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There's this statement in my Applied Economics book that I don't understand. Why is that when one person or group gets a good or service, someone else will have to live without it? I hope you answer this question. Thank you.

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That statement is not generally true.

It is true of rivalrous goods (e.g. when I take a slice of a pizza, there's that much less left of the pizza for you).

It is false of non-rivalrous goods (e.g. when I step into the sunshine, there is usually* no less of the sunshine for you).

*Unless of course I somehow also block the sunshine for you.

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I believe this comes from a very beginning of the book, which tries to emphasize the concept of scarcity... a very important idea in economics.

Later on, you'll see that there are certain types of goods that, when one person "consumes" it, it doesn't mean that other people cannot consume it as well. In economics, this is called a non-rivalry good. Some examples include scenic views (you enjoy it doesn't mean your friends can't too), national defense, and radio signal.

Note that this is true only up to a point... when there's two people enjoying the view of the mountain, that's fine. Three, ok... but when it gets up to thousands of people enjoying the same view of the mountain, that gets a bit crowded. Here we're only talking to non-rivalry within reasons.

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  • $\begingroup$ Probably the only real examples of truly non-rival goods are intellectual property. But even then, there can be side effects (discouraging innovation) if it's not protected somehow (patentes, copyright etc.) $\endgroup$ – Fizz Sep 19 at 5:36
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The statement is most clearly correct for goods which are both rival and unique, for example, some houses (which may be unique by virtue of their size, room configuration and location), and unique original works of art (which can have only one owner even if displayed for viewing by others).

As other answers have said, the statement is not true for non-rival goods. But even for ordinary rival goods produced in large quantities (slices of pizza, say), the statement is only true in the sense that if someone consumes a particular unit of a good, then someone else (indeed everyone else) cannot consume that particular unit. The wording "have to live without it" is rather pretentious in that context, given that a person who cannot consume one particular unit can often consume another equally good unit.

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