IB Economics/Introduction to Economics/Free Market vs Planned Economy

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Rationing Systems[edit | edit source]

Basic Economic Questions
The basic question of modern economics is that of scarcity (finite system). Production is limited by entrepreneurial ability, natural resources, capital, labor, and technology. Humans have basically limitless wants in a world of limited resources. Economics is the science behind the allocation of those resources, as well as that of the output produced.

  • What goods and services should be produced with the resources available?
  • How can factors of production be used efficiently to produce what is chosen?
  • For whom should these goods and services be produced?

Factors of production:

  • Land Resources: not man made: land, minerals, wood, fish
  • Labour: human resources determined by population, age, skill and training
  • Capital: man made tools such as buildings, equipment, and machinery
  • Entrepreneurship: undertake the risk of organizing and combining factors for production

In order to maximize welfare we must produce in the most efficient manner possible to get the most out of our limited resources: this will put us on the production possibility frontier.

This point is defined when:

Marginal Social Benefit = Marginal Social Cost
  • But how do we distribute production in such a way as to maximize utility for society as a whole?
    • Marginal utility for rich people is low as they have the money to afford to buy everything: in other words they are bored from over consumption
    • Marginal utility for poor people is high because they have only limited income
    • The problem is:
      • If income is distributed from the rich to the poor, there is less incentive for people to work
      • Those who work hard in the market system are rewarded so efficiency is achieved, but many become losers and are marginalized

  • What is produced is largely determined by the needs and wants of people
  • How it is produced depends on available resources and technology
  • For whom depends on how goods are distributed: by traditional systems, central planning (dictatorship) or the free market

Traditional Economies

  • Resources and production systems are owned by the community
  • Production takes place using traditional technology
  • Allocation is based on long established patterns of community sharing.
  • The production possibility boundary tended to expand and contract slowly as population grew, there were climatic changes, and new tools were invented
  • Advantages of traditional systems:
    • Resources are protected and the systems have proven to be sustainable over long periods of time
    • Losses and profits are shared by the whole community, peer pressure forces decision makers to be careful
  • Disadvantages of traditional system: Growth is very slow

What are the basic economic questions?

  • What to produce?
  • How to produce it?
  • For whom to produce?

Command Economy

A market where the government or some central authority decides where to allocate resources

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Planned Economy


  • The government can influence the distribution of income.
  • The government can determine which goods are supplied.


  • In order to function well, requires an enormous amount of information which is difficult to obtain.
  • No real incentive for individuals to be innovative. Goods are of poor quality since there is a lack of profit motive.
  • May NOT lead to allocative efficiency or productive efficiency due to lack of competition and profit motives.
  • Corruption - the government has the ability to abuse its absolute power.
  • The economy does not respond as well to supply and demand, firms are simply told to produce a certain number of goods or services

Central planning:

  • Resources and production systems are owned by the central government which allows the government to determine what is produced, how and for whom.
  • Enormous information is required due to centralized planning and control. Government planners must:
    • Predict patterns of consumer demand
    • Estimate technological possibilities and production capabilities
    • Estimate the opportunity cost of resources in alternative uses.
  • Producers are motivated to underestimate their capability
  • Advantages of central planning:
    • The govt. can make the distribution of income more equal
    • The govt. determines what goods are produced and can prevent production of socially undesirable goods.
    • Initially higher growth rates for Russia and China would suggest that as a system of organizing economic activity, central planning is successful in the early stages of economic development
  • Disadvantages of central planning:
    • Requires large amounts of information: forecasting people’s desires is difficult and the lack of incentives have led to a number of problems:
  • Decision makers do not experience profits and losses and are not strongly motivated to make the right decisions
  • Incentives to falsify production information lead to poor production decisions and massive pollution,
  • A reluctance to change with the market in forecasting demand:
  • There are queues when there are shortages (quantity rationing), and stockpiles if there are surpluses.
    • State owned enterprises are managed inefficiently.
    • There is no incentive for individuals and firms to be innovative. With no profit motive goods are often of poor quality and choice is very limited.

