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Buyers bargain for good prices while sellers put forth their best front in Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala. Economics (from the Greek [oikos], 'family, household, estate', and [nomos], 'custom, law', hence "household management" and "management of the state") is a social science that typically studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Since the early part of the 20th century, economics has focused largely on measurable variables, and employed both theoretical models and empirical analysis[1]. Economic logic is increasingly applied to any problem determining economic value (such as politics, religion, psychology, history and social interaction). A professional working in economics or having an academic degree in the subject is an economist. The subject is broadly divided into two main branches: microeconomics, which deals with individual agents, such as households and businesses, and macroeconomics, which considers the economy as a whole. An alternate division of the subject distinguishes positive economics, which tries objectively to predict and explain economic phenomena, from normative economics, which recommends one choice over anothersuch recommendations often involve subjective value judgments. The mainstream economic paradigm is a combination of neoclassical economics and Keynesian macroeconomics. Crucial assumptions of this paradigm include the idea that resources are scarce while wants are unlimited, which is sometimes characterized as the economic problem, and an understanding that the value of most goods can be represented in terms of their open-market price. Various schools of heterodox economics, for instance socialist economics, green economics and associative economics, seek to explain economic phenomena using different basic assumptions, for example by emphasizing that economics is primarily concerned with exchanges of values.

Definitions of economics

Broadly speaking, economics is a social science, and its area of study is human activity involved in meeting needs and wants. However, beyond this there are a range of definitions, past and present, which have been applied first to the term political economy and then to the modern term economics. John Maynard Keynes once remarked that "Economics is the science of thinking."{See Keynes, Moggridge1976 p.28.} Broadly, the history of the study moved from the study of "wealth" to "welfare" to the idea of studying trade-offs.

Wealth definition

The earliest definitions of political economy were simple, elegant statements defining it as the study of wealth. The first scientific approach to the subject was inaugurated by Aristotle, whose influence is still recognized today by the Austrian School, among others. Adam Smith, author of the seminal work The Wealth of Nations and regarded by some as the "father of modern economics," defines economics simply as "The science of wealth."[2] Smith offered another definition, "The Science relating to the laws of production, distribution and exchange."[2] Wealth was defined as the specialization of labour which allowed a nation to produce more with its supply of labour and resources. This definition divided Smith and Hume from previous definitions which defined wealth as gold. Hume argued that gold without increased activity simply serves to raise prices.[citation needed]John Stuart Mill defined economics as "The practical science of production and distribution of wealth";[citation needed] this definition was adopted by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.[3] even though it does not include the vital role of consumption. For Mill, wealth is defined as the stock of useful things. [citation needed] Definitions in terms of wealth emphasize production and consumption. The accounting measures usually used measure the pay received for work and the price paid for goods, and do not deal with the economic activities of those not significantly involved in buying and selling (for example, retired people, beggars, peasants). For economists of this period, they are considered nonproductive, and non-productive activity is considered a kind of cost on society. This interpretation gave economics a narrow focus that was rejected by many as placing wealth in the forefront and man in the background; John Ruskin referred to political economy as a "Bastard science, the science of getting riches."[citation needed]

Welfare definition
Later definitions evolved to include human activity, advocating a shift toward the modern view of economics as primarily a study of man and of human welfare, not of money. Alfred Marshall in his 1890 book Principles of Economics wrote, "Political Economy or Economics is a study of mankind in the ordinary business of Life; it examines the part of the individual and social action which is most closely connected with the attainment and with the use of material requisites of well-being."[4] The welfare definition was still criticized as too narrowly materialistic. It ignores, for example, the non-material aspects of the services of a doctor or a dancer. A theory of wages which ignored all those sums paid for immaterial services was incomplete. Welfare could not be quantitatively measured, because the marginal significance of money differs from rich to the poor (i.e. $100 is relatively more important to the well-being of a poor person than to that of a wealthy person). Moreover, the activities of production and

distribution of goods such as alcohol and tobacco may not be conducive to human welfare, but these scarce goods do satisfy human wants. Marxist economics still focuses on a welfare definition. In addition, several critiques of mainstream economics begin from the argument that current economic practice does not adequately measure welfare, but only monetized activity, which is an inadequate approximation of welfare.

Scarcity definition

This definition allowed a potentially broader field of study, but it, too, has its critics. It is most amenable to those who consider economics a pure science, but others object that it reduces economics merely to a valuation theory. It ignores how values are fixed, prices are determined and national income is generated. It also ignores unemployment and other problems arising due to abundance. This definition cannot apply to such Keynesian concerns as cyclical instability, full employment, and economic growth. The focus on scarcity continues to dominate neoclassical economics, which, in turn, predominates in most academic economics departments. It has been criticized in recent years from a variety of quarters, including institutional economics and evolutionary economics.

