Economic Issues for the 21st Century
We all have several questions. Do I have a future of prosperity? Will I be able to afford a home of my own? Will my children or I live as well or better than my parents?
These are but a few of the questions we all ask ourselves daily. The answers to these depend on how well the United States economy faces the challenges of providing jobs, increasing income, and solving the multitude of social problems that we are faced on a daily basis, problems like poverty, soaring medical costs, and the decay of our environment. We could talk for days on the “problems that face us and our economy. However, I would like to focus on what I think is the top 10.
How should we use our resources and capabilities?
What should we produce, and how should we produce it? This is one of the all-time favorite questions and probably one of the most fundamental in all of economics. Why? Because much of economics deals with understanding how people choose to use their resources and analyses the consequences of their choices.
Will the standards of living in the United States continue to improve?
When income per person grows, people can afford more and better goods and services. All of this is in turn tied together, the growth in income per person depends on growth in production per person. Any person’s income depends on the value of that person’s service. When the economy is growing, it, in turn, generates better jobs for the growing population.
However for this to happen several other items must come into place, they include investment in education, training, new production facilitates, and equipment influences the development of new technologies and contributes to rising output per worker. The greater the growth of production per person in the United States, the greater the growth in income per person. As income per person increase’s, so do our living standards.
When we save, we forgo the opportunity to use our income to consume goods and services. Between 1974 and 1987 the United States saved less of its income than any other advanced industrial nation!
While Japan was saving over 30% of its income and Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom were saving over 20% of their income the United Stated was saving only 15 % of our income. In fact in the early 1990s the United States actually fell to less than 14%. However in 1995 personal savings began to increase. The reason for this was probably one of two reasons: 1) a trend to increase savings as baby boomers were starting to stash away some of there money for retirement and 2) a boom in the economy had started in 1995 whereby giving us more income to divert to some type savings or investment plan.
- Will the economy be able to grow with out high inflation and high unemployment
As for most of the 1980’s the United States economy expanded fairly steady and unemployment rates fell from a high of 9.5% in 1982 to a low of 5.2% in 1989. Then in 1990 the U.S. economy stalled, unemployment rose and job growth came to a screeching halt. However, from 1992 to 1995 the U. S. economy grew steadily, creating millions of new jobs while inflation remained moderately low at 3% a year.
- How successfully will U. S. industries face the challenge of competing in the global economy?
The ability of our nation to provide jobs and growing income is linked more than ever to our competitive position in the rest of the world. The 1980’s saw the emerging of the Pacific Rim Nations; Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand all as potent present productive forces. Mexico, India, Brazil, Argentina, and several other developing nations will emerge in the future as major producers of goods and services. Additionally the ever-changing climate in Europe with the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations and China can all greatly affect the United States.
To meet and exceed the challenge on increasingly competitive markets, the United States economy will have to keep on the cutting edge of technological advances and ensure growth in output per worker, this in turn will keep production costs down. It will take investments in plants and equipment to assure that the U. S. industries and adequately compete in the ever-expanding global economy of the 21st century.
- How will changes abroad, especially the movement away from communism toward free markets in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, affect the U.S. economy?
With the challenges of an increasing competitive global economy will come opportunities. As incomes grow in the rest of the world, so too will the demand for U.S. products. Economic change in Western Europe is creating a vast integrated market for U.S. exports. Improved economic conditions in Eastern Europe and in Asia, Latin America, and Africa will mean opportunities for U.S. businesses selling and investing abroad. Most economists believe that in the long run policies that maintain free international trade among nations will contribute to higher worldwide living standards.
As the economies of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations are transformed gradually into freer marketplaces, other opportunities for foreign investments and export markets will open up for U.S. businesses. If successful, the reforms in these nations will increase their income and them productive potential of their economies. The increase in income in these nations will provide further opportunities for the United States and the other nations to export goods and services. Economic reform and continued economic growth in China, the world’s most populated nation, will mean expanding markets and business opportunities as demand by Chinese households for goods and services increases.
- What measures should be taken to improve environmental quality?
There is more to life than material goods and services. There is increasing concern about the effect of environmental decay throughout the world. This concern is now international, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the pollution and destruction of environmental resources, such as rain forests, in one nation can harm the environment in the United States as well as in other nations. But sacrifices are necessary to improve our environmental quality. Measures taken to provide cleaner air and water and reduce the risks of environmental disasters such as oil spills will undoubtedly increase production costs, and this increase will increase the prices of products people want to buy.
A major question we must all ask ourselves is: Are we willing to trade job opportunities and reduced income today for cleaner air and preservation of natural resources tomorrow?
- What role should government play in the economy?
Some people think that government intervenes too much in the economy, while others look to the government to do more in solving the nation’s problems. There are both benefits and costs from government action. Governments provide essential services that few of us can live without roads, schooling, national defense, police and fire protection, Social Security pensions, and assistance to the poor. But the taxes and other means that governments use to finance their activities compel us to sacrifice some of our income to make these services available. Also, the taxes, regulations, and subsidy programs of governments can adversely affect incentives to use resources in ways that produce the greatest return to the nation.
- Why worry about the federal budget deficit?
Why worry about whether the federal government must borrow to finance its expenditures? After all, the federal budget has been in deficit every year since 1970 without any disastrous consequences for the economy. In fact, the latter half of the 1980s, a period of unprecedented peacetime expansion of production in the United States, was also a period in which the United States government ran record peacetime deficits.
- How solid is the U.S. financial system?
The failure of a large number of savings and loan associations and commercial banks in the 1980s is a cause for concern for everyone. Does this mean that it isn’t safe to keep our money in banks? Our United States banks are facing increased competition from foreign banks in the lucrative business of financing foreign investments.
These 10 issues are complex but also all interrelated. For example, the destruction of rain forest in Brazil can contribute to environmental decay and global warming that might adversely affect the quality of life throughout the world. Yet Brazil argues that clearing the rain forests is essential for reducing poverty in that nation. Improvements in environmental quality might come at the expense of a reduction in the improvement of material living standards. In other words, we might have to trade off material goods and services for cleaner air and water. Increased unemployment might on occasion be the price necessary to reduce rampant inflation. Unfortunately, we can rarely solve all problems in one swoop. We must be prepared to make trade-offs between objectives by looking at what we lose when we take each course of action.
- R.Glenn Hubbard, 1996. The Financial System and the Economy, second edition.
Addison-Wesley, New York.
- James D. Gwarvey and Richard L. Stroup, 1995. Economics Private and Public
Choice. The Dryden Press. New York.
- Dr. Arthur Sherman, Dr. George Bohander. Scott Snell, 1996. Managing human
Resources, South-Western College Publishing.
- Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia, 1994. Comptons New Media Company.
5 Bookshelf, 1995. Microsoft Bookshelf 1995, Microsoft Corporation.
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