Economic Problems: What, How & Whom to Produce


Every economy, whether capitalist, socialist,  mixed economy, developed or developing countries is faced with the basic problem of scarcity of resources which serves as the bane of the following problems confronting the nations of the world.

  1. What to produce?
  2. How to produce?
  3. For whom to produce?
  4. How to achieve effective use of resources?


The question of “what to produce” lies at the heart of the economic decision-making process in any society. It revolves around the allocation of resources to produce goods and services that cater to the needs and wants of the population. The determination of what should be produced is influenced by a myriad of factors, which vary across different economic systems and societies.

In a capitalist system, the responsibility for deciding what to produce primarily lies with private individuals and businesses. These entities respond to market demand and use the price system as a guiding mechanism. The price of goods and services is influenced by the interplay of supply and demand forces, and this information helps businesses gauge what products are in demand and what should be produced to maximize profits.

Contrastingly, a socialist system places the power to decide what to produce in the hands of the government. Here, production decisions are not solely driven by profit motives but are rather based on calculations of social welfare. The central goal is to ensure that the needs of the entire society are met, and resources are allocated in a manner that benefits the greatest number of people. While profit is not the driving force, efficiency, and equity play a significant role in determining production choices.

In a mixed economy, like the one practiced in Nigeria, the decision of what to produce is a collaborative effort involving both the government and private sector individuals or firms. The government may intervene in certain areas to address market failures, promote public welfare, or ensure the equitable distribution of essential goods and services. At the same time, private businesses are allowed to operate within a market-driven framework, responding to consumer preferences and striving for profitability.

The factors influencing what to produce can be diverse and dynamic, ranging from societal values, cultural norms, technological advancements, and environmental concerns, to name a few. Additionally, considerations such as the availability of resources, labor force skills, and infrastructure also play vital roles in determining production choices.

Ultimately, the challenge of what to produce will continue to evolve, shaped by the evolving needs and desires of the population, the changing economic landscape, and the delicate balance between market forces, government intervention, and social well-being. Striking this balance is crucial for creating a prosperous and sustainable economy that serves the interests of the people.


The question of “how to produce” is a critical aspect of the economic decision-making process that revolves around determining the most efficient and effective methods of production. It encompasses various considerations, such as the choice of economic methods, the selection of appropriate materials, the adoption of production techniques, and the organization of the production process.

In every economy, two primary methods of production are prevalent: the labor-intensive method and the capital-intensive method. Each method differs significantly in its utilization of labor and capital resources, influencing the overall efficiency and productivity of the production process.

1. Labor-Intensive Method:
The labor-intensive method emphasizes the utilization of a higher number of laborers while requiring minimal capital investment. This approach often relies on human skills, manual labor, and craftsmanship to produce goods and deliver services. In labor-intensive industries, workers play a pivotal role in the production process, performing tasks that range from basic to highly specialized.

Advantages of the labor-intensive method

– Lower initial capital requirements: Since it relies more on human labor than on expensive machinery, this method can be a viable option for industries in developing economies or those with limited access to capital.
– Employment generation: A labor-intensive approach can lead to increased employment opportunities, helping to address issues of unemployment and poverty in a society.
– Flexibility and adaptability: Human labor can be more versatile and adaptable, allowing for easier adjustments in production processes to meet changing market demands.

Disadvantages of the labor-intensive method

– Lower productivity: Compared to capital-intensive methods, labor-intensive production may be slower and less efficient, leading to potentially higher costs per unit of output.
– Greater labor dependency: Economic fluctuations and labor shortages can significantly impact production, causing potential disruptions in output.

2. Capital-Intensive Method:
The capital-intensive method, on the other hand, places greater reliance on advanced machinery, technology, and automated systems, while employing a smaller workforce. This approach is often found in industries where mechanization and automation can significantly enhance productivity and reduce production costs.

The advantages of the capital-intensive method

– Higher productivity: Automated systems and advanced machinery can lead to increased production output, efficiency, and quality, ultimately lowering the cost per unit.
– Reduced labor costs: As fewer workers are needed, expenses related to wages, benefits, and training can be minimized.
– Consistency and precision: Machines can consistently produce goods and services with a higher degree of precision, reducing the likelihood of errors and defects.

Disadvantages of the capital-intensive method

– High initial investment: Acquiring and maintaining advanced technology and machinery can require substantial capital investment, making it more challenging for small-scale enterprises to enter the market.
– Technological obsolescence: Rapid advancements in technology may render capital-intensive equipment outdated, necessitating frequent upgrades or replacements.
– Potential job displacement: The reduced need for labor in capital-intensive industries can lead to unemployment and socioeconomic challenges for affected workers.

In a capitalist economy, the decision of which method to use lies with private individuals and firms who base their choices on factors such as market demand, cost considerations, and profit potential. In contrast, a socialist economy tends to focus on societal welfare and may make production decisions based on equitable distribution, environmental sustainability, and social needs.

The optimal choice of production method depends on a complex interplay of factors, including the specific industry, available resources, technological advancements, and societal values. Striking the right balance between labor and capital-intensive methods is essential for fostering economic growth, maximizing efficiency, and ensuring the well-being of individuals and communities involved in the production process.


The question of “for whom to produce” is a fundamental aspect of the economic decision-making process that addresses the distribution of goods and services among the population. It revolves around determining how the benefits of production are allocated and who gets access to the various goods and services produced.

1. Capitalist System:
In a capitalist system, the distribution of goods and services is primarily driven by the price mechanism. The market plays a central role in determining who receives what based on the principles of supply and demand. As individuals and businesses interact in the market, they make purchasing decisions based on their preferences and ability to pay. Those who can afford a particular good or service can purchase it, while those with limited financial means may have to forgo certain items.