Areas of study in economics

Economics is usually divided into two main branches: Microeconomics examines the economic behavior of individual actors such as businesses and households with a view to understand decision making in the face of scarcity and the economic consequences of these decisions on other actors. Macroeconomics examines an economy as a whole with a view to understanding the interaction between economic aggregates such as national income, employment and inflation. Note that general equilibrium theory combines concepts of a macro-economic view of the economy, but does so from a strictly constructed microeconomic viewpoint. Attempts to join these two branches or to refute the distinction between them have been important motivators in much of recent economic thought, especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, the consensus view is arguably that good macroeconomics has solid microeconomic foundations. In other words, its premises ought to have theoretical and evidential support in microeconomics. Some authors (e.g. Kurt Dopfer and Stuart Holland) also argue that 'mesoeconomics', which considers the intermediate level of economic organization such as markets and other institutional arrangements, should be considered a third branch of economic study. [citation needed]

Economics can also be divided into numerous sub-disciplines that do not always fit neatly into the macro-micro categorization. These sub-disciplines include: international economics, labour economics, welfare economics, neuroeconomics, information economics, resource economics, ecological economics, environmental economics, managerial economics, financial economics, urban economics, mathematical economics, development economics, industrial organization, retail economics, war economics, public finance, agricultural economics, transport economics, media economics, monetary economics, economic history, economic psychology, economic sociology, economic anthropology, economic archaeology, institutional economics, forensic economics, and economic geography. There are also methodologies used by economists whose underlying theories are important. The most significant example may be econometrics, which applies statistical techniques to the study of economic data. Computational economics relies on mathematical methods, including econometrics. Another trend which is more recent, and closer to microeconomics, is to use social psychology concepts (behavioral economics) and methods (experimental economics) to understand deviations from the predictions of neoclassical economics. Evolutionary economics often deals with the otherwise difficult questions related to the role of 'routines' and 'capabilities' in explaining heterogeneity in firm outcomes. It is arguably an even older theory than biological evolution, and differs from biological evolution in many details. Innovation can be the product of rational thought. Recombination can be continuous and can involve many 'parents'. And selection is not only natural but also rational, since economic agents can decide to abandon an inferior technology or behavior, rather than die with it. Other subdivisions are possible. Finance has traditionally been considered a part of economics as its body of results emerges naturally from microeconomics but has today effectively established itself as a separate, though closely related, discipline. There has been an increasing trend for ideas and methods from economics to be applied in wider contexts. Since economic analysis focuses on decision making, it can be applied, with varying degrees of success, to any field where people are faced with alternatives education, marriage, health, etc. Public choice theory studies how economic analysis can apply to those fields traditionally considered outside of economics. The areas of investigation in economics therefore overlap with other social sciences, including political science and sociology. The most prevalent political economy is loosely called capitalism.

See political economy for the study of economics in the context of political science, and socioeconomics for the study of economics in the context of sociology.

Economic assumptions Supply and demand

The supply and demand model describes how prices vary as a result of a balance between product availability and demand. The graph depicts an increase in demand from D1 to D2 along with the consequent increase in price and quantity required to reach a new equilibrium point on the supply curve (S). Main article: Supply and demand In microeconomic theory supply and demand attempts to describe, explain, and predict the price and quantity of goods sold in perfectly competitive markets. It is one of the most fundamental economic models, ubiquitously used as a basic building block in a wide range of more detailed economic models and theories. To define, Demand is the potential utility maximizing choice of a consumer (buyer), measured as the number of units of a good that a defined consumer (or group) is willing to buy in a given time period at any given price. It is a strong desire backed by purchasing power with the willingness to purchase within a given period of time. Supply is the potential utility maximizing choice of the producer (seller), measured as the quantity of goods that a producer or a supplier is willing to bring into the market for the purpose of sale at any given price in a given period of time. Because supply and demand are defined for "any given price" they are represented as curves on a graph of quantity and price dimensions, not as a single point on that graph. Law of Demand implies that price and quantity demanded are inversely related while the Law of Supply implies that price and quantity supplied are positively related. The theory of supply and demand is important in the functioning of a market economy in that it explains the mechanism by which many decisions about resource allocation are made.


Main article: Price In order to measure the ebb and flow of supply and demand, a measurable value is needed. The oldest and most commonly used is price, or the going rate of exchange between buyers and sellers in a market. Price theory, therefore, charts the movement of measurable quantities over time, and the relationship between price and other measurable variables. In Adam Smith's

Wealth of Nations, this was the trade-off between price and convenience.[2] A great deal of economic theory is based around prices and the theory of supply and demand. In economic theory, the most efficient form of communication comes about when changes to an economy occur through price, such as when an increase in supply leads to a lower price, or an increase in demand leads to a higher price. Exchange rates are determined by the relative supply and demand of different currencies an important issue in international trade. In many practical economic models, some form of "price stickiness" is incorporated to model the fact that prices do not move fluidly in many markets. Economic policy often revolves around arguments about the cause of "economic friction", or price stickiness, and which is, therefore, preventing the supply and demand from reaching equilibrium. Another area of economic controversy is about whether price measures the value of a good correctly. In mainstream market economics, where there are significant scarcities not factored into price, there is said to be an externalization, which is a cost or benefit to actors other than the buyer and seller, of which many examples exist, including pollution (a cost to others) and education (a benefit to others). Market economics predicts that scarce goods which are under-priced because of externalities are over-consumed (See social cost), and that scarce goods that are over-priced are underconsumed. This leads into public goods theory. Governments often tax and otherwise restrict the sale of goods that have negative externalities and subsidize or otherwise promote the purchase of goods that have positive externalities in an effort to correct the distortion in price caused by these externalities.

Main article: Scarcity Economic analysis is fundamentally about the maximization of something (leisure time, wealth, health, happiness - all commonly reduced to the concept of utility) subject to constraints. These constraints - or scarcity inevitably define a trade-off. For example, one can have more money by working harder, but less time (there are only so many hours in a day, so time is scarce). One can have more radishes only at the expense of, for example, fewer carrots (you only have so much land on which to grow food land is scarce). All economies in the world face scarcity. Scarcity is defined as: when the price is zero, the quantity demanded exceeds the quantity supplied. Price is a measure of relative scarcity. If all other market variables are held constant; When the price is rising, this indicates the commodity is becoming relatively scarcer. When the price is falling, this indicates the commodity is becoming relatively less scarce.

