Human beings, in order to survive need a lot of things. Some of these things are very important for our existence. For example, food, clothing, water, shelter and air. These things can be classified as Needs. Apart from this there are things which are needed by us but they are not important for our survival and we can live without them also. For example, going on an expensive holiday, owning a 57 inches Plasma TV. These are known as Wants. This list is never ending and is continuously increasing.
On the other hand, we have limited resources to produce these goods and services we want. There are not enough car factories to provide cars to everybody on earth. Everything on this planet has some limits except for our Wants.
When unlimited wants meet limited resources, it is known as Scarcity.
All the resources we have on this planet can be utilised in a number of way. They have alternative uses. For example, a piece of land can be used for making a factory, or doing farming or constructing a school and so on. Therefore, we have to choose what is best for us. If we talk from an economist point of view it means ‘making the optimum use of resource available’.
Though we have alternative uses, we have to select the best way to use these resources. When we choose best alternative, the next best alternative which is left out is known as the Opportunity cost of making a choice. In other words, the benefits we lost and could have achieved from the next best alternative.
Examples of Opportunity Cost
A person who invests $10,000 in a stock denies themselves the interest they could have earned by leaving the $10,000 dollars in a bank account instead. The opportunity cost of the decision to invest in stock is the value of the interest.
If a city decides to build a hospital on vacant land it owns, the opportunity cost is the value of the benefits forgone of the next best thing which might have been done with the land and construction funds instead. In building the hospital, the city has forgone the opportunity to build a sports centre on that land, or a parking lot.
The problem then becomes how to determine what is to be produced and how the factors of production (such as capital and labour) are to be allocated. Economics revolves around methods and possibilities of solving the economic problem.