ECONOMICS AS A SCIENCE
Although the content and character of economics cannot be described briefly, numerous writers have attempted that. An especially useless, though once popular, example is: «Economics is what economists do.»Similarly, a notable economist of the last century Alfred Marshall called economics «a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.» Lionel Robbins in the 1930s described economics as «the science of choice among scarce means to accomplish unlimited ends.»During much of modern history, especially in the nineteenth century, economics was called simply «the science of wealth.» Less seriously, George Bernard Shaw was credited in the early 1900s with the witticism that «economics is the science whose practitioners, even if all were laid end to end, would not reach agreement.»We may make better progress by comparing economics with other subjects. Like every other discipline that attempts to explain observed facts (e.g., physics, astronomy, meteorology), economics comprises a vast collection of descriptive material organized around a central core of theoretical principles. The manner in which theoretical principles are formulated and used in applications varies greatly from one science to another. Like psychology, economics draws much of its theoretical core from intuition, casual observation, and «common knowledge about human nature.» Like astronomy, economics is largely nonexperimental. Like meteorology, economics is relatively inexact, as is weather forecasting. Like particle physics and molecular biology, economics deals with an array of closely interrelated phenomena (as do sociology and social psychology). Like such disciplines as art, fantasy writing, mathematics, metaphysics, cosmology, and the like, economics attracts different people for different reasons: «One person’s meat is another person’s poison.» Though all disciplines differ, all are remarkably similar in one respect: all are meant to convey an interesting, persuasive, and intellectually satisfying story about selected aspects of experience. As Einstein once put it: «Science is the attempt to make the chaotic diversity of our sense-experience correspond to a logically uniform system of thought.»Economics deals with data on income, employment, expenditure, interest rates, prices and individual activities of production, consumption, transportation, and trade. Economics deals directly with only a tiny fraction of the whole spectrum of human behavior, and so the range of problems considered by economists is relatively narrow. Contrary to popular opinion, economics does not normally include such things as personal finance, ways to start a small business, etc.; in relation to everyday life, the economist is more like an astronomer than a weatherforecaster, more like a physical chemist than a pharmacist, more like a professor of hydrodynamics than a plumber.
In principle almost any conceivable problem, from marriage, suicide, capital punishment, and religious observance to tooth brushing, drug abuse, extramarital affairs, and mall shopping, might serve (and, in the case of each of these examples has served) as an object for some economist’s attention. There is, after all, no clear division between «economic» and «noneconomic» phenomena. In practice, however, economists have generally found it expedient to leave the physical and life sciences to those groups that first claimed them, though not always. In recent years economists have invaded territory once claimed exclusively by political scientists and sociologists, not to mention territories claimed by physical anthropologists, experimental psychologists, and paleontologists.
to attempt попытаться
scarce скудный, ограниченный
witticism ['witisizm] острота, шутка
practitioner [prask'tijng] терапевтto comprise включать в себя
vast обширный, громадный
casual observations зд. повседневные наблюдения
weather forecasting прогноз погоды
array массив, масса, множество
closely interrelated тесно взаимосвязанные
to convey передавать
expenditure затраты, издержки, расход(ы)
interest rate процентная ставка
conceivable мыслимый, вероятный, возможный
expedient целесообразный (-о), соответствующий, подходящий, надлежащий
to claim приписывать себе, претендовать
to invade вторгаться
Is there a common opinion on the content and character of economics?
What definition of economics is referred to as «especially useless»?
With what sciences does the author compare economics? Why?
What similarities with economics have the following sciences: a) psychology b) astronomy c) meteorology
particle physics and molecular biology 5) art, fantasy writing, mathematics, metaphysics, cosmology, and the like
What is the scope of economics? What does economics deal with?
What does the author refer to as «popular opinion»?
According to the text, can such problems as marriage and extramarital affairs be the subject of economists’ attention? Is there a division between «economic» and «noneconomic» problems?
What fields have economists «invaded» in recent years?
Use the text to fill in the spaces:
Period of time name of person definition
19th century «a study of mankind in the ordinary business
George Bernard Shaw
«the science of choice among scarce means to
accomplish unlimited ends.»
What other two definitions could be found in the text? How does the author refer to each of them?
2. Similarities and differences:
Sciences Similarities differences
astronomymeteorologyparticle physics and
art, fantasy writing, mathematics,
Which of the following is not true about economics and economists:
There is no brief description of the content and character of economics.
Alfred Marshall and Lionel Robbins agreed that: «Economics is what economists do.»In the 19th century economics was called «the science of wealth».
Economics is only a theoretical science.
Einstein once said, «One person’s meat is another person’s poison».
Economics deals with the problems of income, employment, and interest rates.
Economics also deals with weather forecasting, psychology and fantasy writing.
In recent years economists switched to the new fields, such as political science and sociology.
Say in your own words what each of the following outstanding people thought of economics and economists:
George Bernard ShowAlfred MarshallLionel RobbinsWhat is the profession of people who work in the field of:
(example): Those working in the field of economics are economists.