Adam Smith considered, for example, the trade-off between time, or convenience, and money. He discussed how a person could live near town, and pay more for rent of his home, or live farther away and pay less, "paying the difference out of his convenience".[2] Trades on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange always involve a face-toface interaction. There is one podium/desk on the trading floor for each of the exchange's three thousand or so stocks.

Main article: marginalism In marginalist economic theory, the price level is determined by the marginal cost and marginal utility. The price of all goods will be the cost of making the last one that people will purchase, and the price of all the employees in a company will be the cost of hiring the last one the business needs. Marginalism looks at decisions based on "the margins", what the cost to produce the next unit is, versus how much it is expected to return in profit. When the marginal return of an action reaches zero, the action stops. Marginal utility is how much more happiness or use a person receives from a purchase in contrast with buying less. Marginal rewards are often subject to diminishing returns: Less reward is obtained from more production or consumption. For example, the 10th bar of chocolate that a person consumes does not taste as good as the first, and so brings less marginal utility. Marginalism became increasingly important in economic theory in the late 19th century, and is a tool which is used to analyze how economic systems will react. Marginal cost of production divides costs into "fixed" costs which must be paid regardless of how many of a commodity are produced, and "variable costs". The marginal cost is the variable cost of the last unit. Marginalism states that when the profit from the next unit will be zero, that unit will not be produced. The marginalist theory of price level runs counter to the classical theory of price being determined by the amount of labour congealed in a commodity.

It could be argued that beneath an economic theory is a theory of value. Value can be defined as the underlying activity which economics describes and measures. It is what is "really" happening. Representative money like this 1922 US $100 gold note could be exchanged by the bearer for its face value in gold. Adam Smith defined "labour" as the underlying source of value,[2] and "the labour theory of value" underlies the work of Karl Marx, David Ricardo and many other classical economists. The "labour theory of value" argues that a good or service is worth the labour that it takes to produce. For most, this value determines a commodity's

price. This labour theory of price and the closely related cost-of-production theory of value dominates the work of most classical economists, but those theories are far from the only accepted basis for "value". For example, neoclassical economists and Austrian School economists prefer the marginal theory of value.[citation needed] "Market theory" argues that there is no "value" separate from price, that the market incorporates all available information into price, and that so long as markets are open, that price and the value are one and the same. This theory rests on the idea of the "rational economic actor". This was originally asserted by Mill.[citation needed] Another set of theories rest on the idea that there is a basic external scarcity, and that "value" represents the relationship to that basic scarcity (or lack thereof). These theories include those based on economics being limited by energy or based on a "gold standard". All of these value theories are used in current economic work with varying degrees of acceptance.

Economic language and reasoning

Economics relies on rigorous styles of argument. Economic methodology has several interacting parts: Collection of economic data. These data consist of measurable values of price and changes in price, for measurable commodities. For example: the cost to hire a worker for a week, or the cost of a particular commodity, and how much is typically used. Formulation of models of economic relationships, for example, the relationship between the general level of prices and the general level of employment. This includes observable forms of economic activity, such as money, consumption, preferences, buying, selling, and prices. Some of the models are simple accounting models, while others postulate specific kinds of economic behavior, such as utility or profit maximization. An example of a model that illustrates both of these aspects is the classical mathematical formulation of the Keynesian system involving the consumption function and the national income identity. This article will refer to such models as formal models, although they are not formal in the sense of formal logic. Production of economic statistics. Taking the data collected, and applying the model being used to produce a representation of economic activity. For example, the "general price level" is a theoretical idea common to macroeconomic models. The specific inflation rate involves taking measurable prices, and a model of how people consume, and calculating what the "general price level" is from the data within the model. For example,

suppose that diesel fuel costs 1 Euro a liter: To calculate the price level would require a model of how much diesel an average person uses, and what fraction of their income is devoted to this but it also requires having a model of how people use diesel, and what other goods they might substitute for it. Reasoning within economic models. This process of reasoning (see the articles on informal logic, logical argument, fallacy) sometimes involves advanced mathematics. For instance, an established (though possibly unexamined) tradition among economists is to reason about economic variables in two-dimensional graphs in which curves representing relations between the axis variables are parameterized by various indices. A good example of this type of reasoning is exhibited by Paul Krugman's online essay, There's something about macro.[5] See also the article IS/LM model. One critical analysis of economic reasoning is studied in Paul Samuelson's thesis, Foundations of Economic Analysis: he identifies a class of assertions called operationally meaningful theorems which are those that can be meaningfully formulated within an economic model.[6] As usual in science, the conclusions obtained by reasoning have a predictive as well as confirmative (or dismissive) value. An example of the predictive value of economic theory is a prediction as to the effect of current deficits on interest rates 10 years into the future. An example of the confirmative value of economic theory would be confirmation (or dismissal) of theories concerning the relation between marginal tax rates and the deficit. Formal modeling is motivated by general principles of consistency and completeness. Formal modeling has been adapted to some extent by all branches of economics. It is not identical to what is often referred to as mathematical economics; this includes, but is not limited to, an attempt to set microeconomics, in particular general equilibrium, on solid mathematical foundations. Some reject mathematical economics: The Austrian School of economics believes that anything beyond simple logic is often unnecessary and inappropriate for economic analysis. In fact, the entire empiricaldeductive framework sketched in this section may be rejected outright by that school. However, the framework sketched here accurately represents the current predominant view of economics.

