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Economics deals with the struggle to divide up a finite amount of goods and services to satisfy an unlimited amount of human needs and desires. No society, no matter how rich and successful, is able to produce everything needed or wanted by individuals. This reality was evident to people throughout history. In ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato discussed economic topics in his work, The Republic, saying the division of labor among people was the only way to supply a larger need. Individuals, he said, are not naturally self-sufficient and thus they need to cooperate in their efforts and exchange goods and services.

It was not until 1776 that the theory of economics was given a name. Adam Smith, in his work Wealth of Nations, described that individuals, given the opportunity to trade freely, will not create chaos. Instead, he claimed that free trade results in an orderly, logical system. His belief in this free trade system has been interpreted as an endorsement of laissez-faire capitalism, which discourages government restrictions on trade. Other economists believe that regulation is necessary to limit corruption and unfair or monopolistic practices.

The importance of economics is evidenced by its status as the only social science in which a Nobel Prize is awarded. In the last century, economics has come to be used in making a broad array of decisions within businesses, government agencies, and many other kinds of organizations.

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