The Circular Flow

In a simplified world with only two types of economic agents, individuals and business firms, the relations between them can be pictured. Individuals and firms have dual aspects, and thus transact with one another in two distinct ways. Individuals are in one aspect consumers of goods, while firms are producers of goods. Thus, a real flow of consumption goods occurs from firms to individuals. But the goods must be produced. To permit this there must be a “real” flow of productive services, from the individuals in their second aspect as owners of resources to the firms as employers of resource services.

In a socialist command economy these flows of goods and resources might be directly ordered by a dictator. But in a private enterprise economy the relations are based on exchange and so must be mutual and voluntary. Hence, offsetting the “real” flows are reverse “financial” flows of claims that in a modern economy normally take the form of money payments. The consumers’ financial expenditures on goods become the receipts or revenues of the firms. The exchange of consumption goods between individuals and producing firms in return for financial payments take place in what economists call “the product market.”

The revenues received from sales to consumers provide firms with the wherewithal to buy productive services from resource-owners. This closes the circle; the firms’ payments for productive services become income to the individuals, available once more for spending on consumer goods. Purchase and sale of productive services take place in what economists call “the factor market,” again really a number of distinct markets for the various types of productive services.

Looking within the box representing the firms as economic agents, what takes place there is the process of production, the physical transformation of resources into products. Within the box representing individuals, consumption of the produced goods takes place. Here again the circle is closed by the fact that consumption is necessary to reiterate the main productive resource—labor power—for the next cycle.

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