Development of economic thought

Adam Smith, generally regarded as the Father of Economics, author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally known as The Wealth of Nations. Main article: History of economic thought The term economics was coined around 1870 and popularized by influential "neoclassical" economists such as Alfred Marshall (Welfare definition), as a substitute for the earlier term political economy, which referred to "the economy of polities" competing states.[citation needed] The term political

economy was used through the 18th and 19th centuries, with Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx as its main thinkers and which today is frequently referred to as the "classical" economic theory. Both "economy" and "economics" are derived from the Greek oikos- for "house" or "settlement", and nomos for "laws" or "norms". Economic thought may be roughly divided into three phases: Premodern (Greek, Roman, Arab), Early modern (mercantilist, physiocrats) and Modern (since Adam Smith in the late 18th century). Systematic economic theory has been developed mainly since the birth of the modern era. Schools of economic thought There have been different and competing schools of economic thought pertaining to capitalism from the late 18th century to the early day. Important schools of thought are Mercantilism, Kameralism, Physiocracy, Manchester school, Protectionism, Fiscalism, Monetarism, Chicago School, Classical economics, Marxian economics, Keynesian economics, PostKeynesian economics, Neoclassical economics, Institutional economics, Austrian School, Evolutionary economics, Dependency theory, World systems theory, New classical economics,Supply-side economics and Associative economics.

Modern 'mainstream' economics

Most academic economics today begins with the premise that resources are scarce and that it is necessary to choose between competing alternatives. [citation needed] That is, economics deals with tradeoffs. With scarcity, choosing one alternative implies forgoing another alternativethe opportunity cost. The opportunity cost creates an implicit price relationship between competing alternatives. In addition, in both market oriented and planned economies, scarcity is often explicitly quantified by price relationships. Understanding choices by individuals and groups is central. Economists believe that incentives and desires play an important role in shaping decision making. Concepts from the Utilitarian school of philosophy are used as analytical concepts within economics, though economists appreciate that society may not adopt utilitarian objectives. One example of this is the idea of a utility function, which is assumed to represent how economic agents rank the choices given to them. Then the utility function ranks available choices from best to worst, and the agent gradually learns to choose the best-ranked choice in the feasible set of his alternatives. Many economists also acknowledge the existence of market failure and some insights from Keynesian economics.[citation needed] They look to game theory and asymmetric information to solve problems on a microeconomic level. Many important insights on collective behavior (e.g. emergence of organizations) have been incorporated from institutional economics via new institutionalism.

Neoclassical economics
Economists who believe that models based on utility maximization are applicable to a wide range of activities, including the very long term and the non-economic, are often referred to as neoclassical economists. On a microeconomic level, some economists extend economic analysis to all personal decisions. An alternative can be thought of as a vector where the entries are answers not only to questions like "How many eggs should I buy?", but also "How many hours should I spend with my kids?", and "How long should I spend brushing my teeth?".

Post-Keynesian economics
An alternative school - one of the successors to the Keynesian tradition with a focus on macroeconomics. They concentrate on macroeconomic rigidities and adjustment processes, and research microfoundations for their models based on real-life practices rather than simple optimizing models. Generally associated with Cambridge, England and the work of Joan Robinson.

New-Keynesian economics
The other school associated with developments in the Keynesian fashion. These researchers tend to share with other Neoclassical economists the emphasis on models based on microfoundations and optimizing behavior but focus more narrowly on standard Keynesian themes such as price and wage rigidity. These are usually made to be endogenous features of these models, rather than simply assumed as in older style Keynesian ones. The Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and George Akerlof are generally thought of as New-Keynesians.[citation needed]

Other alternatives

There are many types of economist, and many of them are considerably outside the mainstream. Marxian economics, Socialist economics, green economics, Austrian economics, and Old Keynesian economics still have many voices in academia.

Eclectic Economists
The term 'eclectic' means selecting and using what seems best from various sources, systems or schools of thought. Eclectic economists tend to economize to get an optimal result for the problem at hand. The assumption of utility can for example be used, not to imply that people really have such a utility, but as an efficient approximation. Such economists might be 'main stream' or neoclassical in one publication and do political economy in another publication.


Economics and other disciplines

There is some tension between economics and theories of ethics, historically a branch of philosophy, which emphasizes how people ought to conduct ourselves and balances of rights and duties. Modern economics deals with this tension explicitly: According to some thinkers such as John Syko, a theory of economics is also, or implies also, a theory of moral reasoning. [citation needed] One way economists deal with this is to qualify discussions of economic choice by noting the qualifier ceteris paribus ("all other things held constant...") referring to moral or social factors that are (for the sake of argument) held equivalent for all choices that one might make. Another premise is that economics fits within a finite ecosystem where there are at least some abundant resources. For instance, when fuelling a fire, people are usually concerned with finding the wood, and not with finding the air to burn it with. Economics explicitly does not deal with free abundant inputs one criticism is that it often conflicts with ecology's view of what affects what. Human beings are, according to ecologists, merely one species participating in a vast energy system on this planet economy is a subset of ecology that deals with just one species' habits and wants. See nature's services for the economic view of ecology and green economics for the view in which economics is a subset of ecology. A third premise is that economics suggests market forms and other means of distribution of scarce goods that affect not just "desires and wants" but also "needs" and "habits". Much of so-called economic "choice" is involuntary, certainly given the conditioning that people have to expect certain quality of life. This leads to one of the most hotly debated areas in economic policy: namely, the effect and efficacy of welfare policies. Libertarians view this as a failure to respect economic reasoning. They argue that redistribution of wealth is morally and economically wrong. And socialists view it as a failure of economics to respect society. They argue that disparities of wealth should not have been allowed in the first place. This led to both 19th century labour economics and 20th century welfare economics before being subsumed into human development theory. Information theory has been applied to economics since the work of Ronald Coase in the 1930s. However, with Herbert Simon and John von Neumann in the 1950s, it gathered a more specific formalism as part of game theory. This emphasizes that the decision-making process itself is costly.[citation needed] The older term for economics, political economy, is still often used instead of economics, especially by certain economists such as Marxists. Use of this term often signals a basic disagreement with the terminology or paradigm of market economics. Political economy explicitly brings political considerations into economic analysis and is therefore openly normative, although this can

