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Learn About Market Economy: Definition, Advantages, and Disadvantages of a Market Economy

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

The modern economy is extremely complex, and the type of economic system that a society uses dictates the economic life of its citizens. One of the most common economic systems throughout human history is known as the market economy.



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What Is a Market Economy?

A market economy is an economic system in which the production of goods and services are directed by the laws of supply and demand. Economic activity is driven by the principle that businesses will sell their products at the highest price that consumers are willing to pay, while the consumers attempt to purchase those products at the lowest available price.

In a free-market economy, the government has absolutely no influence on the forces of supply and demand. The liberal, laissez-faire ideals of a pure market economy are more theory than practice, as even capitalist nations contain some degree of government regulation that limits truly free enterprise.

2 Different Types of Economic Models

Other than a market economy, there are two other modern economic models:

  1. Command Economy: A command economy is an economic system in which the government solely determines which goods should be produced, as well as the supply and cost of those goods through central planning. North Korea, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union are examples of a command economy. China had a command economy for many years until it transitioned into a mixed economy.
  2. Mixed Economy: Mixed economies combine elements of both a capitalist market economy and a socialist-style command economy, allowing a degree of economic freedom while also letting governments interfere for the purpose of certain social aims. The United States and most of Europe are examples of a mixed economy. Though the United States lets companies set prices and allows workers to broker their wages, for example, there is also government intervention in the form of antitrust laws and minimum wages. They also attempt to correct for systemic disadvantages through safety nets such as social security and the allocation of government resources to public goods.
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4 Advantages of a Market Economy

A market economy has a number of advantages:

  1. Goods and services are produced according to consumer demand. The structures of a market economy ensure that the goods and services the most people want are produced since consumers will pay the highest price for the items they want the most, and businesses will produce those items that will return a profit.
  2. Efficient production. A market economy rewards the most efficient producers since efficient producers will earn more money than inefficient producers.
  3. Rewards innovation. New, exciting products will satisfy consumer demand better than existing products, and competitors will recognize that they can increase their profit by producing an innovative product.
  4. Investment. Market economies encourage successful businesses to invest in up-and-coming companies, thus increasing the quality of production.

3 Disadvantages of a Market Economy

The disadvantages of a market economy are as follows:

  1. Competitive disadvantages. A market economy is defined by cutthroat competition, and there is no mechanism to help those who are inherently disadvantaged, such as the elderly or people with disabilities. The caretakers of those people are also at a disadvantage, as they must allocate their time and resources towards caretaking instead of working within the market.
  2. Lack of optimization. The economic cost of a market economy is that its participants may not be optimized. An inherently disadvantaged person may have no choice but to work a minimum-wage job to support their family instead of becoming a doctor or a scientist.
  3. Wide social and economic gap. Since market forces dictate the winners and losers of a market economy, there can be an extremely wide gap between the super-rich and the super poor.


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