U.S. Economy

Those levels of production, consumption, and spending make the U.S. economy by far the largest economy the world has ever

U.S. Economy



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example, an automobile company builds factories and buys machines to stamp out parts for cars; those buildings and machines are capital. The value of capital goods being used by private businesses in the United States in the late 1990s is estimated to be more than $11 trillion. Roughly half of that is equipment and the other half buildings or other structures. Businesses have additional capital investments in their inventories of finished products, raw materials, and partially completed goods.


Entrepreneurship is an ability some people have to accept risks and combine factors of production in order to produce goods and services. Entrepreneurs organize the various components necessary to operate a business. They raise the necessary financial backing, acquire a physical site for the business, assemble a team of workers, and manage the overall operation of the enterprise. They accept the risk of losing the money they spend on the business in the hope that eventually they will earn a profit. If the business is successful, they receive all or some share of the profits. If the business fails, they bear some or all of the losses.

Many people mistakenly believe that anyone who manages a large company is an entrepreneur. However, many managers at large companies simply carry out decisions made by higher-ranking executives. These managers are not entrepreneurs because they do not have final control over the company and they do not make decisions that involve risking the companies resources. On the other hand, many of the nations entrepreneurs run small businesses, including restaurants, convenience stores, and farms. These individuals are true entrepreneurs, because entrepreneurship involves not merely the organization and management of a business, but also an individuals willingness to accept risks in order to make a profit.

Throughout its history, the United States has had many notable entrepreneurs, including 18th-century statesman, inventor, and publisher Benjamin Franklin, and early-20th-century figures such as inventor Thomas Edison and automobile producer Henry Ford. More recently, internationally recognized leaders have emerged in a number of fields: Bill Gates of Microsoft Corporation and Steve Jobs of Apple Computer in the computer industry; Sam Walton of Wal-Mart in retail sales; Herb Kelleher and Rollin King of Southwest Airlines in the commercial airline business; Ray Kroc of MacDonalds, Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), and Dave Thomas of Wendys in fast food; and in motion pictures, Michael Eisner of the Walt Disney Company as well as a number of entrepreneurs at smaller independent production studios that developed during the 1980s and 1990s.

Acquiring the Factors of Production

All four factors of productionnatural resources, labor, capital, and entrepreneurshipare traded in markets where businesses buy these inputs or productive resources from individuals. These are called factor markets. Unlike a grocery market, which is a specific physical store where consumers purchase goods, the markets mentioned above comprise a wide range of locations, businesses, and individuals involved in the exchange of the goods and services needed to run a business.

Businesses turn to the factor markets to acquire the means to make goods and services, which they then try to sell to consumers in product or output markets. For example, an agricultural firm that grows and sells wheat can buy or rent land from landowners. The firm may shop for this natural resource by consulting real estate agents and farmers throughout the Midwest. This same firm may also hire many kinds of workers. It may find some of its newly hired workers by recruiting recent graduates of high schools, colleges, or technical schools. But its market for labor may also include older workers who have decided to move to a new area, or to find a new job and employer where they currently live.

Firms often buy new factories and machines from other firms that specialize in making these kinds of capital goods. That kind of investment often requires millions of dollars, which is usually financed by loans from banks or other financial institutions.

Entrepreneurship is perhaps the most difficult resource for a firm to acquire, but there are many examples of even the largest and most well-established firms seeking out new presidents and chief executive officers to lead their companies. Small firms that are just beginning to do business often succeed or fail based on the entrepreneurial skills of the people running the business, who in many cases have little or no previous experience as entrepreneurs.

Markets and the Problem of Scarcity

A basic principle in every economic systemeven one as large and wealthy as the U.S. economyis 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 everyones 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 nations 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.

What Are Markets?

Goods and services are traded in markets. Usually a market is a physical place where buyers and sellers meet to make exchanges, once they have agreed on a price for the product. One kind of marketplace is a grocery store, where people go to buy food and household products. However, many markets are not confined to specific locations. In a broader sense, markets include all the places and sources where goods and services are exchanged. For example, the labor market does not exist in a specific physical building, as does a grocery market. Instead, the term labor market describes a multitude of individuals offering their labor for sale as well as all the businesses searching for employees.

Traders do not always have to meet in person to buy and sell. Markets can operate via technology, such as a telephone line or a computer site. For example, stocks and other financial securities have long been traded electronically or by telephone. It is becoming increasingly common in the United States for many other kinds of goods and services to be sold this way. For instance, many people today use the Internetthe worldwide computer-based network of information systemsto buy airline tickets, make hotel reservations, and rent a car for their vacation. Other people buy and sell items ranging from books, clothing, and airline tickets to baseball cards and other rare collectibles over the Internet. Although these Internet buyers and sellers may never meet face to face the way buyers and sellers do in more traditional markets, these markets share certain basic features.

How a Single Market Works

Buyers hope to buy at low prices and will purchase more units of a product at lower prices than they do at higher prices. Sellers are just the opposite. They hope to sell at high prices, and typically they will be willing to produce and sell more units of a product at higher prices than at lower prices.

The price for a product is determined in the market if prices are allowed to rise and fall, and are not legally required to be above some minimum price floor or below some maximum price ceiling. When a product, for example, a personal computer, reaches the market, consumers learn what producers want to charge for it and producers learn what consumers are willing to pay. The interaction of producers and consumers quickly establishes what the market price for the computer will actually be. Some people who were considering buyin

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