be said of many economic recommendations as well, despite claims to being positive. Some mainstream universities (such as the University of Toronto and many in the United Kingdom) have a "political economy" department rather than an "economics" department. Marxist economics generally denies the trade-off of time for money. In the Marxist view, concentrated control over the means of production is the basis for the allocation of resources among classes. Scarcity of any particular physical resource is subsidiary to the central question of power relationships embedded in the means of production. Buddhist Perspectives on Economic Concepts: The basic model of economic activity is often represented in economic textbooks thus: unlimited wants are controlled by scarcity; scarcity requires choice; choice involves an opportunity cost (i.e., choosing one means foregoing the other); and the final goal is maximum satisfaction. The fundamental concepts occurring in this model -- want, choice, consumption and satisfaction -- describe the basic activities of our lives from an economic perspective. These concepts are based on certain assumptions about human nature. Buddhism offers a clear and consistent picture of human nature: a view which encompasses the role of ethics and the twofold nature of human desire. Let us look at some economic concepts in the light of Buddhist thinking: value, consumption, moderation, non-consumption, overconsumption, contentment, work, production and non-production, competition and cooperation and choice.[7]

Is economics a science? One of the marks of a science is the use of the scientific method and the ability to establish hypothesis and make predictions which can then be tested with data. Unlike natural scientists and in a way similar to the other social sciences, economists are generally unable to test their theories in a laboratory - a real life economy - for obvious reasons of impracticality and ethics. This has led some critics to argue that economics is not a science, or at best, is just a soft science. [8] Economists in general reply that while this aspect presents serious difficulties, they in fact do test their hypothesis using statistical methods such as econometrics, using the data generated in the real world. [9] The field of experimental economics has also seen efforts to test at least some predictions of economic theories in a simulated laboratory setting - an endeavor which earned Vernon Smith the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 2002. Alleged flaws and criticisms Economics has been persistently criticized for its heavy reliance on unrealistic, unobservable, or unverifiable assumptions. Some people reply to this criticism by saying that the unrealistic assumptions of economics result from abstraction from unimportant details, and abstraction is necessary for knowledge of a complex real world. So, far from unrealistic assumptions detracting from the epistemic worth of economics, such assumptions are

essential for economic knowledge. Denominating this explanation the abstractionist defense, and after clarifying abstraction, unrealistic assumptions and kindred notions, some studies have shown that this abstractionist defense does not successfully rebut the position of those who criticize economics for its unrealistic assumptions.[10] Economics is a field of study with various schools and currents of thought. As a results, as in many other fields, there exists a considerable distribution of opinions, approaches and theories. Some of these reach opposite conclusions or, due to the differences in underlying assumptions, contradict each other. [11], [12]. Criticism on several topics in economics can be found elsewhere in this encyclopedia (e.g. Pareto_efficiency, Marginalism, Behavioral_finance, Behavioral_economics, et al.).

(Un article de Wikipdia, l'encyclopdie libre.)

Lconomie, en tant que discipline, est une branche des sciences sociales qui tudie l'allocation des ressources rares des fins alternatives. Autrement dit, selon Raymond Barre, conomiste, La science conomique est la science de l'administration des ressources rares. Elle tudie les formes que prend le comportement humain dans l'amnagement de ces ressources; elle analyse et explique les modalits selon lesquelles un individu ou une soci t affecte des moyens limits la satisfaction de besoins nombreux et illimits . En ralit, il n'existe pas une seule dfinition de l'conomie, mais plusieurs dfinitions. Chaque dfinition renvoyant des ralits sous-jacentes diffrentes. Karl Polanyi distinguait par exemple deux sens du terme


conomique : le sens substantif (l'conomie est une science empirique qui tudie des procs institutionnaliss) et le sens formel (l'conomie est une science dductive qui tudie l'action rationnelle) ; ce dernier sens se rapproche beaucoup de la conception qu'en avait Ludwig von Mises. Robbins Burling[1] numrait quant lui cinq manires de dfinir l'conomie L'tude des choses que les conomistes tudient. L'tude des moyens matriels d'existence de l'homme. L'tude de la production, de la distribution, et de la consommation des biens et des services. L'tude des systmes d'change quelle que soit leur structure. L'tude de l'allocation des moyens rares des fins alternatives.

