CHARACTERISTICS OF A MARKET ECONOMY
Labor resources, natural resources, capital resources (e.g., equipment and buildings), and the goods and services produced in the economy are largely owned by private individuals and private institutions rather than by government. This private ownership combined with the freedom to negotiate legally binding contracts permits people, within very broad limits, to obtain and use resources as they choose.
FREEDOM OF ENTERPRISE AND CHOICE
Private entrepreneurs are free to obtain and organize resources in the production of goods and services and to sell them in markets of their choices. Consumers are at liberty to buy that collection of goods and services that best satisfies their economic wants. Workers are free to seek any jobs for which they are qualified.
MOTIVE OF SELF-INTEREST
The "Invisible Hand" that is the driving force in a market economy is each individual promoting his or her self-interest. Consumers aim to get the greatest satisfaction from their budgets; entrepreneurs try to achieve the highest profits for their firms; workers want the highest possible wages and salaries; and owners of property resources attempt to get the highest possible prices from the rent and sale of their resources.
Economic rivalry means that buyers and sellers are free to enter or leave any market and that there are buyers and sellers acting independently in the marketplace. It is competition, not government regulation, that diffuses economic power and limits the potential abuse of that power by one economic unit against another as each attempts to further its own self-interest.
SYSTEM OF MARKETS AND PRICES
Markets are the basic coordinating mechanisms in our type of economy, not central planning by government. A market brings buyers and sellers of a particular good or service into contact with one another. The preferences of sellers and buyers are registered on the supply and demand sides of various markets, and the outcome of these choices is a system of product and resource prices. These prices are guideposts on which participants in markets make and revise their free choices in furthering their self-interests.
A competitive market economy promotes the efficient use of its resources. As a self-regulating and self-adjusting economy, no significant economic role for government is necessary. However, a number of limitations and undesirable outcomes associated with the market system result in an active, but limited economic role for government.
Council for Economic Education, New York, NY
Civics and Government: Focus on Economics, Unit 1, Lesson 1
Constitution and the Economy: Economics Lesson