Economic System

A means by which governments organize and distribute available resources, services, and goods across a geographic region or country

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What is an Economic System?

An economic system is a means by which societies or governments organize and distribute available resources, services, and goods across a geographic region or country. Economic systems regulate the factors of production, including land, capital, labor, and physical resources. An economic system encompasses many institutions, agencies, entities, decision-making processes, and patterns of consumption that comprise the economic structure of a given community.

Economic System - Image of gear wheels with economic system written on them

Types of Economic Systems

There are many types of economies around the world. Each has its own distinguishing characteristics, although they all share some basic features. Each economy functions based on a unique set of conditions and assumptions. Economic systems can be categorized into four main types: traditional economies, command economies, mixed economies, and market economies.

1. Traditional economic system

The traditional economic system is based on goods, services, and work, all of which follow certain established trends. It relies a lot on people, and there is very little division of labor or specialization. In essence, the traditional economy is very basic and the most ancient of the four types.

Some parts of the world still function with a traditional economic system. It is commonly found in rural settings in second and third world nations, where economic activities are predominantly farming or other traditional income-generating activities.

There are usually very few resources to share in communities with traditional economic systems. Either few resources occur naturally in the region or access to them is restricted in some way. Thus, the traditional system, unlike the other three, lacks the potential to generate a surplus. Nevertheless, precisely because of its primitive nature, the traditional economic system is highly sustainable. In addition, due to its small output, there is very little wastage compared to the other three systems.

2. Command economic system

In a command system, there is a dominant centralized authority – usually the government – that controls a significant portion of the economic structure. Also known as a planned system, the command economic system is common in communist societies since production decisions are the preserve of the government.

If an economy enjoys access to many resources, chances are that it may lean towards a command economic structure. In such a case, the government comes in and exercises control over the resources. Ideally, centralized control covers valuable resources such as gold or oil. The people regulate other less important sectors of the economy, such as agriculture.

In theory, the command system works very well as long as the central authority exercises control with the general population’s best interests in mind. However, that rarely seems to be the case. Command economies are rigid compared to other systems. They react slowly to change because power is centralized. That makes them vulnerable to economic crises or emergencies, as they cannot quickly adjust to changing conditions.

3. Market economic system

Market economic systems are based on the concept of free markets. In other words, there is very little government interference. The government exercises little control over resources, and it does not interfere with important segments of the economy. Instead, regulation comes from the people and the relationship between supply and demand.

The market economic system is mostly theoretical. That is to say, a pure market system doesn’t really exist. Why? Well, all economic systems are subject to some kind of interference from a central authority. For instance, most governments enact laws that regulate fair trade and monopolies.

From a theoretical point of view, a market economy facilitates substantial growth. Arguably, growth is highest under a market economic system.

A market economy’s greatest downside is that it allows private entities to amass a lot of economic power, particularly those who own resources of great value. The distribution of resources is not equitable because those who succeed economically control most of them.

4. Mixed system

Mixed systems combine the characteristics of the market and command economic systems. For this reason, mixed systems are also known as dual systems. Sometimes the term is used to describe a market system under strict regulatory control.

Many countries in the developed western hemisphere follow a mixed system. Most industries are private, while the rest, composed primarily of public services, are under the control of the government.

Mixed systems are the norm globally. Supposedly, a mixed system combines the best features of market and command systems. However, practically speaking, mixed economies face the challenge of finding the right balance between free markets and government control. Governments tend to exert much more control than is necessary.

Final Word

Economic systems are grouped into traditional, command, market, and mixed systems. Traditional systems focus on the basics of goods, services, and work, and they are influenced by traditions and beliefs. A centralized authority influences command systems, while a market system is under the control of forces of demand and supply. Lastly, mixed economies are a combination of command and market systems.

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