A Mixed Economy-The Us SystemThe economic system of the United States is principally one of private ownership. This system, often referred to as a "free enterprise system," can be contrasted with a socialist economic system, which depends heavily on government planning and public ownership of the means of production.
Yet government has to some extent always been involved in regulating and guiding the U.S. economy. At the same time, U.S. citizens have always had the freedom to choose for whom they will work, and what they will buy. Most importantly, Americans vote for officials who set economic policy.
In the U.S. economic system, consumers, producers and the government make decisions on a daily basis, mainly through the price system. The dynamic interaction of these three groups makes the economy function. The market's primary force, however, is the interaction of producers and consumers; this has led analysts to dub the U.S. economic system a "market economy."
As a rule, consumers look for the best values for what they spend, while producers seek the best price and profit for what they have to sell. Government, at the federal, state and local levels, seeks to promote the public safety, assure reasonable competition, and provide a range of services believed to be better performed by public rather than private enterprise. Some of these public services include the administration of justice, education (although there are many private schools and training centers), the postal (but not the telephone) service, the road system, social statistical reporting and, of course, national defense.
In this system, when economic forces are unfettered, supply and demand establish the prices of goods and services. Entrepreneurs are free to develop their businesses. In theory, unless they can provide goods or services of a quality and price to compete with others, they are driven from the market, so only the most efficient and those who best serve the public remain in business. In practice, government regulations can interfere with pure competition in order to promote other national policy objectives such as price and income stability, regional development or environmental preservation. Similarly, businesses can interfere with pure competition, through price fixing or other monopolistic practices, in order to maximize profits.
In the United States, most people are simultaneously consumers and producers; they are also voters who help influence the decisions of government. The mixture among consumers, producers and members of government changes constantly, resulting in a dynamic rather than a static economy. In recent years consumers have made their concerns known, and government has responded by creating agencies to protect consumer interests and promote general public welfare.
The U.S. economy has changed in other ways as well. The population and the labor force have moved dramatically from farms to cities, from fields to factories and, above all, to service industries. In today's economy, the providers of personal and public services far outnumber producers of agricultural and manufacture goods. Statistics also reveal a rather startling shift away from self-employment to working for others.
Generally there are three kinds of businesses: single-owner operated businesses, partnerships and corporations. The first two are important, but it is the latter structure that best permits the amassing of large sums of money by combining the investments of many people who, as stockholders, can buy or sell their shares of the business at any time on the open market. Corporations make large-scale enterprise possible.