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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 is the effect of inflation in GDP
ahmed Reply
Not only real GDP but also nominal GDP will decrease
Aqib
yep. Inflation has an influence not only GDP but interest rate also.
Hamza
The pound weakens so imports become more expensive and exports lose value - lower GDP.
Rebecca
why do inflation effect economic
Chelsea Reply
explain in detail what is economic what is scarcity what is alternate uses
Ejiro Reply
What is law of demand
Hilary
economic as a science refers to study of human resource
Kaunda
Law of demand- With all the factors remaining same if price increases of a commodity, the quantity of demand of that commodity decreases and vice versa
Dey
Thanks dey sunita
Hilary
What is law of supply
Hilary
what are the factors that affect demand
Elly Reply
what are the factors that affect demand of a good
Elly
what are the factors that affect demand of a good
Elly
what are the factors that affect demand of a commodity
Elly
1. the price of the product 2. the price of other products 3. consumers income 4. expectation of future changes in price 5. taste and preference etc.
ALI
Change in price
Hilary
1. price related of commodities 2. consumers income 3. the condition or season of the commodities
Tsai
decrease in demand of substitute increase in demand of constituent change in quantity and other environmental factors
Hamza
Nd consumer's income
Hamza
what course scarcity
Bashari Reply
Scarcity is the limited availability of a commodity, which may be in demand in the market or by the commons. Scarcity also includes an individual's lack of resources to buy commodities. The opposite of scarcity is abundance.
Marc
Reasons that explain why the division of labor increases an economy's level of production
Chukwuka Reply
Please I don't understand the meaning and the concept of economics as a science
Ophelia Reply
economics as a science refers to the study of human behavior. how they make decisions etc
Saidou
economics is science because it uses scientific methods in analysing societal problems.. observation experimentation and conclusion inherently are used to analyse. however it is not pure science but social science because it studies human and it's environs
Bonney
what's elasticity of demand
Isaac Reply
are u asking because you don't know or what
Stephen
A measure of the responsiveness of a product demanded to a change in market price
Yuusuf
the degree of responsiveness of a product demanded to a little change in the price
Saidou
the degree of responsiveness of quantity demanded of a commodity to the changes in the price if the commodity in question, changes in the price of other related commodities and changes in the income of consumer
Bonney
what is international trade
Kwame Reply
international trade is a trade between foreign country
IYke
it is the exchange of goods and services between countries
Bonney
it's the exchange of goods and services from one foreign country to another
Israel
how is demand run
Ogonna Reply
what s the causes of poverty for human being
Femi Reply
lack of knowledge and resources
Asrat
it is lack of inclusive political and economic institutions in that country given a strong central government.
tesfaye
luck of economics
Donkor
poverty is due to poor system of taxation
Hamza
progressive system of taxation can reduce poverty
Hamza
lack of knowledge
IYke
Isn't it poor system of taxation that causes poverty
Chukwuka
How is a monopoly market different from an oligopoly one?
Antony Reply
Qn.5.a)explain four ways on how elasticity of demand determines the incidence of tax b)design five mechanisms that can be uxed to reduc the gvt expendture in develping countriex lik tz
ALLY
l dont know can l have brief notes
Hilda
What is anatomy and physiology
emeka Reply
Important of monopoly
Daniel Reply
Importance of monopoly
Ibrahim Reply

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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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