Enjeux de la dfinition
l'origine, le terme conomique vient du grec oikos (maison) et nomos (administrer) qui signifie l'art de bien administrer une maison, de g rer les biens d'un particulier ou de l'tat. Elle peut alors se dfinir comme un art de vivre avec ses proches et son environnement. En ce sens, si la nature est notre maison, l'homme reste un tre cologique (logos = parole) tant qu'il continue obir la nature et il devient un tre conomique lorsqu'il commence administrer la nature. Aujourd'hui les enjeux pour l'homme sont normes car il doit concilier l'conomique et l'cologique sous peine de ruiner les deux pices de sa maison. L'conomie se dfinit donc comme l'administration du domaine de l'homme et l'art de vivre avec ses proches et son environnement suivant la signification premire, prcise, profonde ou authentique en Anthropologie ou connaissance ("Logos") de l'Homme ("Anthropos"). Un des premiers traits historiques traitant de l'conomie est d Aristote. Remarquons que celui-ci distinguait alors l'conomie de la chrmatistique (de khrma-atos) qui est l'art de s'enrichir, si bien que selon lui, l'accumulation de la monnaie pour la monnaie tait une activit contre nature qui dshumanise ceux qui s'y livrent (voir Les conomiques et l'thique Nicomaque)

Une dfinition microconomique

L'conomie peut se dfinir comme l'allocation optimale de ressources rares. Le choix des acteurs sont raliss en fonctions des cots d'opportunit.

Une dfinition macro-conomique

La macroconomie tudie les choix des individus, des entreprises et des gouvernements sur l'conomie nationale et mondiale.

La place de l'conomie dans la socit

Le rle des conomistes est d'une part d'analyser comment la socit humaine produit ses richesses et les rpartit, et d'autre part de proposer des


explications et des possibilits d'amlioration certains dysfonctionnements conomiques et sociaux. Ils peuvent aussi raliser des tudes pour estimer les effets d'une loi ou d'un projet de loi. Les rsultats de ces tudes (qui peuvent tre contradictoires d'un modle l'autre) sont parfois utiliss par les gouvernements pour rguler l'activit conomique. L'conomie est donc intimement lie la philosophie politique, et elle a un enjeu social considrable, en particulier en ce qui concerne la rpartition des richesses dans la socit. Depuis la fin du XXe sicle, l'conomie a aussi un enjeu cologique. En effet, l'impact des activits conomiques sur les ressources naturelles (dforestation, nergies fossiles, minerais) et sur l'quilibre de la plante (climat, biodiversit...) posent la question du dveloppement durable. Rciproquement, l'cologie devient un enjeu conomique, par l'activit qu'elle gnre (recyclage, dpollution, etc.).

Comme la plupart des sciences humaines, l'conomie peut aborder son objet de deux points de vue complmentaires : elle est dite positive lorsqu'elle s'attache expliquer les consquences des diffrents choix et dcrire la ralit de son objet. normative lorsqu'elle prescrit une action, une mesure ou une route suivre. On trouve d'autres part diffrentes mthodes utilises par les conomistes pour tester ou construire leurs thories. Les plus significatives sont sans doute : l'conomtrie, qui applique les techniques mathmatiques, statistiques et probabilistes l'tude des donnes conomiques. l'conomie exprimentale qui au contraire tudie les motivations conomiques en laboratoire , auprs de petits groupe et rejoint ainsi l'conomie comportementale. L'approche historique. L'conomie fait depuis longtemps (depuis les physiocrates) un large usage de modles mathmatiques. Cette utilisation des modles est, pour les conomistes, rendue ncessaire par le grand nombre de donnes qu'ils ont traiter, et par la volont d'en tirer des lois gnrales. Les conomistes pensent ainsi que les mthodes mathmatiques encourageraient les chercheurs se concentrer sur l'essentiel, et rendraient l'exposition moins sujette aux ambiguts.

Domaines d'tude de l'conomie

Certains aspects de l'conomie requirent une attention particulire : le commerce, l'allocation des ressources, la concurrence et la monnaie. Plus gnralement, l'conomie est souvent divise en deux grandes catgories :


la microconomie, qui traite des comportements et des interactions entre les agents conomiques (mnages, entreprises, administration, associations) ; la macroconomie, qui examine une conomie comme un ensemble, en tentant de comprendre les interactions entre les diffrents agrgats que sont le revenu, l'emploi, l'investissement, l'pargne, etc. Les tentatives de runion de ces deux branches ont t l'un des principaux moteurs de la pense conomique contemporaine, durant les annes 1970 et le dbut des annes 1980. Aujourd'hui, un consensus semble s'tre form chez les conomistes orthodoxes autour de l'ide que la microconomie constitue le fondement de la macroconomie. Cette ide est cependant trs conteste. Par exemple, un certain nombre de spcialistes en pistmologie conomique, comme Claude Mouchot par exemple, rfutent cette ide de faon catgorique. Au sein de ces grandes divisions, on trouve des zones d'tude plus spcialises, qui tentent de rpondre aux questions du point de vue plus large de l'activit humaine. Peu peu, les thories conomiques ont trouv des applications dans des contextes beaucoup plus vastes. En effet, on peut considrer que dans tout domaine o les individus sont confronts des choix l'ducation, le mariage, la vie publique, etc. , on peut trouver un aspect conomique. La thorie du choix public (public choice theory) tudie comment une analyse conomique peut s'appliquer des domaines traditionnellement considrs comme trangers ce domaine. Et, de fait, les domaines d'investigation de l'conomie chevauchent ceux d'autres sciences sociales, telles que la psychologie sociale, la politique, ou la sociologie. Ainsi, un aspect important de l'conomie est l'tude de la manire dont des stimulants (les consquences de diffrentes actions) peuvent affecter le comportement d'un individu ou d'un groupe. Les conomistes pensent que les stimulants et les gots personnels jouent un rle important dans la prparation de la prise de dcision. Ainsi, la psychologie, les sciences cognitives et la neurologie rejoignent l'conomie et lui servent de matire rflexion.

