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Second objection: people, firms, and society should not act this way

The economics approach portrays people as self-interested. For some critics of this approach, even if self-interest is an accurate description of how people behave, these behaviors are not moral. Instead, the critics argue that people should be taught to care more deeply about others. Economists offer several answers to these concerns.

First, economics is not a form of moral instruction. Rather, it seeks to describe economic behavior as it actually exists. Philosophers draw a distinction between positive statements , which describe the world as it is, and normative statements , which describe how the world should be. For example, an economist could analyze a proposed subway system in a certain city. If the expected benefits exceed the costs, he concludes that the project is worth doing—an example of positive analysis. Another economist argues for extended unemployment compensation during the Great Depression because a rich country like the United States should take care of its less fortunate citizens—an example of normative analysis.

Even if the line between positive and normative statements is not always crystal clear, economic analysis does try to remain rooted in the study of the actual people who inhabit the actual economy. Fortunately however, the assumption that individuals are purely self-interested is a simplification about human nature. In fact, we need to look no further than to Adam Smith , the very father of modern economics to find evidence of this. The opening sentence of his book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments , puts it very clearly: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” Clearly, individuals are both self-interested and altruistic.

Second, self-interested behavior and profit-seeking can be labeled with other names, such as personal choice and freedom. The ability to make personal choices about buying, working, and saving is an important personal freedom. Some people may choose high-pressure, high-paying jobs so that they can earn and spend a lot of money on themselves. Others may earn a lot of money and give it to charity or spend it on their friends and family. Others may devote themselves to a career that can require a great deal of time, energy, and expertise but does not offer high financial rewards, like being an elementary school teacher or a social worker. Still others may choose a job that does not take lots of their time or provide a high level of income, but still leaves time for family, friends, and contemplation. Some people may prefer to work for a large company; others might want to start their own business. People’s freedom to make their own economic choices has a moral value worth respecting.

Is a diagram by any other name the same?

When you study economics, you may feel buried under an avalanche of diagrams: diagrams in the text, diagrams in the lectures, diagrams in the problems, and diagrams on exams. Your goal should be to recognize the common underlying logic and pattern of the diagrams, not to memorize each of the individual diagrams.

This chapter uses only one basic diagram, although it is presented with different sets of labels. The consumption budget constraint and the production possibilities frontier for society, as a whole, are the same basic diagram. [link] shows an individual budget constraint and a production possibilities frontier for two goods, Good 1 and Good 2. The tradeoff diagram always illustrates three basic themes: scarcity, tradeoffs, and economic efficiency.

The first theme is scarcity    . It is not feasible to have unlimited amounts of both goods. But even if the budget constraint or a PPF shifts, scarcity remains—just at a different level. The second theme is tradeoffs . As depicted in the budget constraint or the production possibilities frontier, it is necessary to give up some of one good to gain more of the other good. The details of this tradeoff vary. In a budget constraint, the tradeoff is determined by the relative prices of the goods: that is, the relative price of two goods in the consumption choice budget constraint. These tradeoffs appear as a straight line. However, the tradeoffs in many production possibilities frontiers are represented by a curved line because the law of diminishing returns holds that as resources are added to an area, the marginal gains tend to diminish. Regardless of the specific shape, tradeoffs remain.

The third theme is economic efficiency , or getting the most benefit from scarce resources. All choices on the production possibilities frontier show productive efficiency because in such cases, there is no way to increase the quantity of one good without decreasing the quantity of the other. Similarly, when an individual makes a choice along a budget constraint, there is no way to increase the quantity of one good without decreasing the quantity of the other. The choice on a production possibilities set that is socially preferred, or the choice on an individual’s budget constraint that is personally preferred, will display allocative efficiency.

The basic budget constraint/production possibilities frontier diagram will recur throughout this book. Some examples include using these tradeoff diagrams to analyze trade, labor supply versus leisure, saving versus consumption, environmental protection and economic output, equality of incomes and economic output, and the macroeconomic tradeoff between consumption and investment. Do not be confused by the different labels. The budget constraint/production possibilities frontier diagram is always just a tool for thinking carefully about scarcity, tradeoffs, and efficiency in a particular situation.

The tradeoff diagram

Two graphs will occur frequently throughout the text. They represent the possible outcomes of constraints/production of goods. The graph on the left has “Good 2” along the y-axis and “Good 1” along the x-axis. The graph on the right has “Good 1” along the y-axis and “Good 2” along the x-axis.
Both the individual opportunity set (or budget constraint) and the social production possibilities frontier show the constraints under which individual consumers and society as a whole operate. Both diagrams show the tradeoff in choosing more of one good at the cost of less of the other.

Questions & Answers

what are some characteristics of monopoly market
Obeng Reply
explicit cost is seen as a total experiences in the business or the salary (wages) that a firm pay to employee.
Idagu Reply
what is price elasticity
economics is known to be the field
John Reply
what is monopoly
Peter Reply
what is taxation
why do monopoly make excess profit in both long run and short run
Adeola Reply
because monopoly have no competitor on the market and they are price makers,therefore,they can easily increase the princes and produce small quantity of goods but still consumers will still buy....
how to identify a perfect market graph
Adeola Reply
what is the investment
investment is a money u used to the business
investment is the purchase of good that are not consumed today but are used in the future to create wealth.
investment is the good that are not consumed
What is supply
 Supply represents how much the market can offer.
what is the effect of scarce resources on producers
Phindu Reply
what is economic
Charles Reply
what are the type of economic
macroeconomics,microeconomics,positive economics and negative economics
what are the factors of production
process of production
Basically factors of production are four (4) namely: 1. Entrepreneur 2. Capital 3. Labour and; 4. Land but there has been a new argument to include an addition one to the the numbers to 5 which is "Technology"
what is land as a factor of production
what is Economic
economics is how individuals bussiness and governments make the best decisions to get what they want and how these choices interact in the market
Economics as a social science, which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means, which have alternative uses.
Economics is a science which study human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means
Economics is a social sciences which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce mean, which have alternative uses.....
how will a country's population be equal to it's labour force
Hope Reply
what is the meaning of ppf
Obeng Reply
Production Possibility Frontier
What is Economic
Governor Reply
Economics is the social science that deals with the unlimited human wants in the face of scarce (limited in supply) resources.
what is market
Gift Reply
marker is the interaction of buying and selling
market refers to the interaction of the processes of buying and selling of commodities between the buyer and the seller.
market is a place where two parties gather to facilitate exchange of goods and services.
what are some good sources of information to find trends in various Industries
how do on know that marketing is going on
what is consumption
Using revenue
What is stock market
what is inadequate supply of labour
What are the marmet function
Odirile Reply
price elasticity of demand is the degree of responsiveness of a quantity demanded to the change in price of the commodity in question.
Gladys Reply
What does elasticity mean
Elasticity means change in demand with the change in price. It is elastic if the demand changes with the price change whereas it is inelastic if the demand is not affected due to change in price
I have a question
what is the importance of learning economics?
Thelma Reply
it helps to make the correct choice
it helps firm to produce products that will bring more profit

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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