Advantages of the capitalist system in distribution

– Incentive for efficiency: The pursuit of profits encourages businesses to produce goods and services that are in demand and to do so efficiently, maximizing overall output.
– Consumer choice: The variety of goods and services available allows consumers to exercise their preferences, making choices that align with their individual needs and desires.
– Resource allocation: Resources are allocated based on consumer demand, channeling production towards the goods and services that are most sought after.

Disadvantages of the capitalist system in distribution

– Income inequality: As the distribution is tied to individuals’ purchasing power, disparities in wealth can lead to unequal access to essential goods and services.
– Potential market failures: The price mechanism might not always allocate goods and services efficiently, leading to situations where vital needs are unmet for certain segments of the population.

2. Socialist System:
In a socialist system, the distribution of goods and services is planned and managed by the government or a centrally planned committee. The primary goal is to ensure equitable access to essential goods and services for all members of society. Distribution is based on the principle of need, where individuals receive goods and services according to their requirements and contributions as determined by the government.

Advantages of the socialist system in distribution

– Reduction of inequality: By prioritizing needs over purchasing power, a socialist system aims to reduce income disparities and provide access to basic necessities for all members of society.
– Aligned with societal welfare: The focus on the collective well-being of the population guides the distribution of goods and services, aiming to meet essential needs first.

Disadvantages of the socialist system in distribution

– Potential for inefficiency: Centralized planning can lead to resource misallocation and a lack of incentives for productive efficiency.
– Limited consumer choice: In some cases, the range of available goods and services may be more limited compared to a market-driven system, reducing consumer variety.

3. Mixed Economy System:
In a mixed economy, such as the one practiced in many countries, both the price mechanism and government intervention play roles in determining the distribution of goods and services. Certain essential goods and services may be subsidized or provided by the government to ensure widespread access, while other non-essential items are left to the market.

Advantages of the mixed economy system in distribution

– Balancing efficiency and equity: The combination of market forces and government intervention seeks to strike a balance between efficient allocation and equitable distribution.
– Social safety nets: Government programs can be implemented to support vulnerable groups and ensure access to essential goods and services for those who cannot afford them.

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Disadvantages of the mixed economy system in distribution

– Potential for inefficiency: Over-reliance on government intervention can lead to inefficiencies and bureaucratic challenges in resource allocation.
– Complexity: The interplay of market mechanisms and government policies can create a complex distribution system that may be challenging to manage effectively.

Ultimately, the method of distribution chosen in an economic system significantly influences societal outcomes, shaping access to goods and services and impacting the overall well-being of the population. The approach selected reflects the underlying values and goals of a society and requires careful consideration to address both economic efficiency and social welfare effectively.



The effective allocation of resources is a crucial objective in any economic system, given the inherent scarcity of resources compared to the ever-growing demands of society. It entails making prudent decisions on how to utilize limited resources to achieve the maximum possible output or increase production. This process involves optimizing the utilization of resources to ensure efficiency and productivity while minimizing waste and inefficiencies.

1. Resource Scarcity:
The foundation of effective resource allocation lies in recognizing the scarcity of resources. Resources such as land, labor, capital, and natural resources are limited in supply, making it imperative to utilize them judiciously to meet the diverse needs of society. Understanding this scarcity drives decision-making towards the most optimal use of available resources.

2. Production Possibility Frontier (PPF):
The concept of the Production Possibility Frontier (PPF) illustrates the trade-offs involved in resource allocation. The PPF represents the maximum attainable combinations of two goods that a society can produce given its resources and technology. Any point on the PPF represents an efficient allocation of resources, indicating that resources are being fully utilized to achieve the best possible output.

3. Efficient Resource Utilization:
Effective allocation of resources involves using them in a way that maximizes output without waste or inefficiencies. This means producing goods and services in quantities and qualities that match the preferences and needs of consumers. It also involves deploying resources in such a manner that no resource remains idle or underutilized.

4. Technological Advancements:
Technological advancements play a significant role in effective resource allocation. Innovation and advancements in technology allow for increased productivity, enabling more output to be generated with the same amount of resources or producing the same output with fewer resources. Embracing and investing in new technologies can lead to higher efficiency and resource optimization.

5. Specialization and Comparative Advantage:
Specialization and the concept of comparative advantage also contribute to effective resource allocation. By focusing on producing goods and services where a country or individual has a comparative advantage (i.e., lower opportunity cost), resources can be allocated to their most productive uses, boosting overall efficiency and output.

6. Market Mechanisms:
In market-driven economies, price signals play a crucial role in resource allocation. Prices act as indicators of relative scarcity and demand, guiding producers and consumers to make rational decisions about resource usage. When prices rise, it signals scarcity and encourages efficient resource use. Conversely, falling prices may indicate an oversupply of resources in a particular sector.

7. Government Intervention:
In mixed economies, the government may intervene to correct market failures or to address social objectives. Government policies can influence resource allocation through taxation, subsidies, regulations, and public investments. Effective government intervention seeks to promote economic efficiency while also addressing societal needs and equity concerns.

8. Sustainable Resource Management:
Effective resource allocation should also consider sustainability. Managing resources in a sustainable manner ensures that the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Balancing short-term gains with long-term sustainability is crucial for maintaining resource availability and avoiding resource depletion.

Effective allocation of resources is essential for achieving economic growth, improving living standards, and ensuring overall societal well-being. By efficiently utilizing limited resources and embracing innovative practices, societies can navigate the challenges of scarcity while maximizing their potential for increased production and prosperity.

 Read also:
Opportunity Cost

Concepts of Economics

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Economics: Meaning, Scope, Branches & Study

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