The Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice - Explained
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The Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice - Explained


Jul 11, 2023

Abdullah Zaman

Abdullah Zaman

Abdullah is the founder & CEO at Ethica Invest. He prioritises long-term investing.


Economics is a fascinating field that helps us understand how societies manage limited resources to satisfy their unlimited wants and needs. At the core of economics lies the economic problem, which revolves around two fundamental concepts: scarcity and choice. In this article, we will delve into these concepts step by step, using simple language and real-life examples to ensure a comprehensive understanding for readers of all backgrounds.

1. Scarcity: The Never-Ending Quest for More

Scarcity is the foundational concept of the economic problem. It arises from the fact that our desires and needs are infinite, while the resources required to fulfill them are limited. This scarcity exists at all levels, whether it's an individual, a household, a business, or an entire country.

To better understand scarcity, let's consider an example. Imagine you have a delicious chocolate cake. You have three friends, but only one slice of cake left. All your friends want a piece, but you can only share it with one person. The scarcity of cake forces you to make a choice. You must decide who gets the last slice, which means that your other friends will have to go without.

2. Opportunity Cost: The True Cost of Choices

Now that we understand scarcity, let's talk about choice and the concept of opportunity cost. Opportunity cost refers to the value of the next best alternative that you must give up when making a decision.

Returning to our cake example, if you decide to give the last slice to your friend Anna, the opportunity cost is the enjoyment your other friends, Ben and Carla, would have had if they received the slice instead. By choosing Anna, you forego the opportunity for Ben and Carla to savor the cake.

Opportunity cost is not always about tangible goods like cake. It also applies to various decisions in life, such as choosing between studying for an extra hour or spending time with friends. The opportunity cost in this case is the enjoyment and social interaction you would have had if you chose to spend time with your friends instead of studying.

3. Production Possibilities Frontier: Making the Most of Limited Resources

The production possibilities frontier (PPF) is a graphical representation of the trade-offs society faces due to scarcity. It shows the maximum combination of goods and services that can be produced with given resources and technology.

Let's consider a simplified PPF example with two goods: apples and oranges. Suppose a farmer has limited land and labor resources, and he can either produce 10 apples or 20 oranges. If the farmer decides to produce only apples, he can have 10 apples but no oranges. If he chooses to produce only oranges, he can have 20 oranges but no apples. The PPF visually illustrates the trade-off between the two goods.

4. Factors of Production: The Building Blocks of Economic Activity

To produce goods and services, societies use four factors of production: land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship.

Land represents all natural resources used in production, such as forests, water, and minerals. Labor includes all the physical and mental efforts contributed by people to produce goods and services. Capital refers to the tools, machinery, buildings, and infrastructure used in production. Lastly, entrepreneurship represents the innovative and risk-taking abilities of individuals who combine the other factors of production to create new products and businesses.

For instance, consider a bakery. The land provides the physical space for the bakery, the labor includes the bakers and staff, the capital includes the ovens and mixing machines, and the entrepreneurship is demonstrated by the bakery owner who combines these factors to create delicious baked goods.


Understanding the economic problem, with its concepts of scarcity and choice, is essential to grasp the foundations of economics. Scarcity arises due to the infinite wants and limited resources, leading to the necessity of making choices. Through the concept of opportunity cost, we can appreciate the trade-offs associated with decision-making. The production possibilities frontier demonstrates the limits imposed by scarcity, while the factors of production highlight the building blocks of economic activity.

By using relatable examples and simple language, we hope to have made these concepts accessible and engaging to readers of all backgrounds. Economics influences our daily lives, and by comprehending the economic problem, we can better appreciate the impact of scarcity and the choices we make in our personal, business, and societal contexts.


  • Mankiw, N. G., & Taylor, M. P. (2017). Economics. Cengage Learning.
  • McConnell, C. R., Brue, S. L., & Flynn, S. M. (2018). Economics: Principles, Problems, and Policies. McGraw-Hill Education.