THE NATURE AND SCOPES OF ECONOMICS
Economics has very many definitions. It is sometimes said that there are as many definitions of economics as there are economists. The reason for this seems to be that economists see the subject from different points of view. They may be interested in different aspects of economics such as, Monetary Economics, industrial economics, business economics , welfare economics, economics of international relations, e.t.c. They therefore define economics to reflect their interest. There is no definition of economics which is all-embracing.
Economics could also be influenced by the conditions prevailing at the time of writing. For example, an economist writing during a period of economic recession may include aspects of it in his definition of economics. He could say, for instance, that ‘economics deals with the ways by which an ailing economy could be revitalised through a judicious use of scarce resources’.
Below are some definitions of economics given by some economists. The earliest definitions were in terms of wealth or material welfare.
1. Adam Smith
He is regarded as the father of economics, for he laid the foundation of economics as a discipline. He saw his work as ‘ an inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations’.
Smith was interested in the wealth aspect of political economics. His main interest was to investigate the reasons for the disparity between countries in terms of wealth. Why are some countries poor and underdeveloped while others are rich or developed?
2. J. S. Mill
He defined economics as ‘ the practical science of production and dis tribution of wealth’. Mill was interested in what determines the amount of wealth possessed by an individual or how wealth is produced and shared out among the various members of society.
He defined economics as the science that treats phenomena from the standpoint of price. He was interested in exchange. To him, anything that has money value (or exchange value) should come within the framework of economics.
4. A. C. Pigou
According to him economics is the science of material welfare. He is interested in consumption which is an aspect of welfare economics. To him, economics should concern itself with how to increase the material well-being (or standard of living) of man by increasing total production.
5. Alfred Marshal
He links wealth with the welfare of man. He looked at economics as the study of mankind in the ordinary business of life. To him, then, economics becomes the study of wealth on one side and on the more important side a part of the study of man ( while he is engaged in his daily economic activities). He argues that the accumulation of wealth is aimed at improving the welfare of man.
6. Professor Lionel Robbins
He defines economics as the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.
Robbins’ definition is the most widely accepted definition of economics. It is analytical, and is the most scientific and most embracing. Briefly stated, it shows that:
i. Economics is a social science since it studies human behaviour.
ii. Human wants are unlimited.
iii. There are limited resources with which to satisfy the unlimited wants.
iv. Scarce resources are capable of being put to alternative uses. The more the individual, the firm or the government allocates resources to one use, the less the resources available for other uses.
This definition of economics given by Robbins is concern with scarcity and choice which are fundamental problems in the daily economic activities of man.
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Learn about the basic concepts (wants, scale of preference, choice, and opportunity cost) of economics here.
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