Cultural Econ.: Choice

So, what is the solution to the predicament of having limited resources in this old world, but having absolutely unlimited needs and wants? Even in this present culture of extreme expectation, and the generational mentality of unbelievable entitlement, you don’t always get everything you want. It seems that there will always be far more uses for a particular resource than there is supply of that resource. Your want toalways gets beat up by your can do!

The simple answer to the sticky wicket question is that you ultimately have to make choices. The discipline of economics is the study of making good choices. Wouldn’t you like to know how to make better choices? Wouldn’t it be a good thing if you could learn to make better decisions so that your life would be better off and more fulfilling? Wouldn’t it be nice if your whole culture, including your government, could learn how to make informed, responsible choices?

To say yes to one thing means we say no to another. It is as simple as that. Yet, choices are closely connected with values, and that takes the issue of choices out of the simple and shoves it into the category of the complex. Would you rather purchase a home in a congested, troublesome neighborhood close to your work, or own a home with a few acres out away from the city, where you can enjoy a quality of life and space enough to raise your family, but spend all your time in your car or on the transit, commuting and arriving at home after your family is already in bed asleep?

In our local county, the residents get all excited about preserving certain pieces of land that perhaps have a lovely view of one of Colorado’s snow-covered mountains. They feel that they have a certain inheritance giving them birthright to always having an unencumbered shot at looking westward at the sunset and seeing that particular mountain. So the residents, especially the ones just across the street from the property, put up campaign signs, run ads in the local paper, hold meetings, and petition the open space committee of the county to purchase the land so that no homes can be built in the whole valley, thus successfully preserving the view.

Of course the action becomes contagious, and the race begins to protect everyone’s view of every beautiful snow-covered mountain. Then it begins to dawn on the people that they have just emptied the coffers of the county to preserve all the views. They have just removed forty-five percent of the open real estate in the county from the property tax rolls, and have, moreover, eliminated the possibility of future residential and commercial development that would have provided financial sustainability in perpetuity. By their choices, they have forfeited the possibility of generating necessary revenue to pay all the bills. But the views are nice, especially for the folks who live just across the street from the property.

Choices can become difficult and complex whether they involve just the individual, the family, the corporation, the community, or the national government. When it comes to dealing with limited resources and unlimited wishes, there will always be tension. The choices we must make as a result of scarcity of resources will always include at least the following issues:

  • What should be produced from those limited resources?
  • Who should produce and distribute the goods and services?
  • How should goods and services be produced?
  • For whom should goods and services be produced?             

Next Week: The cost of choices.

(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson’s new writing project on Cultural Economics)

© Dr. James W. Jackson  

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