Ten Principles of Economics

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TOTAL: 24.000 Ten Principles of Economics HOW PEOPLE MAKE DECISIONS There is no mystery about what an economy is. Whether we are talking about the economy of Los Angeles, the United States, or the whole world, an economy is just a group of people dealing with one another. Because the behavior of an economy reflects the behavior of the individuals who make up the economy, we begin our study of economics with four principles of individual decision-making. PRINCIPLE 1: PEOPLE FACE TRADE-OFFS You may have heard the old saying, “There isn’t no such thing as a free lunch.” There is much truth to this adage. To get one thing that we like, we usually have to give up another thing that we like. Making decisions requires trading off one goal against another. Consider a student

who must decide how to allocate her most valuable resource—her time. For every hour she spends studying, she gives up an hour that she could have spent napping, bike riding, watching TV, or working at her part-time job for some extra spending money. Or consider parents deciding how to spend their family income. They can buy food, clothing, or a family vacation. Or they can save some of the family income for retirement or the children’s college education. When they choose to spend an extra dollar on one of these goods, they have one less dollar to spend on some other good. When people are grouped into societies, they face different kinds of trade-offs. The classic trade-off is between “guns and butter.” The more a society spends on national defense (guns) to protect its

shores from foreign aggressors, the less it can spend on consumer goods (butter) to raise the standard of living at home. Also important in modern society is the trade-off between a clean environment and a high level of income. Laws that require firms to reduce pollution raise the cost of producing goods and services. Because of the higher costs, these firms end up earning smaller profits, paying lower wages, charging higher prices, or some combination of these three. Thus, while pollution regulations yield the benefit of a cleaner environment and the improved health that comes with it, they have the cost of reducing the incomes of the firms’ owners, workers, and customers. Another trade-off society faces is between efficiency and equality. Efficiency means that society is

getting the maximum benefits from its scarce resources. Equality means that those benefits are distributed uniformly among society’s members. In other words, efficiency refers to the size of the economic pie, and equality refers to how the pie is divided into individual slices. When government policies are designed, these two goals often conflict. Consider, for instance, policies aimed at equalizing the distribution of economic well-being. Some of these policies, such as the welfare system or unemployment insurance, try to help the members of society who are most in need. Others, such as the individual income tax, ask the financially successful to contribute more than others to support the government. While achieving greater equality, these policies reduce efficiency. When the

government redistributes income from the rich to the poor, it reduces the reward for working hard; as a result, people work less and produce fewer goods and services. In other words, when the government tries to cut the economic pie into more equal slices, the pie gets smaller. PRINCIPLE 2: THE COST OF SOMETHING IS WHAT YOU GIVE UP TO GET IT Because people face trade-offs, making decisions requires comparing the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action. In many cases, however, the cost of an action is not as obvious as it might first appear. Consider the decision to go to college. The main benefits are intellectual enrichment and better job opportunities. But what are the costs? To answer this question, you might be tempted to add up the money you spend on tuition,