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There are different economic strategies available, not just one. You can choose from a menu of economic strategies:
1. Corps-based economy. Everyone is familiar with the corps-based economy because it's the conventional way to make money. The more population you have, the more production you can achieve. And the higher your production, the more potential profits.
2. Gold coin awards. It's highly profitable to focus on going up levels to win gc awards. It's realistic to earn 200-300 gc awards per real month per world until you reach high levels. While you're at it, try to rank #1 to get an extra gc award. This strategy also teaches basic skills.
3. Pillaging. War can be the best Simcountry business. There are c3s and inactive countries with generous assets. Conquer them, pillage them, and then cancel them before war repair costs get high. Wars of pillaging can produce an extremely high return on investment.
4. Trading. Countries and CEOs can profit by buying and selling products. There are always products in surplus that one can buy at below market price. Then when they are in shortage, one can sell them at above market price. One has to pay attention to setting fixed prices when buying or selling. Trading is a simple way to earn some game cash.
5. Other income. The loan market, share market, and cash market offer profitable opportunities. One also can invent hedge strategies, sell consulting services, get employed as a mercernary, or create other entrepreneurial businesses. And there are very profitable loopholes and workarounds in different aspects of the game.
Just like in real life, you can be conventional and depend only on corps for income. Or alternatively, you can be entrepreneurial and choose from a variety of less conventional economic strategies.
Remember that you have plenty of good economic choices, even though it seems that most people focus on the high population/corp-based economy. In Simcountry we have an ancient saying: "Variety is the spice of life."