The Broad View of Economics
Economics is unique. There are many social sciences that study society, of which economics is one, with their own contributions and pursuits. Economics, however, is different. While the social sciences, by virtue of the fact that they study people, are generally broad in their scope of study, economics is especially broad. This is because economics is not confined to graphs showing supply and demand, although these are important features of economics, but concerns itself with much more.
Economics, put most simply, is the study of human action in dealing with the problems of material scarcity. We cannot get everything that we want to have, and therefore, we most economize our resources and means. These material resources hold the upmost importance, of course, as an increase in accessible resources allows us to fulfill more of our desires.
Given its place as the study of people and their usage of scarce material means, economics investigates these material means. It studies their trade through markets, their production through the capital structure, and how they are increased through higher productivity. It is precisely this wide-ranging study of material means that gives economics is broad applications.
When we speak of changes in material means, such as increases in productivity, we should not view these changes as narrow in their effects. Rather, we should recognize the potential of society itself to be changed with increases in the material means available. The Industrial Revolution brought on new ideas of fashionable clothes, new methods of travel, and new careers, just to name a few results. The advent of the automobile changed the way that people thought about work, vacationing, and everything else in between.
All areas of study, and even the social sciences, are affected the means around them. As society has progressed and become richer over centuries, we see more and more time being devoted to the study of these disciplines and even economics itself! As less and less of the members of society have to worry about survival itself, more time can be dedicated to other non-essential pursuits.
Because economics studies the material means of society, economics’ implications carry over into all areas of society as a whole. Its conclusions have impacts far beyond the reach just economics proper. Economic realities dictate many aspects of the society in which we live. If we were twice as rich in terms of materials and resources as we are today, we can imagine the society would look much different.
This broad reach is a two-edged sword, however. While economically beneficial developments have a long reach, so too do the harmful developments. If society was to be thrown back into the Dark Ages, there is little doubt that society would necessarily have to change. Many of the careers that exist today, especially in academia, would not be able to be supported. Trying to prevent your family from starving is generally viewed to be more important than microbiology or architecture.
As such, we can see that economics reaches into an extends itself into almost every area of society. The arts, military, social sciences, philosophy, and even the study of economics itself is subject to underlying economic realities. When there are changes in these economic realities, we see changes in these fields. As society has grown more affluent and standards of living rise, we see changes and expansions within these areas.
All of this thrusts a burden of responsibility of the shoulders of economics. If our economics theories and policies have potential consequences for vast swaths of society, having correct economic theories and policies becomes a necessity. For if our study of economics is sound, society and culture have the chance to flourish all the more. Concomitantly, if our study of economics is unsound, society and culture can be quenched.
Because of this responsibility, possessing a broad and expansive view of economics is necessary. The theories and postulates of economics are not confined to just armchair academics or dimly-lit classrooms, but rather, are seen everywhere and carry their influence everywhere. Economics is not a narrow science, but a far-reaching and expansive field of study.
A failure to grasp the importance and universality of economics will have predictable consequences. Its dismissal will lead to fewer professional economists, of course, but it will also lead to few professional historians, authors, scientists, and artists. The standards of living that we enjoy today are not permanent. An ignorance of sound economics will lead to a diminution of those standards. Sound economics raises society and mankind up, but unsound economics can bring it all crashing down.
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