****The Economic Problem
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In recent times, we have heard much about the problems faced by the armed forces in conflict zones around the world 'not having the tools to get the job done'.
There have been plenty of news items in recent years about the lack of resources available to the military in dangerous conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. If we were to increase the number of soldiers, equipment and weapons available to the military, it would have consequences elsewhere. The government has limited funds from taxes, which have to be spent on a wide range of things - if we diverted more funds to the military, there would have to be cuts elsewhere in the government's spending programme - or a rise in taxes. Copyright: Dragon MasterGunner, from stock.xchng.
All these things are symptomatic of the tension between scarce resources and unlimited wants and needs. That is what the economic problem is all about.
At this stage, you might point to the fact that countries like the UK and the United States produce massive amounts of waste every year. You might look at the food that is wasted in restaurants, fast food outlets and even the school canteen every day to wonder why there is so much wasted food, with so many people in the world hungry and on the verge of starvation.
Part of the problem is the fact that resources are not distributed evenly between countries and societies. The terms 'wants' and 'needs' are also relative terms. 'I really, really want a Ferrari' might be the comment of an individual in the UK; 'I really, really want to be able to walk only two miles to get the daily ration of water for my household' might be the cry of an individual in the Sudan. To each individual, they are both important - we might be able to point out that the Ferrari is not really that necessary; a Smart car will do just as well!
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Wants, needs and scarce resources - all part of the economic problem. Wants and needs are relative - my burning want might be very different from the wants of someone like the boy in the image above. Copyright: Luca Biagiotti from stock.xchng, Andrew Ashwin, and Luc Sesselle from stock.xchng.
Resources is a specific term used a great deal in economics. It describes all the things available at our disposal that can be used to satisfy our needs. This therefore includes things like our income, which is simply a means of acquiring a range of goods and services. Resources therefore might be the food we buy at shops, clothing, houses, cars, entertainment, metal, minerals, oil, timber, gas, plastics and so on.
In economics, these resources are normally classified into three or four categories. These are:
• Land - all the natural resources of the earth. That includes the fish in the sea, all the minerals found in the earth, metals, sand, stones, rocks, timber, food from the soil and so on. Economists have a name...