March 19, 2018 

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RISK: The possibility of gain or loss. Risk the calculated probability of different events happening, is usually contrasted with uncertainty the possibility that any number of things could happen. For example, uncertainty is the possibility that you could win or lose $100 on the flip of a coin. You don't know which will happen, it could go either way. Risk, in contrast, is the 50 percent chance of winning $100 and the 50 percent chance of losing $100 on the flip of the coin. You know (or think you know) that your probability of winning or losing is 50 percent because the coin has a 50 percent chance of coming up either heads or tails.

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Labor, capital, land, and entrepreneurship used by society to produce consumer satisfying goods and services. Scarce resources, also termed just resources, are often given the more descriptive term factors of production.
All four scarce resource categories are important to the production of goods used in wants-and-needs-satisfying process that keeps human beings alive from one day to the next and makes living just a little more enjoyable. Land provides the basic raw materials that become the goods. Labor does the hands-on work. Capital is the tools that makes the job easier. And entrepreneurship organizes the entire process.

Four Resource Inputs

The production of any good or service inevitably requires four types of inputs. To see these inputs, consider a house being built by the Clint Cobblemeyer Construction Company.
  • First, there are a large number of workers. This includes the carpenters, electricians, concrete workers, plumbers, roofers, painters, and everyone else who hammers, saws, welds, digs, and performs the assorted tasks need in the construction process.

  • Second, there are the tools used by workers. This includes hammers, electric saws, screw drivers, delivery trucks, scaffolding, paint brushes, shovels, and other equipment.

  • Third, there are materials. This includes lumber, nails, screws, concrete, paint, roofing shingles, carpet, wallboard, bricks, and everything else that becomes the house.

  • Fourth, there is the organizer. This is the person, Clint Cobblemeyer, who makes the decision to build the house in the first place and then brings together the materials, workers, and tools needed to get the job done.
Consider some specific and formal for each of the four resource categories.


Labor is the mental and physical efforts of humans (excluding entrepreneurial organization) used for the production of goods and services. Labor includes both the physical effort of factory workers and farmhands often associated with labor, as well as the mental effort of executives and supervisors.


Capital is the manufactured, artificial, or synthetic goods used in the production of other goods, including machinery, equipment, tools, buildings, and vehicles. Capital is the produced factor of production. Capital must be produced using other factors of production. This means that society is often faced with the choice between producing consumption goods that satisfy wants and needs or capital goods that are used for future production.

Without capital, labor has to do ALL production by hand. The key role of capital in the production process is to make labor more productive. While a covey of construction workers might be able to fabricate a four-bedroom house with nothing but bare hands, an assortment of hammers, saws, and other tools is bound to make their work easier and more productive.


Land is the naturally occurring materials of the planet that are used for the production of goods and services, including the land itself; the minerals and nutrients in the ground; the water, wildlife, and vegetation on the surface; and the air above. The natural resources and materials become the goods produced. Without the materials of the land, there is no production. Production is, in fact, the act of transforming naturally occurring materials that provide little satisfaction in their natural state, to goods and services that provide more satisfaction.


Entrepreneurship is the special sort of human effort that takes on the risk of bringing labor, capital, and land together to produce goods. Entrepreneurship is the factor that organizes the other three. Without someone to organize production, the other three factors do NOT produce. A key component of entrepreneurship is risk. This resource takes on the risk of organizing production BEFORE anything is produced and with no guarantees that production will be successful.

Overlapping Categories

Economists have used the four general categories of labor, capital, land, and entrepreneurship since the days of Adam Smith. These categories made a lot of sense with the onset of the industrial revolution in the 1700s, because resources (and especially resource owners) were largely segmented groups.

Workers, for example, seldom owned capital or land, nor did they start their own businesses. Land owners, the "landed gentry," almost never did manual labor, nor did they get involved in starting or owning factories. In 18th century England, labor, capital, land, and entrepreneurship were not just four categories of resources, they were four distinct socio-economic groups.

That was then, this is now. The lines between these four resource categories are frequently blurred in our modern complex economy and society.

  • Ownership: The lines of resource ownership have become quite blurred. Many workers also own land (homes, farms) and capital (corporate stock). Some laborers also start and operate small businesses on the side. Traditional capital and land owners (corporate executives) do not just live off of stock dividends sipping Martini's at seaside resorts, but they spend long hours using their labor to keep the corporation afloat.

  • Conceptual: The conceptual lines separating resource categories have also blurred. One blur comes from human capital--the education and training that makes labor more productive.

    Capital, for example, results from transforming a lump of iron ore into a more productive socket wrench. What results after transforming a lump of human being into a more productive chemical engineer? This is called human capital. But is this labor or capital? Yes and no! It is some of both and not exclusively either.

    Farmland provides an example of the blur between land and capital. Is farmland land, or is it capital? While it is clearly land, most farmland has been cleared, terraced, augmented with fertilizers, and extensively modified such that it can hardly be considered a "natural resource." Farmland is as much a "factory" as any operated by General Motors.


Recommended Citation:

SCARCE RESOURCES, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2018. [Accessed: March 19, 2018].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | labor | capital | land | entrepreneurship | resources | natural resources |

Or For A Little Background...

     | scarcity | limited resources | resource allocation | production | three questions of allocation |

And For Further Study...

     | satisfaction | full employment | economic growth | distribution standards | economic resource | ownership and control | property rights | four estates | specialization | division of labor | production possibilities | free good | free resource | free lunch | rationing | production cost |

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