Page 4: The basic economic problem
Economists distinguish between wants and needs; needs are those things which people require to survive. These comprise food, water and protection from the elements in the form of shelter and clothing. Nestlé products fall into two of these categories (food and water). However they can only be described as wants because it is possible to survive without consuming any Nestlé products at all.
All resources are considered scarce because the wants for them (the demand) outstrip the various uses for them (the supply). This means that they have to be shared out (distributed) by a mechanism such as price. There are numerous ways in which a resource may be used, an opportunity cost is therefore created whenever one use is preferred over another. If water is used for industrial production, it is not available for agriculture or domestic consumption. Water is a classic example of the distribution problem of scarce resources. There is actually enough water in the world for everyone's needs, and it is not a resource that is ever 'used up' in the way that other resources can be consumed. The amount of water in the earth's water cycle - evaporating from the sea, then falling as precipitation over land - is constant, the problem is one of distribution - it is not always located where it is needed.