Les grandes questions auxquelles les thories conomiques s'efforcent de rpondre

Qu'est-ce que la richesse ? Comment est-elle rpartie ? Pourquoi ? Comment faire voluer cette rpartition ? Comment augmenter les richesses ? Quelle est la valeur des choses ? La valeur du travail ? Comment mesure-t-on la production ? La consommation ? Qui produit ? Comment ? Qu'est-ce qu'une ressource ? Comment assurer la continuit de production avec des ressources limites ? Quel est la nature et l'origine de la monnaie?


Quel est le statut de la proprit? Est-ce un droit naturel ? Une forme de vol ? Un phnomne contingent ou conventionnel ?

Dveloppement de la pense conomique

Article principal: Histoire de la pense conomique

Les origines (XVIe- XVIIe sicle)

On considre souvent que la pense conomique moderne a dbut avec le mercantilisme. Cette doctrine conomique prne le dveloppement conomique par l'enrichissement des nations et de l'tat, ou de son souverain en particulier, au moyen du commerce extrieur (le mot vient de l'italien mercante qui signifie marchand ) mais aussi de l'industrialisation. Elle se situe historiquement la fin du Moyen ge et marque aussi la fin de la prminence des doctrines de l'glise dans l'organisation sociale. Elle repose sur la croyance que la richesse repose sur l'accumulation des mtaux prcieux ; elle prconise donc de dvelopper l'activit industrielle et l'exportation pour obtenir l'or et l'argent qui reprsentent la richesse d'un pays. L'tat doit donner l'exemple en crant de grandes activits, par exemple des manufactures. Notamment la France qui fait preuve d'un important interventionnisme tatique (contrle de la production pour assurer la qualit des produits) dans le but d'exporter de nombreux produits de luxe. L'Espagne qui possde l'poque une grande quantit d'or, contribue donc l'enrichissement de la France. Le mercantilisme franais est reprsent par des hommes tels que Jean Bodin (1530-1596), Antoine de Montchrestien (1575-1621) ou Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683). [modifier]

Prclassiques et classiques (XVIIIe - XIXe sicle)

Le courant des physiocrates ne constitua qu'une brve tape de la pense conomique. Les physiocrates soutiennent qu'il existe un ordre naturel gouvern par des lois (physiocratie signifie gouvernement de la nature). Le rle des conomistes est de comprendre et de rvler les lois de la nature telles qu'elles oprent dans la socit et dans l'conomie afin de montrer comment ces lois oprent dans la formation et dans la distribution des richesses. Fonde sur l'ide que seules la terre et l'agriculture seraient cratrices de richesse, la physiocratie aura une existence assez brve, tant ds 1776 clipse par l'mergence de la pense classique et la parution des Recherches sur la Nature et les Causes de la Richesse des Nations d'Adam Smith. Le Tableau conomique (1758) de Franois Quesnay, principal reprsentant de la Physiocratie aura cependant une large postrit, car pour la premire fois l'conomie est prsente sous forme de flux de biens et de services. Cette reprsentation sera reprise et dtaille par tous les mouvements conomiques postrieurs.


Au XVIIIe sicle se dveloppa surtout la pense classique, autour tout d'abord de Daniel Bernoulli (crateur ds 1738 du concept fondamental d'utilit), puis de deux Britanniques, Adam Smith et David Ricardo. Les classiques anglais cherchent comprendre la dynamique de la croissance dans le contexte de la rvolution industrielle naissante : ils insistent la fois sur le rle du travail dans la cration de la richesse (notion de valeur travail ) tout en soulignant leur attachement au libralisme conomique et leur croyance dans la ncessit d'une forte accumulation du capital et d'une rpartition des revenus judicieuse pour soutenir la croissance conomique. Au XIXe sicle, la pense conomique s'est notamment dveloppe avec l'apport de Karl Marx. L'conomie moderne est en fait avant tout un affinement de la pense conomique no-classique (voir Histoire de la pense conomique pour un aperu des prcurseurs d'Adam Smith, ainsi que des diffrentes coles qui lui ont succd). [modifier]

Diversification de la pense (XXe sicle - XXIe sicle)

John Maynard Keynes donna naissance la macroconomie dans les annes 1930. De nombreux conomistes utilisent un mlange de microconomie noclassique et de macroconomie keynsienne. Cette combinaison, appele parfois synthse noclassique, fut populaire dans l'enseignement et fut surtout largement applique en politique conomique dans les pays occidentaux aprs la Seconde Guerre mondiale et jusqu' la fin des annes 1970. De mme, de nombreux auteurs se rclament de la pense de Karl Marx en rfutant tre marxistes, au sens politique ou conomique le plus courant. Cependant les thories keynsiennes prsentent l'inconvnient d'tre source d'inflation, en effet celle-ci tend favoriser la demande. De nos jours, on note une grande diversification des courants conomiques, notamment par l'application de nouvelles approches techniques : l'conomie quantitative, l'un des supports de l' conomtrie, utilisant des techniques de modlisation drivs des sciences physiques, l'conomie exprimentale applique notamment la microconomie, l'conomie comportementale, ne notamment de l'tude des anomalies des marchs financiers et des facteurs psychosociologiques qui les causent. dans le mme ordre d'ides, la socioconomie et la neuroconomie, nes de croisements entre l'conomie et la sociologie et les sciences cognitives. Par ailleurs, l'essor des sciences de gestion (management, marketing, thorie des organisations, gestion des ressources humaines, technologies de l'information) a percol en conomie, aboutissant en particulier l'conomie de la connaissance, qui reconnat le savoir, la comptence et l'information comme facteurs essentiels de production et de dveloppement, en plus des trois facteurs classiques : ressources naturelles, travail et capital.


