3.6 An Alternative Approach to Defining Economics

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe an alternative definition of economics.
  • Understand the basis for framing an alternative definition of economics.

The preceding presentation centered on deconstructing and then challenging the orthodox definition of economics.  Of central concern throughout is the way in which the orthodox definition of economics potentially handcuffs the economist into viewing economic activity through a very narrow and specific lens.  Given the problems associated with the orthodox definition of economics, a concerned student may be apt to ask, what does an alternative definition of economics look like?  The answer to this question is that there are many possible alternative definitional variations.

The structure of an alternative definition of economics can take many forms, although the overall essence of alternative definitions is frequently similar.  With regard to structure, some alternative definitions are apt to simplify economic activity to its most basic form.  For example, economics can be the study of how human beings must work together, and with nature, to produce those things that fulfill the material needs and wants of society.  In other instances alternative definitions of economics seek to reduce the definition to the essential characteristics of an economy.  For example, economics can be defined as the study of how human beings organize production, distribution, and consumption.  Still in other instances alternative definitions of economics focus on interdisciplinary facets of the structure of economic decision making.  For instance, economics can be defined as the study of how cultural norms, social institutions, political structures, and general decision making processes influence human behavior toward economic ends.

Importantly, each of the possible definitional structures stipulated above appear to avoid the pitfalls that plague the orthodox definition of economics.  First, none of the above alternative definitional possibilities assumes scarcity. Rather, each definition is open to the possibility of differing forms of economic organization and a diversity of ways to meet societal needs and wants.  Second, none of the above alternative definitional structures make unprovable assumptions about individual human behavior and motivation. Rather, the social elements of the organization of economic activity are emphasized, opening the door to analyzing how individuals respond to social conditions.  Third, none of the above alternative definitional structures predicates endless want and the need and desirability for endless economic growth. Rather, each is open to the possibility of alternative economic structures that can be coordinated to operate within the limits of the natural biosphere.

Going forward, within the context of the alternative perspectives developed within this textbook, and in addition to the above definitional structures, the following definition of economics is suggested.

Economics – Is the study of social provisioning, in which an understanding of the development of political economies is rooted in social, political, natural, and cultural processes.

 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

3.6 An Alternative Approach to Defining Economics by Rice University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book