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Economic Module

This is a brief introduction to economic issues of sustainable development. When you have finished reading, you can start exploring the GNP per Capita learning module.

Economic Sector

The goal of sustainable development is to improve living standards and the quality of people’s lives, both now and for future generations. Economic issues are an important piece of the development "puzzle."

Everyone plays a role in the economy

Economics is a system of deciding how to allocate limited resources that will be used to meet human needs and wants. Whenever we buy, sell, or barter something, we are taking part in the exchange of goods and services that makes up the economy. Examples of such goods and services can vary widely—from food, school buses, books, minerals, and military weapons, to bank loans, factories, electricity, hospitals, hair cuts, clothes, and television programs.

When a country’s economy is healthy, most people can make, buy, or trade for most of the goods and services they need and want. In some countries these goods and services may be available only to relatively few people. In all countries some people may have more than enough, while others may barely survive.

Local issues/global issues

To help their economies continue to grow over time, countries strive to develop economic, social, and environmental goals, policies, and strategies for the short and long term. And since economies around the world are increasingly and inextricably linked through trade, the decisions that one country -- rich or poor -- makes about its economy can affect many other countries. Developing countries may depend on industrial countries to provide goods and services that they lack the technology or resources to produce. But industrial nations also depend on developing countries, who purchase one-quarter of the goods and services they export.

Linking the economy with environmental and social sectors

Economic issues are closely linked to environmental concerns. The economy depends on the sustainable use of renewable resources. Overuse of these resources for short-term gain may undercut a country’s long-term economic future.

Economic issues are also linked with social concerns. For example, inadequate investment in education and training of workers limits the potential for economic growth. And rapid population growth may limit the economic system’s ability to meet people’s basic needs and provide jobs for everyone who wants to work.

It is only when information about the economy is combined with social and environmental data that the full impact of development decisions on the quality of life can be understood.

Economic indicators

One way to measure a country’s level of development is to look at economic data such as the dollar amount of the country’s gross national product (GNP) per capita. GNP per capita helps measure the material output of a country, but it does not show what is produced, whether all people share equally in the wealth of the country, or whether they lead fulfilling lives.

As you explore the GNP per Capita learning module, what other types of economic data and information would help you better understand how people live in a particular country? What kinds of social and environmental data would give you a fuller picture of what life is like in that country?

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Click on the drop-down box beneath the indicator to select a learning tool to explore.

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