Perspectives rcentes
Notons aussi, titre plus anecdotique, la contribution de Howard Rheingold (auteur du livre Smart Mobs). Cet auteur pense comme Marx que les systmes conomiques sont la consquences des conditions technologiques et sociales d'une poque ( modes de production , en terminologie marxiste), mais en tire des conclusions trs diffrentes : si les marchs ont cr la notion de capitalisme et la socit industrielle du XIXe sicle, maintenant les conditions nouvelles de production cres par l'Internet (entre autres le partage de fichiers) changent la donne conomique et prludent l'apparition de nouveaux systmes conomiques coexistants avec le capitalisme et le socialisme, parfois en concurrence avec eux. Des mouvements comme celui de l'Open source avec le GNU et Linux, ainsi que les escarmouches qui se multiplient au sujet des changes de fichiers MP3 et DivX en seraient selon lui les signes avant-coureurs. [modifier]

Prsentation de l'conomie orthodoxe

Voir l'article dtaill : Orthodoxie et htrodoxie en conomie L'conomie est aujourd'hui construite autour d'un paradigme dominant. On parle pour dsigner les travaux construits l'intrieur de ce paradigme, d'conomie orthodoxe. Ce paradigme part du principe fondamental suivant : les ressources sont en quantits limites, et il faut donc choisir comment les employer au mieux. En situation de raret, le choix d'une alternative implique en effet le renoncement aux autres alternatives possibles ; c'est ce que les conomistes nomment le cot d'opportunit. De plus, des ressources limites ne peuvent, un moment donn et dans un contexte technologique donn, conduire qu' une production limite, ce qui pose le problme de la redistribution des produits. En fonction de ce principe, il existe deux possibilits pour calculer l'utilit des ressources qui vont tre employes. Dans la tradition classique, l'conomiste considre l'utilit cardinale d'une ressource. La consommation d'un bien dispense un certain niveau de satisfaction selon une certaine fonction d'utilit prdonne, et l'agent choisit de consommer la ressource ou le niveau de ressources, qui lui donne le plus haut niveau de satisfaction. La difficult est toutefois de mesurer ce niveau de satisfaction, c'est pourquoi les conomistes noclassiques ont rejet cette hypothse et supposent dsormais que le consommateur a seulement la possibilit de classer les diffrents biens en fonction de ses prfrences. Suivant la structure des prfrences de l'agent conomique, ils construisent alors, lorsque c'est possible, une fonction d'utilit. Dans les modles d'inspiration walrasienne, on cherche alors l'allocation des ressources, ou les allocations, telles qu'aucun individu ne puisse accrotre sa satisfaction sans dtriorer celle de quelqu'un d'autre. On dit alors qu'il s'agit d'allocations par to-optimales. La distinction est la suivante : par rapport un tat donn de l'conomie, s'il est possible de trouver une allocation qui accroisse le niveau de satisfaction


d'un acteur sans diminuer celui d'un autre, alors l'conomie n'est pas dans une situation parto-optimale. En revanche, si une telle allocation n'est pas ralisable, lallocation actuelle est parto-optimale. Il faut alors remarquer qu'une allocation parto-optimale n'implique aucunement une distribution galitaire des ressources. Une partie du rle des conomistes orthodoxes est donc de dterminer quelles sont les mesures prendre pour que l'conomie soit dans une situation parto-optimale, sans tenir compte de critres thiques de redistribution qui relvent du choix politique. En gnral, en fonction de la nature des prfrences individuelles et en fonction de la nature des biens (public, priv), ils prconisent une dcentralisation des dcisions et de l'change, et une indexation des biens par un systme de prix. Une partie des recherches porte galement sur la faon dont les situations oligopolistiques et monopolistiques cartent une conomie de son tat parto-optimal, et comment il est possible de rtablir l'efficience. Ces modles suffisent donc aux conomistes noclassiques pour tirer des conclusions sur les mesures conomiques prendre.

La prsentation de l'conomie orthodoxe montre que les recommandations dpendent toutefois amplement des hypothses utilises pour construire le modle. Et trs souvent, il s'agit d'hypothses fortes : transitivit, continuit des prfrences individuelles, convexit des fonctions d'utilit, maximisation des fonctions de production, march pur et parfait, etc. Ces hypothses sont juges par beaucoup d'conomistes htrodoxes, et par des scientifiques de diverses tendances comme par exemple Benot Mandelbrot, plutt irralistes . Il est vrai qu'elles n'ont jamais donn lieu des confirmations empiriques trs robustes, si bien que comme le faisait remarquer Karl Popper : Le dveloppement de l'conomie relle n'a rien voir avec la science conomique. Bien qu'on les enseigne comme s'il s'agissait de mathmatiques, les thories conomiques n'ont jamais eu la moindre utilit pratique , Karl Popper. En fait, mme si comme Lon Walras, de nombreux conomistes ont eu l'ambition de trouver une dfinition commune tous les modles conomiques, et de dcouvrir des lois capables d'expliquer et de prvoir l'ensemble des comportements des acteurs conomiques, l'conomie ne peut tre dfinie comme une science exacte (selon la dfinition de Karl Popper) en raison de son caractre fondamentalement autorfrentiel : la connaissance d'une loi modifie le comportement des acteurs conomiques qu'elle est cense dcrire. Par exemple les banques centrales, depuis quelques dcennies, ont appris limiter l'impact des crises financires en intervenant rapidement sur les marchs financiers. Les investisseurs, mis en confiance, intgrent progressivement cette nouvelle donne en prenant des risques supplmentaires, ce qui aboutit ainsi une nouvelle instabilit financire.