What is Economy: Definitions, Types of Economies, and Key Economic Indicators

by | May 27, 2024 | 0 comments

What Is an Economy?

An economy is a complex system of interrelated production, consumption, and exchange activities, which ultimately determine how resources are allocated among participants. The production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services combine to fulfill the needs of those living and operating within the economy. An economy can encompass a nation, a region, a single industry, or even just one family.

Key Takeaways

  • An economy is a system of interrelated production and consumption activities that determine the allocation of resources within a group.
  • The production and consumption of goods and services fulfill the needs of those living and operating within an economy.
  • Market-based economies, also called free market economies, are self-regulated, allowing goods to be produced and distributed in response to consumer demand.
  • Command-based economies are regulated by a government body that determines the goods produced, their quantities, and their prices.
  • In the modern world, few economies are purely market-based or command-based.

Understanding Economies

An economy encompasses all activities related to the production, consumption, and trade of goods and services within an entity, whether it be a nation or a small town. No two economies are identical. Each economy is formed according to its own resources, culture, laws, history, and geography, and evolves based on the choices and actions of its participants. These decisions are made through a combination of market transactions and collective or hierarchical decision-making.

Types of Economies:

Market-Based Economies

Market-based or “free market” economies allow people and businesses to freely exchange goods and services according to supply and demand. The United States is mostly a market economy. Producers determine what’s sold and produced, and at what prices. If they expect to succeed, they will produce what consumers want and charge what consumers are willing to pay. Through these decisions, the laws of supply and demand determine prices and total production.

Command-Based Economies

Command-based economies rely on a central government that controls production levels, pricing, and distribution of goods. In such systems, the government owns industries deemed essential on behalf of the consumers who use them. Competition among companies is discouraged or banned, and prices are controlled. Communism requires a command-based economy, with contemporary examples including Cuba and North Korea.

Mixed Economies

Pure market economies rarely exist in the modern world since there’s usually some degree of government intervention or central planning. Even the United States could be considered a mixed economy. For instance, in late 2021, President Joe Biden ordered 50 million gallons of oil released from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves to lower gasoline prices by increasing supply.

Studying Economies

The study of economies and the factors affecting them is called economics. Economics can be broken into two major areas of focus: microeconomics and macroeconomics.


Microeconomics studies the behavior of individuals and businesses to understand why they make economic decisions and how these decisions affect the larger economic system. It examines how particular values are attached to products or services and how individuals coordinate and cooperate in business. Microeconomics focuses on economic tendencies and the impact of individual choices and actions on production.


Macroeconomics studies the big picture, including economy-wide factors such as inflation, gross domestic product (GDP), and changes in unemployment. It seeks to track and understand financial indicators that clarify an economy’s success or failure over time.

Read Also: What is an Initial Public Offering (IPO)?

Economic Indicators

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the total value of all completed goods and services produced by an economy during a year. The GDP of the United States reached $27.94 trillion in 2023.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes a monthly unemployment report, breaking down how many people are working, the average number of hours they work, and their average earnings. This report produces the unemployment rate, tracking changes over time to determine whether unemployment is worsening.

Inflation (or Deflation)

Inflation in consumer prices is measured and tracked to pinpoint economic problems. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) published by the BLS tracks the costs of goods and services from month to month, breaking down its report into vital areas of consumer spending like food, energy, and rent costs.

Balance of Trade

An economy’s balance of trade compares the amount of money spent on imports of goods and services to the amount of money earned from exports. A nation achieves a positive balance of trade when it exports more than it imports. The U.S. had a balance of trade deficit in 2023 of about $779.8 billion, down from $945.3 billion the previous year.

History of the Concept of Economy

The word economy derives from the Greek term for household management (“oikonomia”). Economics as a field of study was touched on by ancient Greek philosophers, notably Aristotle. However, the modern study of economics began in 18th-century Europe, particularly in Scotland and France.

Development of Modern Economics

The Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith, who in 1776 wrote “The Wealth of Nations,” is considered a founder of modern economics. He and his contemporaries traced the evolution of economies from prehistoric bartering systems to money-driven and eventually credit-driven economies.

What Is Economics?

Economics is the study of how a population functions by examining how its economy functions. Every group of people develops a survival plan based on shared labor and resources, and how they do that is the central focus of economics.

What Is Macroeconomics vs. Microeconomics?

Macroeconomics evaluates the overall performance of an economy, analyzing key indicators like GDP, employment, and inflation. Microeconomics studies the behavior of individual consumers and businesses, focusing on their motivations, habits, and behaviors.

What Is Economics in Real Life?

All of us participate in economies by producing goods or services and, in return, receiving money to buy goods and services that we cannot produce for ourselves.

Read Also: What is Equity?

The Bottom Line

An economy is a system of production and consumption activities that determine the allocation of limited resources. Every individual within an economy contributes to it in some form and expects a share of the goods and services provided by other community members.


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