Scarcity, the Basic Economic Problem

What would you do if you showed up to class and there weren’t nearly enough chairs to go around? Well, you’re facing and economic problem that requires an economic system to solve! This lesson introduces the basic economic problem of scarcity and defines “Economics” and “Economic systems”, both key concepts for a student starting out on his or her journey to study the “dismal science”!

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Scarcity, Opportunity Cost and the Production Possibilities Curve

The basic economic problem is one rooted in both the natural world and in human greed. We live in a world of limited resources, but we seem to have unlimited wants. This results in scarcity, which gives rise to the very field of Economics, which deals with how to allocate scarce resources between the competing wants and needs of society.

This lesson will introduce these basic economic concepts, along with the first (and perhaps the most useful) graph an Economics student will learn, the Production Possibilities Curve.

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The Law of Increasing Opportunity Cost and the PPC Model

In a previous lesson we introduced the basic economic concepts of scarcity, opportunity cost, and the production possibilities curve (PPC). In that lesson, we examined the tradeoffs an individual faces in the use of her time between “work” and “play”. We showed that the opportunity cost of one hour of work is always the one hour of play that the individual could have enjoyed instead.

The constant opportunitiy cost between work and play is illustrated in the PPC model as a straight line production possibilities curve. In this lesson, we will expand our understanding of the PPC and opportunity costs by examining the tradeoff a nation faces between the production of two goods using its scarce resources. Cars and pizzas require very different resources to produce, and therefore, as the production of one good increases, the opportunity cost of its production in terms of the other good increases.

The result is a PPC that is bowed outwards from the origin. When choosing between the production of two goods, the more similar the resources needed to produce each good, the straighter the PPC will be. The less similar the resources needed to produce each good, the further the PPC will be bowed out from the origin.

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The Circular Flow Model of a Market Economy

By this point in your course you may have learned the definition of a marketA place where buyers and sellers meet to engage in mutually beneficial exchanges. But what is a market economy? Two basic types of markets exist in any market economy: resource markets and product markets. The exchanges that take place in these markets benefit both the households and the firms that engage in exchanges.

This lesson will introduce the circular flow of money, resources and goods and services in a market economy. We will examine how resources flow from households to firms, and goods and services from firms to households. We will also seek to explain why individuals are willing to engage in the exchanges that characterize the market system.

To order practice activities on this and other lessons from the Econ Classroom, click here.

For student revision guides and teacher PowerPoints, click here.

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Introduction to the Central Themes of Economics

In our final lesson of the introductory unit in the Economics course we’ll explore some of the central themes that will guide our inquiry of the subject going forward. From the tradeoff between equity and efficiency to the distinction between growth and development to the role of government in the economy, several themes will form the basis of all inquiry in our study of Economics.

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