Free Market

The forces of supply and demand decide the economic questions and therefore where to allocate resources

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Free Market


  • Resources allocated more efficiently by the price mechanism.
  • The profit motive is a great incentive, and forces producers to reduce costs and be innovative.
  • With no imperfections, the free market maximizes community surplus.

market system relies on a number of factors to ensure that it works efficiently.

•The profit motive - the incentive for a reward for enterprise •Good levels of information being available to both producers and consumers •Price accurately reflecting the costs and benefits of consumption and production •The ease with which resources can move to different uses At the heart of the market system is the profit motive.


  • Instability
  • Market failure- see Chapter II.
  • Monopolies and corruption - The natural goal of all firms is to attain monopoly, as this eliminates competition, eliminating the associated costs and thus maximizing profit. If the market structure does not include limiting social forces, financial forces will cause firms to externalize costs such as pollution to gain monopoly. Union Carbide's gas leak in Bhopal is an example of such an externalized cost.

Free market

  • Resources and production systems are owned by individuals and the allocation of resources, what, how and for whom, is left to the forces of supply (production) and demand (consumers) operating in a relatively free market.
  • Producers attempt to maximize profits, but if they are poor at predicting:
    • They produce too much (surpluses) and will lose money.
    • They underestimate (shortages), will miss the potential profit and a competitor will make the profit instead.
  • Only those firms which can predict most closely what consumers will want will earn adequate money to stay in business.
  • Advantages of free market:
    • Resources are allocated by market forces and the price mechanism without govt. intervention.
    • Profits provide an incentive to reduce costs and be innovative.
    • The free market maximizes community surplus if there are no failures and imperfections.
  • Disadvantages of the free market:
    • Market failures and imperfections occur because of public goods, merit goods, externalities and lack of competitive markets.
    • The system of profits and losses is thought to be unfair, substantial government intervention is needed to cope with income redistribution problems.
  • The wealthy are taxed to reduce profits
  • Those marginalized by the system, are supported with tax money
    • The system is incapable of controlling pollution and producing sustainable growth, planning has been introduced to correct for this problem.

Mixed Economies

An economy consisting of both free market and command economies - some decisions are made by market forces while some other decisions are made by the government or some central authority

  • Most countries in the world have moved gradually toward a mixture:
    • Free markets are used to allocate resources to achieve efficiency.
    • Government planning is used where markets fail to operate successfully, and to redistribute income to those who are marginalized by the market system.
    • Advantages:
  • Economic Stability: Combines elements of both capitalism and socialism, providing a balance between market forces and government intervention, which can help stabilize the economy.
  • Incentives for Innovation: Private sector competition encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, driving economic growth.
  • Social Welfare: Government intervention allows for the provision of public goods and social safety nets, reducing income inequality and poverty.
  • Consumer Choice: Offers a variety of goods and services due to competition, catering to diverse consumer preferences.
  • Resource Allocation: Market forces allocate resources efficiently based on demand and supply, preventing wastage.


  • Inequality: Wealth disparities can persist, as the private sector may not always address social equity concerns.
  • Inefficiency: Government intervention can lead to bureaucracy and inefficiencies, hindering economic growth.
  • Regulatory Burden: Businesses may face excessive regulations, reducing their competitiveness.
  • Short-Term Focus: Politically driven policies may prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability.
  • Complexity: Balancing market and government forces requires careful management, which can be challenging.

Additional Information:

  • Examples: Many countries, including the United States, Canada, and many European nations, operate with mixed economies to varying degrees.
  • Evolution: Economic systems often evolve over time, with governments adjusting their roles based on changing economic and social needs.
  • Market Failures: Mixed economies address market failures (e.g., environmental externalities) through regulation and taxation.
  • Social Services: They often include publicly funded healthcare, education, and social security systems.
  • Global Trade: Mixed economies engage in international trade, balancing domestic and global economic interests.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Collaboration between government and private sectors can drive infrastructure development and innovation.
  • Political Influence: The balance between capitalism and socialism can shift due to changes in political leadership and ideology.