resources
Unlimited Wants: Human wants are increasing day by day. We constantly look for things and facilities which are not currently available to us. If you do not have a mobile phone, you are looking for a mobile phone. If you do have a mobile phone, you are seeking a better one with lots of facilities like a better camera, better voice, internet browsing facilities, etc. Once you satisfy your one need, the other one comes up. When you satisfy your need for a mobile phone, the need for a car arises in front of you. Human wants are numerous, but the urgency or intensity of the wants may differ. If you are sick, you need medical facilities. Your need for a car can wait till you get cured of your sickness. As per the urgency, you can choose and arrange wants and make choices.
Limited Resources: Goods and services of an economy are produced from limited resources. Resources or factors of production like vacant land, water, time, minerals labor, capital, and enterprise are limited as against the unlimited wants. There won't be any problem if the resources are unlimited. When resources are unlimited, there is no need to make choices. Hence, there is no economic problem. But in reality, the resources are limited and the society has to pick and choose goods and services as per the urgency of the wants. There is a great need for economizing resources due to the limitation of resources. So society has to make the best use of resources.
Alternative use of Resources: Resources like land cannot be used for more than one purpose at a time. A plot of land can be used either for a playground or for farming or for constructing a building for office or the residential purpose at a time. At one time, it can be used for only one purpose. If you look at a skilled worker, he can work only one place at a time. He is not able to work at multiple locations or multiple industries at a time. An economy is constantly faced with the problem of choice between alternative commodities that can be produced with these resources. There will be no choice or economic problem, if resources have only specific purposes. For example, if a worker can be worked only in one place, then there is no choice. If the land can be exploited for only one purpose, then there is no choice. If there is no choice or alternative use, then there is no economic problem.
The economic problem arises out of two characteristics of the resources. They are:
- Economic resources have alternative uses.
- Economic resources are limited.
Resources having alternative uses in relation to unlimited wants gives rise to an economic problem. Therefore, an economy has to economize its resources, that is, make the best use of its available resources. Hence, it has to make a choice among its resources. This problem of making a choice in resource allocation is called the basic or central economic problem of an economy.
The Problem of Scarcity
The economic problem is the problem of scarcity. Scarcity means a shortage of a particular commodity. In economics, scarcity means the limitation of the supply of a commodity in relation to its demand. Or it is in excess of demand over supply. When resources are not present in sufficient quantity to satisfy all human wants, we can call it a scarcity of resources. On such occasions, it gives rise to make choices among alternative uses of limited resources. Therefore, choice and scarcity go together. And the source of Economic Problem is the scarcity of resources.
Had the resources been in abundance, unlimited goods, and services would have been produced to satisfy the unlimited human wants and there would have been no economic problem. If you received a magic wand which produces all your needs and desires, there is no problem at all and the world would have to remain a unique place.
But the reality is not like that. Efforts are made to economize limited resources, by allocating them in such a way as to produce maximum goods and services to satisfy the maximum wants. Making the optimum or best use of available resources is known as the problem of economizing.
All types of economies – capitalist or socialist, rich or poor - has the basic problem of scarcity or resources. This brings the question of "what, how and for whom to produce."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Binoy